Future of Sports
Chatting Sports Tech

Edition #12 – Mobile Ticketing & In-Venue Experience

Schools are going fully mobile but should more be done?

Back in Edition #5, I wrote the following: 

“The pandemic accelerated mobile ticketing’s inevitability…it’s only a matter of time before mobile ticketing is the norm for every fan (Yes, I believe the need for some paperless ticket is overblown if mobile ticketing becomes the exclusive option).”

Clearly, I inspired a reader at the NFL. Per the Athletic, the NFL is the first major league to make mobile ticketing mandatory.

Is this a big deal for the game day experience? Yes, in my opinion. But while a positive first step, I don’t think the recent mobile ticketing roll-outs go far enough. 

What do I mean? Let’s dive in…

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First off, why haven’t you written anything over the last several weeks?

“I’m sorry..but a lot of good will come from this.”

Throwback reference. Let’s segue to mobile ticketing. What’s going on in college athletics? 

When I think about the in-venue experience, ticketing and gate entry kick off the entire process. Long lines and an inefficient check-in can put a damper on a fans mood before a game begins. 

Following the NFL’s lead, multiple college athletics departments also decided to go entirely mobile ticketing for the upcoming year. My alma mater Notre Dame, my mother’s alma mater UConn, and two ND rivals Michigan and Boston College all announced intentions to go mobile last month.  

What do all four schools have in common? All four have Paciolan as their primary ticketing provider.

Why does that matter? From what I’ve gathered, after lagging other primary ticket providers with its mobile technology (e.g., Ticketmaster), Paciolan used the pandemic to emphasize its mobile capabilities and allow fans of these schools to more seamlessly download tickets to a digital wallet. 

With Paciolan handling ticketing for ~80 percent of college athletics programs, expect a lot more universities to announce mobile only ticketing as we approach the upcoming season.

Isn’t this great news? You advocate for technology and all these schools are taking strides?

Yes but I want more intentionality and strategy. I’ll get to what I mean below but first let’s dive deeper into the four school announcements:

  • Notre Dame – All tickets including premium will be mobile only. No mention of the school’s mobile app integration. Fans download to Apple Wallet or Google Play. 
  • UConn –  Similar to ND, no more print at home option. No mention of mobile app integration / have to download to Apple Wallet or Google Play.
  • Michigan – Returning football season ticket holders will have the option to download paper tickets. The new Michigan app will be the easiest way to access mobile tickets.
  • Boston College – Similar to ND, no more print at home option. No mention of mobile app integration / have to download to Apple Wallet or Google Play.

For fans, this is a positive development. The technology has existed for other industries – Airlines allow you to download your boarding pass directly to your mobile wallet. With Millennials and Gen Z no longer buying printers, paper tickets should be a thing of the past. Mobile ticketing stands to speed up the entire entry process.

But notice how I specifically called out three of the four schools for not mentioning their mobile app in the announcement. I wholeheartedly believe college athletics mobile apps are the most underutilized departmental asset and nothing else is close. As time spent on phones passes time spent on computers, why aren’t universities embracing the trend?

That’s an interesting insight. Can you elaborate?

Let me caveat that there’s plenty of time for these schools to change the process before the season starts (though I’m skeptical). That said, here’s how I envision the current ticketing buying process from those announcements:

Customer signs into existing account with school and purchases tickets -> Email confirming purchase with link to access tickets through Paciolan -> Download to mobile wallet before game day -> Scan at gate day of game

The problem in my mind? At no point during the buying journey laid out above is that person introduced to your digital ecosystem (i.e., your mobile app). No chance to stumble upon a sponsor ad placement. No chance for re-targeting with notifications like food and beverage discounts, coaches show reminders, etc. 

I’ve spoken to multiple people who consider themselves die hard college fans but admit to either never downloading their school’s app or downloading it for game day for a single activation (like a Cue Audio lightshow) then immediately deleting. At the same, a bunch of my ND classmates spend an hour everyday on message boards following football and basketball recruiting so clearly there’s a huge appetite for regular content. Given schools are starving for new revenue streams, controllable digital assets and inventory should be a focus for monetization.

Sounds like you could go on a long rant there. What other problems do you see?

The other big issue in my opinion is the fragmentation of the digital game day experience. Ideally, a mobile gameday app solves this by being the hub for customer touchpoints, starting with integration of the mobile ticketing. 

