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Volume 21 No. 1
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Almost half of NFL teams will use paperless ticketing

Almost half the teams in the NFL will deploy paperless ticketing this year, up significantly from last year.

Most teams are phasing in the practice, though the New York Jets announced earlier this month that all season-ticket holders would receive their tickets in the form of a smart card this year.

All told, 14 teams will offer mobile ticketing this year, and nine teams will use smart cards, said Brian Lafemina, NFL senior vice president, club business development. There is overlap between the two figures, with eight clubs offering both versions of paperless ticketing, so 15 teams in total will be offering non-paper tickets. That is a major jump from 2013, Lafemina said, declining to provide the number of teams from last year.

The NFL is hardly alone, with major efforts underway in the other major leagues to move to paperless as well. The Atlanta Braves this year began charging season-ticket holders who want traditional paper tickets (SportsBusiness Journal, April 28-May 4 issue).

No team is going that far in the NFL, but the shift is in place for several reasons. One, ticket holders can simply email tickets, or a bar code, if they are giving the tickets to someone else. Getting into the stadium is easier with a simple bar code scan than with what can be a crumpled or wet paper ticket. Teams also can build loyalty and perk programs more easily into digital ticket offering.

That’s the Jets’ plan, with the team next month set to unveil its loyalty program, said Neil Glat, Jets president. Along with the smart cards, the club is building mobile functionality into its new system, handled by Fortress GB, so season-ticket holders can use their phones if they choose.

That option is not available in Kansas City, where the Chiefs in 2012 began offering paperless ticketing, and 99 percent of fans used the Chiefs’ smart card right away. The Chiefs considered mobile but did not at that time think the technology was far enough along to implement, said Mark Donovan, Chiefs president.

That will soon change, Donovan said, predicting within five years mobile ticketing will be a norm across most teams. He knows of several teams in the NFL that are waiting on paperless because they do not want to invest in smart cards and then have to switch to mobile.

One of the biggest benefits of going paperless for the teams is data capture: They know who is using the ticket. If a season-ticket holder gives his or her paper ticket to a friend, the team has no information about that person, but if it is emailed using a club system, then the team can start marketing to that fan.