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By any measure, the Atlanta Braves took a big risk this season by essentially forcing their season-ticket holders to embrace mobile ticketing.
Mobile ticketing adoption rates across the sports industry are estimated in the low double-digit percentages at best, even after more than a half decade of availability. Industry experts estimate it will be at least several more years before a majority of fans use the technology.
An Atlanta Braves fan has his game ticket scanned at the gate at Turner Field.
Photo by:Atlanta Braves
For a team that’s not been among Major League Baseball’s leaders in attendance since the late 1990s (despite continually competitive teams on the field), the move threatened to disenfranchise its season-ticket base. But club executives felt they simply could not wait any longer for technology trends to catch up to what they wanted to do with mobile ticketing both at Turner Field and at their forthcoming new ballpark in Cobb County, Ga.
“Quite frankly, it seems like the phone is really the future of our business, and the future of commerce in general,” said Derek Schiller, Braves executive vice president of sales and marketing. “This has been a three-year evolution in our case to get to this point, and we’ve been encouraged by the numbers that have been moved to this platform.”
Still, the Braves and the rest of baseball this season are pushing for even greater returns, trying to further accelerate the rate of adoption for mobile ticketing through a series of new initiatives.
A major update this season to the At The Ballpark mobile application, developed by MLB Advanced Media, will include a pronounced emphasis on ticketing for both single-game buyers and season-ticket holders. Many clubs also are weaving their fan loyalty programs into their mobile ticketing offerings, creating a much more seamless and unified fan experience.
In short order, a fan’s own smartphone is at once his ticket, his access point to complementary information such as in-game video highlights at the stadium and wayfinding, and the storehouse for his personal loyalty data.
“We’ve retooled a lot of the [At the Ballpark] app to make it much more club-centric,” said Bob Bowman, MLBAM president and chief executive. Bowman estimates that baseball’s mobile ticketing will surpass 20 percent of all online-based sales in baseball this season, about twice last year’s figure. “Adoption of the app is definitely a priority this year.”
For the Braves and many other clubs, the attractiveness of mobile ticketing is not hard to understand. Tickets are no longer lost, stolen or physically left in the desk drawer — that last happenstance being for decades the bane of the sports industry. With mobile ticketing, the ability to mine data from fans’ ticket usage and related behaviors is greatly enhanced, thereby fueling future upsells and more customized ticket offers.
There are significant cost savings from reduced printing and postage costs incurred in creating and distributing paper tickets, as well. The Braves alone reduced their ticket printing bill this season by more than $60,000.
“We can learn so much about our fans now,” Schiller said. “This gives us the ability to learn more about what they want and, in turn, it better enables them to access all our offerings here at Turner Field.”
While there is near-universal agreement within the sports industry on the significant growth potential and utility of mobile ticketing, boosting adoption beyond the 5 percent to 15 percent use rates currently seen by most clubs still requires retooling more than a century of hardwired fan behavior and removing barriers to use.
Furthering the challenge is the current 65 percent penetration rate for smartphones among all U.S. mobile subscribers, according to digital measurement agency comScore. That percentage, while steadily growing, still leaves roughly one-third of mobile users, as well as those without any sort of cellular device, unable to receive a mobile ticket barcode. As a result, many teams, leagues and vendors have been particularly focused of late on easing obstacles, both real and perceived — such as fan insecurity that mobile barcodes are sufficient for entry, security of mobile tickets, and the utility of mobile transfer to enable resale.
A big part of that effort involves communicating to fans, repeatedly, that mobile tickets are indeed genuine and accepted, even if they don’t necessarily have the same commemorative value as paper stubs.
“I think it’s also a matter of distrust for this thing that doesn’t really feel tangible and real,” said Cole Gahagan, Ticketmaster executive vice president. The ticketing giant, through corporate parent Live Nation, has made a significant move toward mobile ticketing (see story). “The more times I walk in and have [the phone] scanned, the more I’m actually going to trust it, regardless of the [demographic].
“There really has not been a distribution channel that clients and teams have gotten really comfortable in making [mobile] the only method of delivery. Venues and teams are marching their way toward that,” Gahagan said.
Colin Faulkner, vice president of sales and partnerships for the Chicago Cubs, compares consumer hesitation over mobile ticketing to the time several years ago when fans could first start printing their own tickets at home.
