Braves want fans to turn smartphones into tickets

Team charges fee for paper tickets

The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionApril 5, 2014 

Braves Nationals Baseball

Atlanta Braves' Jason Heyward, center, is congratulated by Chris Johnson (23) and Justin Upton (8) after scoring the winning run on Johnson's sacrifice fly during the eighth inning of the baseball home opener against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Friday, April 4, 2014, in Washington. The Braves defeated the Nationals 2-1. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

ALEX BRANDON — AP

When the Braves open their home season Tuesday night, many fans will enter Turner Field by scanning their smartphone, rather than a paper ticket, at the gate.

As technology speeds away from traditional tickets and even from the print-at-home tickets popular in recent seasons, the Braves for the first time are pushing their fans toward paperless entry into the ballpark via a ticket bar code downloaded on a smartphone and presented at the gate.

The Braves are so serious about the new pitch that they charged season-ticket buyers an extra $125 per seat this year if they insisted on booklets of paper tickets -- a fee designed to change habits. Unless they paid the extra fee, buyers received digital tickets that can be printed from a computer or electronically transferred to an iPhone or Android device.

Single-game buyers won't have to pay extra for paper at the Turner Field ticket booths, but if they purchase electronically -- as an overwhelming majority did last year -- they'll also be able to download the tickets onto their phones.

"It is a very big initiative for us," said Derek Schiller, the Braves' executive vice president of sales and marketing.

Scanners at all stadium gates have been upgraded to read the bar codes on phones, he said.

Schiller said about 80 percent of the Braves' season-ticket buyers accepted the digital tickets, saving themselves the extra fee. But as with most baseball traditions that have faded away, such as doubleheaders and complete games, the demise of the old-fashioned ticket stirs some nostalgia and resistance.

"Baseball traditionalists, I think, want that ticket," said John Shafer, leader of a large group that has bought multiple Braves season tickets for 24 years.

For one thing, he said, "people want to frame them" as keepsakes of momentous games they witness.

"You go to a no-hitter, and you want to keep those game tickets," Shafer said.

Imagine how many people kept ticket stubs from the Braves-Dodgers game April 8, 1974 -- 40 years ago Tuesday night -- when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's career home-run record.

Teams recognize the commemorative value of tickets: For a week after Miami pitcher Henderson Alvarez threw a no-hitter on the final day of the regular season last year, the Marlins offered 9,100 unsold tickets for $15 apiece.

Shafer said his group -- which has grown to about 55 people who share 48 season tickets and sell the leftovers on baseball's official secondary ticket marketplace StubHub -- opted to pay the extra $125 per seat for paper tickets.

"It cost us $5,250 extra for paper," Shafer said.

It would have been more, but six of the group's seats were exempt from the new fee because they're in the SunTrust Club behind home plate and covered by multiyear agreements.

Shafer said he understands and respects the Braves' strategy.

"You do have a choice -- you can go paperless and not pay the fee," he said. "I think the Braves are trying to force us to go paperless, and from their perspective, if I was sitting in their chair, I'd probably do the same thing.

"It's a business. It is what it is. ... I don't want to complain about this."

The Braves benefit from the digital and mobile ticketing initiative, branded Braves FanPass, by saving on the expense of producing tickets on paper stock. The team also likes the ability to link mobile game tickets, which are similar to mobile airline tickets, to customer-loyalty programs.

The Braves, who tested mobile delivery on a small scale last season, say fans will benefit from paperless tickets because of the "increased functionality" they offer, particularly the ability to easily transfer bar codes to friends, clients, re-purchasers, whoever.

"If you came to the ballpark with four paper tickets and had two friends meeting you, you'd stand there and wait for them. With paperless, you can just email their tickets to their phones," Schiller said.

Another advantage, he said, is that fans won't have to worry about losing or forgetting their tickets, provided they have their smartphone.

The bar code downloaded to the phone also can be scanned at Turner Field concession stands to access season-ticket holders' 33-percent discount on food and beverage.

Last year, Braves tickets purchased electronically could be printed at home or loaded on to the magnetic stripe of a credit card. Few fans used the credit-card delivery option, Schiller conceded, because of concerns the card would be charged again when it was scanned at the gate to produce a seat-locater receipt.

With tickets that show seat location as well as bar code now deliverable to smartphones via FanPass, Major League Baseball's At The Ballpark app or iPhone's Passbook, the credit-card delivery method is no longer offered.

"It was an interim step to mobile," Schiller said.

By the time the Braves' planned new stadium opens in Cobb County in 2017, Schiller predicted, "very few" printed tickets will exist, and those will be for "unique" situations. "I think, by and large, the overwhelming majority of fans will use their smartphones for access."

In fact, as the Braves plan the design of the stadium, they are allowing for fewer ticket windows than at Turner Field.

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