Leadership / 12.10.18
The Baltimore Ravens Talk Transition to Mobile-Only Ticketing
Starting this football season, the Baltimore Ravens began requiring fans to scan mobile tickets instead of paper to gain access to M&T Bank Stadium on game days. Now, spectators must display their tickets on smartphones using the team's mobile app. To ease the transition, season ticket holders have also received a special season ticket card (like a credit card) to use to enter the stadium.
The Ravens’ switch to digital ticketing is part of an NFL-wide push. The league inked a deal with Ticketmaster in 2017, offering access to an open-architecture, completely digital system. All teams are now required to offer digital tickets by the 2019–20 season. Among those getting an early jump have been the Dallas Cowboys, who worked with Ticketmaster to implement digital ticketing during the 2015–16 season and witnessed a substantial decrease in ticket fraud. The Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars have similarly embraced digital ticketing.
For the Ravens, the transition to mobile has been a fairly smooth one, but not without its challenges. Baker Koppelman, the Ravens' Senior Vice President of Ticket Sales and Operations, explained his fear of older fans being turned off by the new ticketing format.
“The scariest thing for us is knowing the age of our demographic,” Koppelman said. “In an NFL environment where you have pretty high prices, the people purchasing your tickets are typically older and maybe less flexible and less [tech] savvy with this kind of stuff. We operate in an environment where we don't need another reason for people to be mad at us. But I think we all believed that once people got over the hump with mobile ticketing, they'd really like it.”
Whitney Fox, the Ravens’ Customer Service Manager, shared that the transition took place during a less than optimal time for them.
“The timing was a big challenge,” Fox said. “We announced it in conjunction with [season ticket holders] receiving their packages. We wanted to make sure that we would be able to focus just on mobile ticketing. We didn't want to do it while we were focused on renewals or any other thing going on. After the renewals were finished, we communicated the change. Then, it became about finding as many ways as possible to communicate their options and the benefits.”
One of the key ways the team effectively spread the world was a special fan event at the stadium prior to the start of preseason.
“We did an event here at the stadium where we billed it as one of our PSL [personal seat license] owner rewards events,” Fox said. “They got to be among the first people to pick up their packages. They got to come to the stadium and see the new upgrades, like our new video boards, and they ended up attending a press conference at the same event. We showed them the locker room, took them out on the field, had their names up on the video board and thanked them for their support.
“We then gave a little presentation of what they were about to unbox. After they opened the package, we talked about how they can use the mobile option and the card option. There were some people in that group who were unsure how to use the mobile option. So, we had them pull their phones out, got them logged into their account and showed them how they can do it. They were pretty happy and excited after that.”
In fact, the Ravens took inspiration from the Jacksonville Jaguars' efforts to educate fans with a special robocall initiative.
"We did some robocalls, where we had one of our players record a message,” Koppelman said. “I think we did that before each of the first three home games and one of the preseason games. We would send this message on Friday to say, 'Hey, make sure you download your tickets before Sunday.'”
Fox also saw huge value in the robocalls during the transition.
“The robocalls were great for people who don't necessarily open their emails,” she said. “Some would call us right back and say, 'Oh, yeah. I need to do this. Can you help me?' We've also bulked up on staff, which was a thing that other teams recommended. On game days, we've had some of our guest services ambassadors on a secondary perimeter to help people get their tickets pulled up on their phones before getting to the security line. We've also added additional ticket resolution staff to help if there are any issues.”
The side benefits of mobile ticketing are now starting to become apparent for Koppelman, Fox, their Ravens colleagues and, most importantly, the fans. Mobile ticketing enables fans to transfer tickets to people they know and allows posting for resale. It has been especially helpful for ticket holders selling on various distribution channels.
“They're having to go through our system to deliver the ticket,” Fox said. “Where before we would have no information on them, now the person is using our system to deliver the ticket instead of just mailing it where we would have no record. So, when people call us not knowing how to get their ticket that they bought on these secondary sites, we're able to look up the location and see how it was emailed and what account it went into that they created. We can help them log in and access them.”
It’s easy to lose a printed ticket as you're hurrying to a game. Another benefit of mobile ticketing? All you have to do is keep track of your precious smartphone. Some people are even wanting to go a step further.
“One of the funny things that has evolved from this is we're still doing paper parking passes,” Koppelman said. “We had a session with our sponsors, some of which have large blocks of tickets. The comment they kept giving us was, 'We're onboard with this and we want the parking passes to be mobile, too!' That's when we knew we were getting over the hump.”
As for advice to other teams and venues looking to go the mobile ticketing route, Koppelman was quick to answer.
“You can never over-communicate,” he said. “If you're going to take this step, you just have to have a plan in place to communicate. Don't be afraid to over-communicate. The worst is when people walk up to the gate and they haven't pulled their tickets up. On game day, you don't want to see lines affected by people needing to pull their tickets up.
“There will always be a segment who haven't done this before. It could be a transfer situation, or it could be a new buyer. There is an email we send specifically to people who bought or received transfers. Anybody who is a single-game recipient we put a little pressure on just to make sure they know what they're doing.”
While the transition to mobile ticketing might be rough right now, Koppelman knows it’s temporary.
“In three to five years, this is going to be so prevalent it will be old news.”
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Tags: Sports , Paperless , Mobile , Stadium , NFL , Consumer Preferences , Venues