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Volume 21 No. 35
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SeatGeek adds NFL, Cowboys deals

SeatGeek made a big move in ticketing with a league secondary deal and Cowboys primary deal.
Photo: Getty Images

The NFL is nearing a deal with SeatGeek to designate the New York-based company as an official secondary ticket provider, joining Ticketmaster and StubHub in the category, according to industry sources.


The agreement follows one SeatGeek is also closing with the Dallas Cowboys, though that deal is for primary ticketing with an additional focus on non-game events at AT&T Stadium and at the team’s expansive practice facility, The Star, in Frisco, Texas.


The arrival of SeatGeek into NFL secondary ticketing follows a move by the league to open up the category after a decade of Ticketmaster holding exclusive rights. In a set of new contracts covering the 2018-22 seasons, Ticketmaster will continue to power the league’s NFL Ticket Exchange. But a new open platform created by the league has allowed StubHub to come in as an authorized secondary ticket partner, and now SeatGeek to participate as well.


Like StubHub, SeatGeek will be directly integrated into the digital ticketing system Ticketmaster is installing across the league. But SeatGeek will not gain a series of additional marketing rights, including the use of club marks, that StubHub holds.


Financial terms of the SeatGeek deal were not disclosed and executives for SeatGeek and the NFL declined to comment. Formal announcements of SeatGeek’s deals with both the NFL and Cowboys are expected this spring. Individual NFL teams have been notified of SeatGeek’s arrival into the league’s ticketing framework.


SeatGeek in recent months has become a significant industry upstart and challenger to industry incumbents such as Ticketmaster, using its purchase last year of Israeli ticketing software company TopTix to help secure deals with the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans and several Major League Soccer clubs. News of its impending alignment with the Cowboys further caused a stir, given the team’s status as a highly dominant brand in the entire sports industry.


But the Cowboys deal also drew rebukes, particularly due to the team being expected to gain an undisclosed equity stake in SeatGeek. Michael Rapino, chief executive of Ticketmaster parent Live Nation, pointedly told industry analysts last week that SeatGeek overpaid for the Cowboys deal, saying, “you wouldn’t want us to win that deal. We don’t believe that it’s a sustainable model. … You only have so many pieces of equity.”


The league’s aim in opening the ticketing category is to offer fans more choices in where and how to buy football tickets, and in turn curb attendance erosion that has befallen the NFL in recent seasons. Attendance in 2017 sank to its lowest level in six years.


But Marc Ganis, a sports consultant with deep ties to NFL owners and executives, warned that the new system is a double-edged sword because teams will have less control over their ticket inventory and will create a disincentive for fans to buy season tickets or single-game seats on an advance basis.


While those factors existed before when Ticketmaster held exclusive NFL rights in secondary ticketing, the dynamic is now heightened with the arrival of more outlets to purchase tickets and the increasing ease of transferring tickets, even for older fans, Ganis said.


Despite the recent set of encroachments on Ticketmaster’s presence in NFL ticketing, Rapino said the company is still “very, very happy” with its partnership with the league and that it would likely retain the vast majority of individual teams for primary ticketing. The current terms of Ticketmaster’s deal were not disclosed, but are believed to be far in excess of the $200 million paid for its rights during the 2013-17 seasons.


“We’re thrilled with the overall relationship of the NFL economics for Ticketmaster, both with the league and the teams, and didn’t see anything new that we don’t see or haven’t seen historically with the competitive bidding process,” Rapino said.