“You probably saw some resistance to that initially, and then there probably reached a tipping point where people demanded it,” Faulkner said. “It may be the same thing with mobile.”
Enabling easier resale and transfer has been a fundamental part of the ongoing mobile ticketing conversation between teams and season-ticket holders. In baseball’s case, the sport’s official resale partner, StubHub, is now directly integrated into the At Bat and At The Ballpark mobile apps (see story).
“We think having the mobile ticket actually makes it more likely and easier to transfer and really helps with security
Sports will be taking additional mobile ticketing cues from the aviation industry, which has been particularly aggressive in this area in recent years and serviced more than 643 million U.S. passengers in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than four times the combined attendance of MLB, the NFL, NHL and NBA.
“Other industries are helping make this the norm and that the phone is something you can trust,” said Blake Sirach, vice president of design for WillowTree Apps, a Virginia-based firm that helped build the mobile ticketing app for AXS Ticketing, AEG’s ticket division. “The airlines are really pushing this, and every time you go to the airport, you see more and more people using their phone. There’s no question that’s going to filter to sports and help get people more comfortable.”
Carrot or stick?
About six weeks after the Braves announced their $250 surcharge for printing paper season tickets, the club made another big ticketing announcement. The Braves deepened their relationship with fellow Atlanta company Experience — already a partner of MLBAM, more than half of MLB’s individual clubs, Ticketmaster and the NFL — to offer Braves season-ticket holders guaranteed seat upgrades and discounted upgrades to advance single-game purchasers.
Mobile is a fundamental component of the Experience offering, as users receive in-game alerts on their devices about available seat upgrades and other amenities. The Braves’ rollout relies on advanced computations that instantly make fans’ old seats open to other users when they upgrade themselves.
In a sense, the guaranteed seat upgrades for Braves season-ticket holders were the sugar that perhaps went with the salt when moving to FanPass. But put together, the club now offers a unified, mobile-based fan experience at Turner Field.
“The situation for every game changes; the kind of upgrades that are going to be available day to day are going to be different based on a variety of demand factors,” said Experience founder and chairman Tripp Rackley. “The critical component of the system is really flexibility and the ability to adjust the factors that matter, both from the team-facing side and the fan-facing side.”
The upgrade offers also provide a key operational benefit to the Braves. By promoting additional advance single-game sales through the upgrade coupons, the club seeks to reduce its walk-up ticket sales, a variable that complicates the team’s ability to staff elements such as security and concessions appropriately.
Other clubs are developing various amenities and offers to help nudge fans toward mobile adoption, as well. The Kansas City Royals are offering a $50 gift card to season-ticket holders as an incentive for mobile use, redeemable for additional tickets, merchandise, concessions and other purchases at Kauffman Stadium. The team recently rolled out a new Royals Memories program through the At The Ballpark app that offers upgraded experiences such as postgame catches and photos on the field at Kauffman. The Tampa Bay Rays are offering $50 discounts on season-ticket invoices for every seat enrolled in their radio frequency identification (RFID)-based ticket system that will soon have a mobile component. Still other clubs, including the Chicago Cubs, are boosting loyalty club rewards and offering merchandise and concession discounts as enticements for fans to embrace mobile ticketing.
In nearly every case, fans have been a fundamental part of the creation of the programs, often through focus groups and pilot programs, as season-ticket sales remain the lifeblood of a baseball team’s operations. Even with the recent historic runup in local MLB media rights fees, tickets are still a critical source of revenue for clubs.
“Through mobile ticketing, we know more about our customers so that we can anticipate their needs and customize experiences based on their preferences,” said the Cubs’ Faulkner. “I think fans in this day and age want that. This allows us to have more data on what they like and don’t like and helps us do that.”
Still, many MLB clubs are wondering if enticements, rewards and focus groups are sufficient tools to spur mobile adoption. The Braves’ recent, more punitive moves are being closely watched and are being perceived as important stimuli to move mobile ticketing to a much broader and more impactful phase.
“I don’t think incentives are really enough,” said Mike Bucek, Royals vice president of marketing and business development. The Royals currently have fewer than 5 percent of their season-ticket base on a mobile delivery system and are still in what the team calls an “experimental” phase with the technology. “Right now, where things are and are going, I’m happy, and we’re also going to have experiential things folded into the app,” he said.
“There’s no doubt this is the wave of the future, but when you look at what the Braves did, it sort of makes you rethink.”