During a game, a fan journey may involve all of the following – parking or public transportation, ticketing, checking stats and scores, concessions and mobile ordering, merchandising, incident reporting and customer service. If I care about fan experience, shouldn’t there be a single location where a fan accesses all of those services? 

What do I actually see when I skim through college athletics mobile apps? Until the Paciolan SDK allowed integration into mobile apps, ticketing might have been available through a web pass-through but couldn’t be relied upon in bad service. Few schools have added mobile ordering or parking capabilities. A couple schools have plugged Satisfi Labs in for customer service but these schools are the outliers. Incident management reporting isn’t really a feature I’ve seen. Links to a merchandise store (i.e., Fanatics) are generally available but the in-app shopping experience is painful. 

I often use the Sacramento Kings as a model sports organization embracing technology for the customer experience (with tech billionaire Vivek Randive as owner, this makes sense). The ideal state listed above? That’s their reality. 

The Kings do something else smart, using technology to drive real-time operational insights. They use Lava to integrate all customer-facing points from the Golden One Center on game days, allowing them to act on those insights with in-game promotions and other targeted discounts. Anyone in your stadium is a captive audience during the game. That’s the best time to get fans to spend. 10% discount for arriving early. Free popcorn for paying with a team branded card. Notify sales reps when a season ticket prospect is in the venue. Possibilities are endless if utilized correctly. 

What’s preventing college athletics from going full Sacramento Kings?

I see four barriers: 

  1. Added complexity of college athletics – In a normal year, the NBA’s Sacramento Kings have 41 home games at the Golden One Center to maximize profit. On the other hand, a college athletics department may have 41 home games in a given month for all sports at multiple venues.  Factor in the wide disparity between big budget sport resources (e.g., Men’s Football) versus small budget (e.g., Men’s track and field and add unique aspects from college (the academic component, student tickets), there’s way more added complexity to maintaining a mobile app that represents the department. For that reason, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish app will never resemble the Sacramento Kings app. This is the nature of the beast comparing pro sports to college athletics. 
  2. Connectivity on campus – Prior editions have mentioned how venue technology upgrades require better on-site connectivity especially if everyone needs their phones to transact. But it’s not always an easy solution for older venues. Other than Madison Square Garden, the oldest NBA arena is younger than I am, while many college football stadiums were born before your grandparents. Schools I’ve spoken with recognize connectivity as an issue but are struggling to find the funds for the necessary upgrades given last school year’s financial turmoil. Let’s label this as mostly out of an athletic department’s immediate control.
  3. Having the wrong mindset – This is where departments have control but fall short in my opinion. Having worked with multiple schools considering new mobile apps, I’ve often come away disappointed with their perception. Most schools see mobile as an extension of their website and a drain on the marketing department’s budget. If schools adopted the mindset that mobile apps could be a profit center and utilized it as a tool to regularly connect with their fanbase (exclusive merchandise drops, more gamification, facilitating community) and improve the gameday experience (in-game trivia, mobile ordering), a five figure investment could turn into high six figures profit driver.
  4. Lack of resources devoted to success – This goes hand and hand in with number three above. Many schools assign interns to manage their apps, clearly deprioritizing the platform. Fans won’t download and spend time on the app if the mobile content doesn’t differ from the school’s website. The department is then disappointed by download numbers and time spent on app metrics creating a downward spiral. The value for sponsorship declines and nobody is happy. Give fans a reason to download your app. Give them personalized content.  

Before moving on, I’d argue the point of added complexity of professional versus college sports creates opportunities. There’s more potential to distribute differentiated content to a rabid, niche fanbase with smaller sports. Stories on the Sacramento Kings are being covered across every sports media outlet. Same for Notre Dame football. But Notre Dame men’s track and field is not, so why not better utilize your mobile app to include track and field content? 

Wrap it up and take us home with a quick summary

Making the decision to go 100% mobile ticketing is a good first step for athletic departments in their journey of technological adoption. But the recent announcements on how mobile ticketing will work illustrates these departments haven’t fully considered how to utilize digital assets for revenue generation.

Certain professional sport teams provide a roadmap to create a better customer experience by integrating all aspects of gameday. Real time data and greater visibility into individualized customer journeys lead to more revenue opportunities.

The first step requires changing the mindset that mobile apps are simply a cost center and recognizing digital assets can be powerful monetization tools.

Until next time,

– Charles

The next topic in the future venue technology series will be diving deeper into venue connectivity

If you enjoyed this edition, tell your friends or colleagues about Chatting Sports Tech. Add me on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter @ccampisi_EES.

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