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Volume 22 No. 7
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NFL weighs moving from Ticketmaster to open platform model

The NFL is likely to end its exclusive ticketing partnership with Ticketmaster when the contract ends next year, and instead embrace a new open platform model in which authenticated tickets are sold through a range of providers, league and team sources said.

The open platform option would allow fans to buy tickets, likely both primary and secondary, from traditional sellers like Ticketmaster and StubHub, but also from nontraditional outlets like Amazon and perhaps even social media sites such as Twitter. While the back-end processes have yet to be mapped out, executives envision a fan watching a Twitter highlight that then offers a link to buy a ticket to the following week’s game.

“The idea is to allow tickets to be available in as many places as possible,” said one of the sources. “We want to make it easy.”

Ticketmaster is the official primary ticket seller for 31 of 32 NFL teams (the Detroit Lions use Veritix), and the official secondary ticket provider of the NFL, as all of the teams use its NFL Ticket Exchange. The league in 2013 renewed the secondary deal for five years at more than $200 million, making it one of the league’s top partnerships.
But the NFL is increasingly convinced that it can bring in far more revenue by selling across multiple platforms, though it made no decisions.

League staff updated owners at the spring meeting last week in Chicago.

Last year, the NFL formed a “special ticketing committee” made up of executives from the New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets, and Kansas City Chiefs. The league executives overseeing the project are Brian LaFemina, senior vice president of club business development, and Chris Hardart, vice president of corporate development.

When it comes to considering an open platform, league officials are intrigued by tickets being accessible across a broader array of platforms and the ability to glean data from a possible new group of ticket buyers. The emerging model places an emphasis on digital distribution of tickets, and while there is no plan to require electronic ticketing, at least for season-ticket holders, the NFL will encourage it because it not only adds efficiency but also allows the teams to know more about who is actually using the ticket.

Ticketmaster handles secondary ticketing for the NFL and does primary ticketing for 31 teams.
Photo by: AP IMAGES

Some teams, like the Chiefs, already are fully paperless, but many that offer the option also send out books of paper season tickets as they would have decades ago.

One team source who supports the transition said one caveat regarding change is that Ticketmaster knows the space and has the proven technical infrastructure to handle the complex processes. Meanwhile, many of the outlets the league is contemplating using to sell official tickets may never have done so at the scale of the NFL before.

It’s also uncertain if the smaller, open platform ticket companies have the financial resources to pay what the NFL seeks in their deals.

Ticketmaster did not reply for comment.

The league could make a final decision by the fall meeting in October, though that is not necessarily a hard deadline.

Open distribution has quickly become a more favored element of sports ticketing. Major League Soccer in particular last year struck a broad-based deal with New York-based SeatGeek to employ SeatGeek Open, a new box office system that will make seats available for purchase in a variety of outside ticketing, e-commerce and social media platforms. Sporting Kansas City, the Portland Timbers and Minnesota United have each signed their own deals to use SeatGeek Open. A key part of MLS’s strategy was to engage prospective ticket purchasers where they were already consuming content and shopping, rather than try to direct them to a single, league-sanctioned destination.

Similarly, Ticketmaster, which also has league-level partnerships with the NBA and NHL, sells roughly 10 percent of its total North American inventory on sales channels other than its own through partnerships with companies such as Groupon and Facebook.

A new deal that Ticketmaster signed last week will offer integration with Gametime, which focuses on last-minute ticket sales via mobile, to Ticketmaster clients and will only increase that external sales percentage.

In each of these instances, a core goal is to expand the reach of a team or a sport, and find new ticket buyers who were not already in an existing customer database. The open ticketing model in sports also borrows elements from the airline industry, which makes seats available on a wide array of sales platforms beyond those operated by the carriers themselves.