Ticketing approaches among Major League Baseball teams
What teams are doing this season to encourage season-ticket holders to convert to mobile tickets (or to penalize those who still prefer paper):
■ Atlanta Braves: Charge a $250 fee for season-ticket holders who elect to use paper tickets.
■ Boston Red Sox: Offer triple “Red Sox Rewards” points for season-ticket holders who enter the park via mobile, redeemable toward various team items or experiences.
■ Cleveland Indians: Season-ticket holders who elect digital delivery receive on average a 10 percent discount (depending on plan level) versus traditional paper ticket prices.
■ New York Mets: Charge a printing fee of $25 per account for the “fancy” season-ticket paper stock, which includes a messenger bag.
■ Tampa Bay Rays: During the renewal process, offered a $50 discount for each seat in the plan in which fans opted for digital-only ticketing. Flex Packs are digital-only plans, sold as three-, six-, or nine-game packages.
■ Washington Nationals: Required season-ticket holders to move to a virtual ticketing program if they wanted to receive loyalty points and all the benefits of the loyalty program. The team had a 100 percent conversion rate. All season-ticket holders received a commemorative Opening Day ticket. For those looking for a paper ticket, the team sells game-specific commemorative tickets in the ballpark.
More than half of all MLB clubs have teamed up with Experience, an app that allows fans at games to upgrade their seats or buy a fan experience. Also, approximately half of the league’s clubs are aligned with MLB subsidiary Tickets.com. Within MLB.com’s At The Ballpark free app, Tickets.com’s MyTickets Mobile portal allows fans to retrieve their tickets on a mobile device and contains a bar code for each ticket purchased. Fans also can add their tickets to Apple Passbook on compatible iOS devices, if they buy a ticket from one of the approximately 20 clubs that have enabled the Passbook app. Additionally, about two-thirds of the league’s teams have installed, or plan to install, Apple’s iBeacon technology, which allows fans to go to the ballpark without a paper ticket or cash, and provides customized experiential information. Here are details of upgrades MLB clubs have made to enhance their fans’ mobile ticketing experience:
■ Arizona Diamondbacks: Ticketmaster installed new scanners at all gates.
Ticketmaster installed new scanners at all gates at Arizona’s Chase Field.
Photo by:Getty Images
■ Boston Red Sox: Access control technology and turnstiles provided by Kaba with the readers made by Fortress, in partnership with Tickets.com and MLBAM.
■ Chicago White Sox: Selected Avnet Services to build a data warehouse and develop the corresponding business intelligence tools.
■ Colorado Rockies: Concessionaire Aramark and the team upgraded all scanners and point-of-sale stations so that mobile tickets preloaded with concession credit can be used anywhere in the stadium where a credit card is accepted.
■ Los Angeles Dodgers: All new turnstiles and scanners.
■ Milwaukee Brewers: Alvarado, a provider of access control systems, worked with Tickets.com and MLBAM to complete the final phase of a three-year upgrade making Miller Park 100 percent digitally compatible at all entry points.
■ Oakland Athletics: Upgraded concessions to read 2-D mobile bar codes; added access points to parking so fans can prebuy parking and forward and resell their inventory through At the Ballpark. Concessionaire Ovations purchased Motorola 2-D scanners for reading mobile barcodes.
■ San Diego Padres: Fortress installed new turnstiles with RFID/mobile bar-code readers at every gate, along with RFID/mobile bar-code readers at every point-of-sale in the ballpark.
■ Seattle Mariners: Concessionaire Centerplate installed scanners at the vendor registers to read the 2-D bar codes on mobile tickets.
■ Tampa Bay Rays: Fully integrated Ticketmaster, Centerplate (concessionaire), Quest (point-of-sale system), and Central Parking into the Rays Rewards Card.
■ Texas Rangers: Added the ability to read enhanced/QR bar codes; added My Tickets Mobile, through Tickets.com.
■ Washington Nationals: Finished installing Kaba turnstiles, with the scanners made by Fortress, at every gate.
Close to 10 percent of colleges are delivering football and basketball tickets to their students through mobile, but that number is expected to increase significantly in the coming years.
A study by Paciolan, a ticketing software company that counts 110 colleges as clients, showed that the adoption of mobile delivery among students, while sporadic, is growing (see charts below).
