The NFL Is Mandating Digital Tickets, Stripping Treasured Souvenirs From Its Fans

The NFL can’t wait to welcome fans back to full-capacity stadiums from Seattle to Miami in 2021, though Luddites apparently need not apply. Commissioner Roger Goodell plans on enforcing a new policy that will be a blow to scrapbookers everywhere: Ticket stubs are about to become a thing of the past, rarer than a Johnny Manziel touchdown pass. Digital tickets are taking over.

All 32 NFL teams will use paperless ticketing in 2021

Collecting ticket stubs from memorable games is about to become a thing of the past as the NFL moves exclusively to digital ticketing. | Matt Jonas/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

The NFL has announced that it will become the country’s first major sports league requiring paperless tickets to all of its games beginning this fall. It’s an extension of the policy accelerated by the pandemic amid concern over COVID-19 being transmitted via contact with objects and surfaces.

Converting to a digital tickets system in which smartphones store the tickets means an end to fans keeping stubs as memories of games they attended, especially big ones like Super Bowls. It also potentially complicates buying tickets from a friend or a scalper and runs the risk of shutting out the 15% of the population that does not own smartphones, according to The Athletic.

On the other side of the equation, it’s another step toward reducing fraud and can make it easier for fans to sell unneeded tickets on reliable secondary markets. The jury is still out on whether there will be any relief from onerous “handling fee” surcharges tacked onto purchases.

According to Front Office Sports, the San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons, and Tennessee Titans are among the teams already taking technology farther by using cashless transactions exclusively at concession stands. At Barclays Center, Brooklyn Nets basketball fans can scan a card at the entrance of the souvenir shop and be charged for whatever items they walk out with.

The marketing possibilities are endless for teams

Digital tickets and the changes to concession sales that will inevitably follow should bring interactions in all sports to a new level as teams potentially gather information about fans they can use in marketing.

  • Fans who can’t attend the makeup date of postponed MLB games will be able to sell the ticket on a secondary market without having to arrange the handoff of a ticket stub.
  • Rather than the PA announcer inviting the fan in Section 203, Row 11, Seat 10 to visit a kiosk to pick up their prize from a random drawing, a gift certificate can be delivered straight to the phone.
  • Ordering and paying food midway through the second quarter simplifies picking it up at halftime.
  • That free fast-food treat earned when the home team meets some sort of criteria during a win gets loaded straight onto fans’ phones rather than requiring a ticket stub.

At the very least, digital ticketing saves money for teams. The cost of printing and distribution becomes virtually nothing, and verifying tickets sold vs. money collected at the gate becomes a snap.

The system was already in place at Super Bowl 55

Only 22,000 fans attended Super Bowl 55 in Tampa because of the pandemic. All of them used digital tickets to enter, and it was also cashless inside the stadium for all concessions. Spectators paid via smartphones.

As for the souvenir value of the event, the NFL mailed paper tickets a month after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ victory to the person who made the initial purchase. That won’t be the case for the more than 17 million tickets sold for regular-season games this fall.

As a one-off instance with a small crowd, the game probably didn’t tell the league much about how to proceed with digital tickets in the future. With Super Bowl tickets being among the most coveted in U.S. sports, the league probably already learned something about fan behavior.

The question becomes whether the NFL will put the information to good use.

According to Yahoo! Sports, some Denver Broncos season ticket-holders had an unhappy experience last season after selling tickets through The NFL Ticket Exchange, one of the league’s approved resale platforms. After analyzing data from Ticketmaster, the Broncos revoked some season tickets without fully explaining how they determined they were labeled brokers.

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