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Volume 21 No. 48
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NFL ready to open up ticketing?

Ticketmaster’s hold on resales may end

NFL owners this week are slated to vote to end Ticketmaster’s exclusive rights to provide official secondary ticketing to NFL teams, opening the field to multiple providers. Ticketmaster’s deal runs through the end of next season.

The vote, scheduled for Wednesday, is on the agenda for the owners’ fall meeting in New York, though the issue of whether to compel players to stand for the national anthem might dominate the meeting and potentially delay the vote.

Either way, the league appears ready to move toward a more open ticketing landscape in which authenticated tickets are available through a range of both traditional and nontraditional outlets.

Ticketmaster and NFL officials declined to comment.

The basic framework of the deal, according to multiple industry sources, involves the ticketing giant retaining preferred status as a primary ticket provider to teams. Thirty-one NFL teams use Ticketmaster for primary ticketing; the Detroit Lions are aligned with AXS. Sources said teams will be “incentivized” to use Ticketmaster, though it was not immediately clear what those terms were.

First Look podcast, with NFL ticketing discussion beginning at the 12:55 mark:

If the new deal is OK’d, Ticketmaster would keep preferred status as a primary ticket provider.
Meanwhile, teams would be allowed to designate an official secondary partner of their choosing, breaking down the exclusive secondary rights Ticketmaster has held for the 2013-18 period at a cost of more than $200 million. Those chosen partners would be able to have full integration with the teams’ primary markets, allowing for the easy resale and transfer of tickets. Financial terms of the new deal have not been disclosed.

The deal has been the subject of steady negotiations over the past year, and a special league committee involving several team and league executives has studied the issue in depth. The NFL for months had eyed this week’s fall meeting as a potential slot to ratify a new ticketing deal.

In recent weeks, NFL executives have called some team ticketing executives to inquire about issues such as the incidence of ticket fraud to help prepare for this week’s presentation and vote, and help teams move toward safe secondary ticketing choices.

The deal would keep Ticketmaster as one of the league’s top business partners. But one rival ticketing executive wondered if the new deal would affect Ticketmaster’s ability to grow its own secondary ticketing business. “How does this serve to help grow Ticket Exchange for Ticketmaster?” the executive asked. “This would seem to give away their point of differentiation.”

But open distribution has quickly become a more favored element in sports ticketing. As attendance has plateaued or fallen in many sports, the urgency to find new buyers, particularly where they are already shopping and participating in other online activities, has become more important.

Major League Soccer in particular has a broad-based deal with New York-based SeatGeek to use the company’s box office system, which will make seats available for purchase on a variety of outside platforms. Sporting Kansas City and the Seattle Sounders are the initial MLS clubs to use the system. Other, newer platforms such as Gametime have seen their own growth accelerate in recent years.