Half of the students who reserved Maryland football tickets last year asked for mobile delivery.
Photo by:Getty Images
Maryland adopted mobile delivery for the 2013 football season and found that half of all its students who reserved tickets requested mobile delivery as opposed to print-at-home options or other pickup methods.
“We looked at how we could use technology to make it easier for students and drive them to games,” said Matt Monroe, Maryland’s assistant athletic director for ticket services. “They might lose a paper ticket, but they’re not going to forget to take their phone to the game.”
Mobile delivery is considered an important tool in getting students to the games, according to Craig Ricks, Paciolan’s vice president of marketing. Many schools have expressed frustration over dwindling student attendance at football and basketball games, Ricks said, especially because seats in the student section often are some of the best in the stadium or arena.
Virginia Commonwealth, for example, has one of the nation’s strongest basketball programs, but even a trip to the
“Student seating is a difficult piece of the puzzle,” said Meghan Millar, VCU’s assistant athletic director for ticketing.
The Rams have offered students a print-at-home option in the past, but they’ll likely move to mobile delivery next season.
During the 2013 football season, Maryland and Rutgers were among the leaders in mobile delivery. Maryland saw a 50 percent adoption rate among its students for mobile tickets, while Rutgers was at 40 percent.
By comparison, students are well ahead of the general ticket buyer. Paciolan said Utah State was among the leaders in mobile delivery for football single-ticket sales at 15 percent, while 9 percent of overall ticket buyers at West Virginia opted for mobile delivery.
“Student adoption is higher, but we think both segments will continue to trend up,” Ricks said. “Students are highly focused on their mobile phones and it is ingrained in their lifestyle, so mobile delivery is a natural fit for student ticketing.”
While mobile is considered an important tool in driving student attendance, schools are looking at a variety of options. Some have decided to reduce the number of seats set aside for students.
Others, like Boston College, have implemented a loyalty program that rewards students for attending games. BC calls it the Gold Pass, which is loaded onto student identification cards.
Points are accrued for each game a student attends and they are rewarded with guaranteed seats for high-demand games, like Syracuse in basketball or Boston University in men’s hockey.
“We’ve seen some increases in attendance, even for a lot of the Olympic sports,” said Jim O’Neill, BC’s associate AD for ticket operations. “The incentives are making a difference.”
Live Nation Entertainment, the world’s largest ticket provider and event promoter, has enjoyed a front-row seat as the market shifts toward digital ticketing.
Last year, Live Nation Entertainment, a company that includes Ticketmaster, a provider to dozens of major league facilities, sold 21 million tickets through mobile devices. That means that 14 percent of the 149 million tickets sold for all Live Nation Entertainment events, including sports and concerts, were sold on smartphones and tablets, almost double 2012’s numbers, Ticketmaster officials said.
“The trend is not just solely about mobile,” Gahagan said. “The industry has myopically viewed mobile as the central and sole theme of digital. To us, we’re realizing digital is more of a platform than one single product. Digital is much more wide sweeping.”
As mobile ticketing continues to gain traction among sports fans and concertgoers, Ticketmaster is taking a holistic approach to the technology revolving around how fans discover, manage and experience live events, Gahagan said.
Those three pillars of its digital platform have changed dramatically over the past two years to reshape the fan experience.
The process of discovery has long since moved past the “traditional analog world” of billboards, newspapers and radio advertisements, Gahagan said. Last year, Ticketmaster alone saw 11 million installations of its mobile application on fans’ smartphones and tablets, a strong indication that the mobile device now sits squarely at the center of a consumer’s search for information on live events.
To meet the growing demand for tickets delivered to those devices, Live Nation Entertainment undertook a massive rollout in 2013 to accommodate the technology, upgrading venues with equipment to scan mobile bar codes and print seat locators for up to 50 million tickets.
“It was a big push for us last year and it is only going to grow significantly as the chosen method of delivery this year and next,” Gahagan said.
As mobile becomes a preferred method for buying tickets for many consumers, Ticketmaster has seen the management piece grow substantially in the transfer and resale of tickets. More than half of its mobile traffic involves moving tickets to a third party, Gahagan said.
The third piece, the event experience itself, is starting to explode as vendors such as Atlanta-based Experience enable fans to upgrade their seats through mobile transactions after they have entered the facility.
