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Going to all-digital tickets is a bad idea for the Cubs and here’s why

The Cubs’ move to digital ticketing in 2019 is not going to be a popular thing.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Kelsey McKinney is a freelance writer who recently wrote this article for Deadspin. I’m not going to repeat the headline here because it contains a profanity, but suffice to say that Kelsey really, really, really doesn’t like digital tickets to sports events:

All tickets are going digital now. A study by Juniper Research estimates that one out of every two tickets will be digital by next year. The NFL moved to a fully digital ticket system this season (and in their announcement managed to say some thoroughly creepy things about knowing exactly who is in every seat at every game). We have essentially eradicated the only souvenir that was practical, individual to the game you attended, and free. We’ve replaced a tangible ticket with an alternative so persnickety that half the time they don’t even work on the first or second or third time.

The Cubs are going to require digital tickets for just about everyone in 2019. Season-ticket holders were informed upon receiving their invoices that all season tickets would be digital in 2019, unless the STH paid $10 per game (with a maximum charge of $150). Even then, you simply get a box-office printed ticket, not a fancy commemorative ticket as has been the case in previous seasons. The Cubs provided these reasons for the switch:

It is a convenient, secure way for Season Ticket Holders to use and share mobile tickets, allowing easy ticket management and entry into games at Wrigley Field using a mobile device;

Season tickets will be available to Season Ticket Holders earlier than past seasons;

It helps prevent lost or stolen tickets and provides up-to-date game time information.

The second point is largely irrelevant; the third, sure, fine, but many STH already take great care of their tickets and keep track of game times closely.

To the first point above, a friend of mine who is a fellow bleacher season-ticket holder often brings his kids to the ballpark, but not always with him. His wife brings the kids later, as they’re old enough to find their way around the ballpark, but not old enough to have their own smartphones. Here’s why that’s a problem:

It’ll be fun getting my kids in. About 20 times a year my wife walks over one of the kids before first pitch. They’re all OK going through gates by themselves, so giving them a paper ticket was easy. Now I’ll have to find a way to pass them my cell phone first (none of them are old enough to have their own phones). hopefully that new LF space has an opening I can pass my phone through; otherwise, I’ll have to find a way at the main bleacher entrance.

For people who do have smartphones, sure, it’s easy enough to forward tickets through the MLB Ballpark app. But what about season-ticket holders who don’t have smartphones? Those people are either forced to get one, or forced to pay the $150 fee for printed tickets. The Cubs told season-ticket holders that they can get commemorative tickets at the end of the 2019 season — but if you choose to pay for printed tickets during the year, you are no longer entitled to get the commemorative tickets.

There are other potential issues with digital tickets. What happens if the scanners go down? Or if an individual has somehow lost phone service, or their phone dies just before they go into the ballpark? With printed tickets this isn’t an issue.

Let’s be clear here. Because the Cubs are printing up commemorative tickets for most season-ticket holders, this has nothing to do with printing costs. In my view, it’s about two things:

  • The virtual elimination of brokers and street scalpers. You can see how going to all-digital would make life difficult for ticket brokers and nearly impossible for street scalpers. To be fair, this isn’t a bad thing.
  • The Cubs want data. Specifically, they want to know exactly who is using every single ticket, and with the MLB Ballpark app and digital tickets, they can have this data, the same as the NFL is doing in the link noted above. That isn’t possible with paper tickets.

All of this ignores the reason people actually want hard copy paper tickets, which is summed up well in the Deadspin article:

There are only a few things you can buy at any professional sporting event for less than $5. There are buttons and keychains. Most stadiums have a $5 koozie. But none of these have the date of the game you attended on them, which defeats the entire point of a souvenir: to remind you of a specific experience. You can buy a scorecard to keep a boxscore, but even those are vague enough to work for any game, and you have to do the work yourself.

Our phones, meanwhile, evolve and become outdated. Imagine being a Cubs fan in Cleveland who watched the team win in game seven of the World Series and having only a digital ticket to prove you were there, one that will disappear from history the minute you upgrade your iPhone.

The Cubs required everyone buying postseason tickets in 2018 to get them digitally. To be fair, they did send out the actual physical ticket by mail to season-ticket holders within the last week or so. Postseason tickets are under the control of MLB, not the teams, and these tickets could have been made available to Cubs season-ticket holders before postseason games. The Cubs chose not to do so. Some other 2018 postseason teams did issue these tickets to their fans for use at the games. Again, the reasons I noted above apply.

Kelsey McKinney continues with more reasons digital tickets are not a good thing:

In their press release for their all-digital rollout, the NFL suggested that fans may be able to “amass a digital collection” of tickets in the future. Because that is just what I want: an Apple Wallet full of a thousand old sports tickets that I have to flip through to find whatever boarding pass I need to get on a plane. Or even worse: to be shown some random man’s collection of digital tickets as a strange brag at a bar.

She’s right. Seriously, a “digital collection” of tickets on my phone isn’t anything close to the collection of literally thousands of hard tickets I have from Cubs games over decades of going to Wrigley Field. The paper tickets create memories, I can look back at specific tickets and remember the experience, they are tangible pieces of evidence that I attended specific live sporting events. A collection of a few bytes of memory that show up on my phone screen just doesn’t have the same resonance. As McKinney notes:

A real ticket has art on it. It has a picture of a player on the team. Each year, a designer gets paid to make it special. At the bottom it says which two teams are playing, where my seat is, and what the date is. I can frame it if the game becomes something meaningful to me or someone else. In a box under my bed, I have several dozen tickets from games that meant something to me: games with people I loved, games that were historic, games I want to remember.

That’s exactly right. The Cubs, in fact, have been at the forefront of excellent designs on their season tickets, including these cool Topps baseball card tickets from 2013. I would have been willing to pay a fee to be able to use the commemorative season tickets during the actual season, rather than just get a book of them after the season ends. The Cubs, and other teams now doing this, should go back to sending out commemorative tickets to their season-ticket holders, their best customers, at the very least, to use at the games. Most of us would be willing to pay extra for that. Also, presumably the individual game ticket-buyer at the box office ticket window will still get a printed hard ticket.

I do understand some of the reasons noted above for going all-digital, up to a point. It just takes a little bit of the personal out of the experience of attending a Cubs game in person.


Digital Cubs tickets...

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Love the idea! Bring it on
    (69 votes)
  • 78%
    I’m a traditionalist and would rather have hard paper tickets
    (679 votes)
  • 13%
    Don’t care either way
    (115 votes)
863 votes total Vote Now