If you’re old enough to remember what life was like before the Internet, chances are you’ve hung onto a ticket over the years—a paper ticket. Much like a journal, it’s chock-full of memories. How you waited in line for that ticket to be torn. Who was with you, matching your giddy excitement as you inched closer and closer to the actual game or concert. Of course, you saved that stub. It’s a relic of your personal history.
Today, the era of paper tickets itself is about to become history. Consider that at this year’s College Football Playoff National Championship in Atlanta, 77 percent of fans entered with digital tickets. At the NHL All-Star Game in Tampa, the number was even higher: 85 percent. As with other digital transitions—CDs and DVDs to streaming—there’s no going back and today’s version of a saved ticket is a selfie and a check-in.
The ticket shift was made possible by Ticketmaster, and put into overdrive with their new product, Ticketmaster Presence, a state-of-the-art platform that was unveiled last year. In a world where consumers use their smartphone to order coffee and or board a plane, the technology offers the same convenience for more than 80 event venues across North America. This upcoming season, the National Football League will partner with Ticketmaster to rollout digital ticketing across the league.
At a recent panel at the Fast Company Grill in Austin, Greg Economou, chief commercial officer and head of sports for Ticketmaster, North America; Sharon Otterman, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at The Madison Square Garden Company, and Chris Gallagher, chief revenue officer for Orlando City SC explored the impact of the new technology, which not only streamlines the event-going experience but also also enriches it.
As Economou put it, “The digital ticket and mobile ticketing are completely changing the industry.”
Who’s At The Game?
In March 2017, Orlando City SC introduced Ticketmaster Presence at its brand new Orlando City Stadium so that Florida soccer fans could enter games easier than ever before. But the technology has done more than save fans time, says Gallagher. It has completely changed the way the franchise understands their fans and their preferences.
“It’s hard to believe in today’s day and age that you have a stadium full of people and you don’t know who they are,” said Gallagher, adding that it’s “changed the way we do business.”
“Our data, year over year, new-to-file [that is, new fans] is up 400%. We have a 25,000 seat stadium. Every game, we’re getting around 2,500 new-to-file names, so 10% of that is brand new people who we didn’t have in our database before, and that’s through resale, that’s through primary tickets, that’s through transfers.”
Indeed, ticket reselling between fans in the age of the internet has posed a challenge to venues seeking to understand what drives customers to their events. But new technology has finally given Orlando City SC and similarly equipped organizations the power to understand when and how these secondary sales are happening.
“We had games last year where we would track tickets changing hands seven times,” Gallagher said. “So the seventh person who comes to the game you know how to market to them—but then you have six people before that who all touched the ticket. Those are essentially new leads you haven’t had before, because you would have never known who considered going to the game and then handed off or sold it to somebody else.”
Another benefit of identifying ticketholders, says Economou, is “a dramatic reduction of fraud.” No more fake copies of PDF tickets. No more fan shock—that moment after traveling from out of town for a big game only to discover their ticket is counterfeit. That was every fan’s—and every venue’s—nightmare. No more.
Last year, Orlando SC had a few dozen instances of fake tickets each game. This year? None.
Making Memories for Fans
According to Otterman at MSG, those at the forefront of the revolution would be wise to remember they are in the memories business. “We have to just figure out, as an industry, where [the physical ticket] gets replaced,” she said. “You go to these amazing events because you want to be able to say you were there. And there used to be a time where you collected all those paper tickets, and you put them in a book, and you saved them forever.”
The elimination of the paper ticket doesn’t mean customers have to lose the sentimentality that went along with it. In fact, Otterman says, technology offers opportunities for memory-building and storytelling that far surpass what was available in the past. Venues just need to make sure that they offer them to attendees in the right way.
“What’s the digital replacement? It may be digital lockers documenting that amazing point in time,” she said. “We want to have all the benefits.”
Customization is Next
Venue operators know all too well that, when it comes to revenue streams, getting customers in the building is just the beginning. Once operators are able to understand their fans better, said Economou, those insights could translate into real-time opportunities customized to a given fan, including a fan’s meal or drink preferences during the game.
“Maybe at some point we’ll be able to offer you that beer before you get out of your seat,” he said, “I think that’s the next wave. You have these rich databases of fans, and we’ll start to mobilize that data to do other things than sell tickets.”
Things that, thanks to a digital ticket, enhance the experience of a concert or game—and create new memories.