Last October, Live Nation Entertainment signed a deal with Experience to be its preferred partner for seat upgrades that extend to exclusive perks for fans such as a visit from the team mascot and meet-and-greets with recording artists.
It’s part of the next “tectonic” shift in mobile ticketing as teams, facilities and vendors move to customize the fan experience, Gahagan said.
Where is it all headed for mobile? Teams and other industry observers believe that eventually sports and entertainment will go completely paperless and bar-coded tickets on smartphones will be the only way to access
Gahagan points to NBA and NHL clubs such as the Orlando Magic, Charlotte Bobcats, Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Coyotes using smart cards as season tickets, some loaded with food credits, as an interim step toward going exclusively mobile at arenas and stadiums.
The Miami Heat has gone one step further, skipping smart cards altogether. Instead, Heat season-ticket holders manage their ticket inventory through their individual Ticketmaster accounts and print PDFs to be scanned at the arena gates.
Starting next season, their options will be restricted to putting their tickets on a mobile device or a credit card for access to the building.
“We don’t yet have what the right path is down that evolutionary road but we’re learning a lot,” he said. “It’s fast paced.”
■ Platforms: iOS, Android
■ What it does: The primary ticketing app for the industry’s single largest entity, this app provides mobile access to thousands of sports events and concerts. It supports Apple’s Passbook functionality for select venues and is integrated with social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. Ticketmaster’s parent company, Live Nation, has a sister Live Nation mobile app more specifically devoted to music. Both the Live Nation and Ticketmaster apps also suggest nearby concerts based on individual users’ iTunes libraries.
■ Platforms: Mobile Web, other major platforms such as iOS and Android through clients’ mobile applications
■ What it does: A trailblazer in mobile ticketing and owned by
MLB Advanced Media, Tickets.com’s ProVenue Ticketing platform is being used by 17 MLB teams, features full end-to-end purchasing and delivery, and is able to integrate other elements such as loyalty programs.
■ Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, mobile Web
■ What it does: The most well-known player in secondary ticketing, StubHub has made mobile transactions and access a major priority. Beyond basic buying and selling, the company’s app is integrated with Apple’s Passbook functionality, and offers a variety of features including price alerts, interactive venue maps, and social media integration. StubHub is also partnered with primary ticketing vendor Paciolan to provide a full, end-to-end ticketing solution for many of their shared clients, particularly in the college space, in part through the StubHub mobile app.
■ Platform: iOS
■ What it does: This discount ticketing channel is geared toward sampling and casual fans, with the sale-priced inventory coming not from brokers or other fans, but venues and teams themselves. Full search and purchase functionality is offered, along with Passbook integration.
MLB.com AT BAT
■ Platforms: iOS, Android, Amazon Kindle, BlackBerry, Windows
■ What it does: MLB Advanced Media’s flagship mobile app, MLB.com At Bat contains mobile ticketing functionality for all 30 clubs, including those served by both the Tickets.com platform it owns and other vendors such as Ticketmaster, with purchasing and delivery directly within the app, as well as direct integration with official resale partner StubHub. MLBAM’s ballpark-specific companion app, At The Ballpark, includes the same ticketing options.
■ Platforms: iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile
■ What it does: The NFL’s flagship mobile app offers links to the league’s secondary ticketing portal, NFL Ticket Exchange, which is operated in partnership with Ticketmaster.
■ Platforms: iOS, Android
■ What it does: A San Francisco-based startup focused on last-minute purchases, Gametime offers mobile-based ticketing resale in several major markets, including its Bay Area home, New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago. The app operates on the basic premise that resale prices plummet as game time approaches, and flags impulse-buy deals for users, all delivered through the phone.
■ Platforms: iOS, Android
■ What it does: The mobile version of the ticket resale metasearch engine offers ticket listings from dozens of other vendors, including StubHub and Ticketmaster’s TicketsNow platform, and can process transactions directly within the app. The SeatGeek app also offers alerts and seat views, and similar to the Web version of SeatGeek, ranks the quality of specific ticket offers based on secondary marketplace dynamics.
■ Platforms: iOS, Android
■ What it does: This revolves around AEG’s in-house ticketing operation, AXS. Similar to Ticketmaster’s full-service app, the AXS app offers full search and purchase functionality, along with the ability to create photo memory books from events and social media integration. Unlike many of the other ticketing apps in the market, this one carries a presenting sponsorship, with Verizon buying the title rights.