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NFL Stadiums To Have Fully Digital Ticket Systems In 2018-19 Season

Ryan Mayer

Lost in the ups and downs of following their favorite teams over the course of the season, NFL fans may have missed a bit of news last fall that will change their game-day experience. For the 2018-19 season, NFL teams are moving to a fully digital ticketing platform, provided by Ticketmaster for all stadiums. Digital ticketing has continued to gain in prevalence as mobile technology improves.

According to Ticketmaster's Chief Product Officer for North America, Justin Burleigh, the reasoning behind the migration from paper to digital tickets is twofold.

"Our industry has fundamentally always been plagued by issues that are at the core of ticketing, which are anonymity and fraud," said Burleigh in a recent phone interview.

The anonymity of paper tickets, buying and selling, presents problems for both the team and consumer in Burleigh's eyes. The team has no way of truly knowing who is in what seat in their stadium with paper tickets. Sure, they have the names of season ticket holders or group leaders that buy tickets in bulk, but they don't know who receives the tickets after the initial purchase. Because of this, teams have been unable to connect with some fans at the games. As for the consumer (the fan), if they're not the title owner of the ticket, the team can't build a relationship with them or personalize their experience, according to Burleigh.

Ticketmaster Presence phone tapping enclosure. Credit: Ticketmaster

Paper tickets also present a risk of fraud, with the seller making multiple copies of the same tickets and selling them to various people. With digital ticketing, Burleigh says they've already seen at least one case in which fraud was completely shut down.

"We've talked for a while over the last year about a case study at Orlando City's soccer stadium, where they just went completely digital. They went from about 120 cases of fraud per game to 0. They had no fraud for an entire season and for us, that's one of the most important metrics of the shift."

Ticketmaster's system, Presence, will be installed at every NFL venue for the upcoming season and will be used for both games and any shows or concerts that take place within those venues. Presence operates on NFC (near-field communication, think Apple Pay tap-and-go) or RFID (think credit cards) technology, so it doesn't necessarily require wifi or access to the internet via cellular service. There is also a "paper" option for users concerned they may run into those all-encompassing "phone issues."

"We actually did build a paper instrument that we call a Ticketmaster 'Smart Ticket,'" said Burleigh. "It's about the size of a business card but it doesn't have a barcode on it. It has an RFID chip in it. You have the same kind of tap-and-go experience you would have with your phone, like Apple Pay, but with a piece of paper instead."

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With any technology that gathers and stores consumer data, there are always concerns about data security.

"In the Presence platform, we don't store any details about you. We store your section, your row, your seat, your token value, and then when a club wants to engage with you, they'll go into their own customer database to engage with you," said Burleigh. "We're pretty tight with how we control access to the data and how we let the data follow on in that lifecycle. Security is absolutely top of mind for us."

According to Ticketmaster, their Presence system was in use for about 75% of tickets scanned at this year's College Football Playoffs and 85% of those scanned at this year's NHL All-Star game in Tampa. In addition, eight NBA venues have gone fully digital.

Presence System on phone. Credit: Ticketmaster

Still, there's something to be said for having a paper ticket. If you're anything like me, you've collected the tickets to the various sporting events you've been to over the years as mementos of having been there. A full transition to a digital platform would seem to wipe away that type of nostalgic experience. However, Burleigh says their team is still working on some ideas of how to allow folks to amass a digital collection in much the same way they've done with physical tickets through the years.

"We're all fans, we all love going to live events and working for a company where that's at the core of what we do," said Burleigh. "I'm a guy who collects vinyl and has ticket stubs from when I went to shows when I was younger all the way up until recently. We are thinking pretty deeply about how can you have a digital experience but get a commemorative ticket or lanyard, those types of things. We're not ready yet to announce what we're thinking in that regard, but we are thinking about it."

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