NFL mobile ticketing a work in progress
The NFL’s dramatic expansion of mobile ticketing this year has gotten off to a bumpy start, but league officials and ticketing industry experts say problems are isolated and can be resolved with time and education.
The growing pains have been obvious and public. Fans’ angry social media posts and local news stories describe longer waits at the turnstiles, a cumbersome process for transferring tickets, and bad internet connections near stadiums that make it difficult to load the mobile tickets.
This season marks the full deployment of the Ticketmaster Presence platform in NFL stadiums, as well as the debut of the company’s SafeTix technology. For venues and teams, the systems prevent fraud by using a constantly refreshing barcode that’s unique to every user, which also allows teams to know customers better. Teams have added more than 4 million names to customer databases since the 2018 season started, the NFL said.
But for fans, it’s added new, unfamiliar steps to the ticketing process, including creating accounts and downloading smart phone apps not previously needed.
Denver Broncos season-ticket holder Nathan Jones, 40, of Steamboat Springs, Colo., told SBJ that the new system had significantly slowed the process for getting into Empower Field at Mile High.
“At a recent game, fans stood in line for more than 30 minutes to try to get into the stadium — missing part of the first quarter,” Jones said. “Because screenshots aren’t allowed as tickets, an attendee has to have the app downloaded or the tickets in the wallet (Apple). It seemed like a great number of individuals didn’t know that, and it stalled the line.”
Jones said he has many friends who don’t own a smartphone and they feel like they can’t attend a game without one. “Overall, it’s diminished the fan experience upon stadium arrival,” he added. “I want hard copies of my tickets. Not only is it easier to get into the game without missing the first half, it’s also a souvenir from the game itself.”
Customers who purchase a ticket through StubHub or SeatGeek receive a ticket with a revolving barcode that automatically refreshes because those companies are on Ticketmaster’s platform. However, fans buying mobile tickets from sellers not on the platform, or accepting tickets from friends, must set up a Ticketmaster account to accept those tickets and have them approved by Ticketmaster.
Akshay Khanna, StubHub’s head of partnerships with the NFL, NBA and NHL, said Ticketmaster’s process for transferring tickets should be more open, and that customers should have a choice in how they receive their tickets. “Consumer choice extends to allowing consumers choice in transferability of their tickets,” Khanna said during a panel discussion on ticket distribution at this year’s AXS Sports Facilities & Franchises and Ticketing Symposium in Los Angeles.
Mobile ticketing in the NFL:
At this time last year during the 2018-19 NFL season, teams had added 819,000 new fans to their databases.
Season-to-date this year, that number has increased to 982,000 fans added. Last season, mobile entry stood at 49% in the league; this season so far it’s at 67%.
Seven teams are operating at an average 95%-98% mobile entry rate season-to-date.*
* Would not disclose teams
While many inside the NFL and those close to the ticketing world acknowledge the pain points, league officials are publicly expressing satisfaction.
“We’re very happy with the pacing so far,” said Bobby Gallo, NFL senior vice president of club business development. “Sixty-seven to 70% of fans are entering via mobile, which is up from 50% last year, and 10% two years ago.”
Gallo acknowledged that some fans may have issues if they buy “outside of the system,” meaning from a seller who has not joined the NFL’s ticket network like Ticketmaster, StubHub and SeatGeek have. In order to actually use or transfer that ticket, that user must create an account within the system, which may not be possible once they’re at the venue.
Gallo said the NFL has not mandated that teams use exclusively mobile tickets this year, and downplayed expectations that it would ever be 100% mobile. But the paper or card stock tickets that remain in use, typically for longtime season-ticket holders, have digital barcodes.
“I think we feel good about how it’s going, the majority and the lion’s share of people have come in with relatively little to no friction,” Gallo added. “That being said, if it’s even one fan, that’s one fan too many.”
The NFL has not tracked errors related to the new mobile tickets, Gallo said, but officials believe issues have affected just a very small percentage of the roughly 1 million fans entering NFL venues each weekend. The problems Gallo has heard about include connectivity issues at peak entrance times, sun glare, and insufficient education and training for both ticketing staff and fans. “The good news is, it’s all correctable and fixable, and in the short term,” he said.
But in many markets, the issues have gone public. The day after the Carolina Panthers mandated mobile tickets for their first preseason game, the Charlotte Observer ran a story detailing fan issues accessing the tickets and getting into the stadium.
Patrick Ryan, co-founder of Houston-based Eventellect, a company that works with professional sports teams on ticket inventory pricing, said the transition reminded him of when automobile manufacturers introduced push-start ignitions to cars.
“The tech works, but like the push-start ignitions, valets and some owners did not know that you had to push the brake before you could start the car, and things like that, so they had to be educated on the process,” Ryan said.
With the money that fans pay for tickets and the access they have to social media to voice their complaints, there’s zero tolerance for sports teams that have a bad fan experience, Ryan said.
Tony Knopp, CEO and co-founder of TicketManager, a company that helps large corporate clients manage their bulk tickets, said he’s heard no complaints from his large corporate customers, which include NFL partners Verizon, FedEx and Fox Sports. But he acknowledged some fans did not know which applications were needed to buy, sell or use NFL tickets.
“There are a few minor gaps in the user experience,” Knopp said. “I don’t think there’s anything that’s material.”
Dan August, the Los Angeles Rams’ vice president of strategy, said the team is currently at 60% mobile ticketing and that many older season-ticket holders have requested paper tickets, which they can get through Ticketmaster. If there are issues with mobile ticketing, it’s with tickets not purchased through Ticketmaster, StubHub or SeatGeek.
In Jacksonville, which went fully mobile in 2018, Chad Johnson, the Jaguars’ senior vice president for sales and service, said the team had set up shaded troubleshooting stations to alleviate long lines and to maintain the flow of fans through the gates. The Jaguars have also informed fans on how the new system works, and the team’s ticket staff has been trained on how the tech works on Apple and Android phones, Johnson added.