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Are Mobile Passes the Future of Tickets?

We go inside the Chiefs’ new initiative, the Bud Light Game Day Pass to find out just that.

Arrowhead Stadium (Photo via Kansas City Chiefs)

For many fans, purchasing season tickets for your favorite NFL team might seem like true fantasy football. On cost alone, it may seem like a non-starter — particularly for younger fans or those just starting to accumulate disposable income in their personal lives.

It’s understandable. Ticket options for fans have been fairly standard for years, although, in the last decade, innovations have been made around individual-game tickets.

This fall, a new option is being rolled out by two teams, and Front Office Sports had an opportunity to sit down and gain some insight with one of them: the Kansas City Chiefs, on the product design and strategy that went into a new, mobile-only, season ticket option and what they hope it will accomplish.

The experiment may very well be an important case study for other teams around the league and lead to further innovation and options for fans.

NEW IDEAS IN TICKETING

Back in 2008, the NFL developed a strategic relationship with Ticketmaster and launched the NFL Ticket Exchange website, designed to capitalize on the emerging resale market and competitors like StubHub and Razorgator.

With a focus on guaranteed and secure tickets from an official partner, the NFL looked to make this offer the choice of first resort. The focus on the partnership remained strong through ads into last year, where NFL coaches, past and present, were placed in an ad campaign during NFL games to promote the service.

In 2009, upon moving from famed Texas Stadium into their new palatial estate of AT&T Stadium (then Cowboys Stadium), the Dallas Cowboys introduced the low-cost Party Pass which enabled additional, standing-room only attendance in the upper end zone concourses to watch the game on the field with fellow fans while enjoying stadium amenities.

Initially, the ticket proved too popular and needed to be scaled back within the first season. However, the ticket option remains strong to this day in Arlington, Texas.

Two years ago, in 2015, the NFL made the decision to join other pro sports leagues and allow dynamic ticket pricing for individual games. Eight teams participated the first year (including the Chiefs) and were able to match prices for specific games to market demand.

In layman’s terms, an individual ticket against a visiting playoff caliber team (or one with a fan base that loves to travel) would cost more than one against a team vying for the top pick in the next draft.

https://frontofficesports.com/nfl-facilities-are-finding-new-life-beyond-gameday-f636031974c

Using an example from a team that adopted the structure this offseason, the Buffalo Bills are charging more for Opening Day tickets and games against prime opponents, while the weather remains good, and are charging less for games at the end of the year when you may need a lot of resolve and a parka.

That’s all well and good, but the concept of season tickets had long remained unchanged (other than the occasional partial game package). Most of the innovation had been to take preventative measures to protect season tickets sold from going to ticket brokers or worse — opposing fan bases. Nothing had really been offered to expand the pool of potential season-ticket holders.

HOW SEASON-LONG PASSES WORK

Enter a new strategy that two teams are rolling out this fall. Each are launching the same, mobile-only ticketing concept in a slightly different way.

The New York Jets announced the concept of a Jets Boarding Pass in mid-June. In a partnership with JetBlue, a fully mobile ticketing experience includes seats to all ten games — preseason and regular season.

In the Meadowlands, Jets fans will experience a different seat for each game and be notified of that location by mobile device within two hours of kickoff.

Despite the different locations in the stadium, up to six fans can purchase the package to sit together consistently no matter where the seats are. Jets fans purchasing the option also will have access to Jets Rewards and receive a price that is below face value of what the ten tickets would be for the full season.

Jets President, Neil Glat, shared in the official press release that the team made the move, in part, as “consumer preferences are shifting toward mobile transactions.”

As the calendar moved into early July, the Kansas City Chiefs rolled out their own unique season-long pass experience — the Bud Light Game Day Pass.

While similar in concept to what the Jets rolled out, it has its differences.

The Chiefs mobile-only pass allows up to four friends to sit together. They are able to select the same seat location inside the stadium they will experience throughout the year as opposed to finding out where their seats are on game day. The mobile tickets for use would be distributed the morning of the game as well.

Similarly, the price is definitely below face value of what the entire book of tickets would cost for the season. Part of this is accomplished by stripping all additional benefits of season ticket membership to focus solely on the game tickets and the most cost-effective method of ticket delivery.

INSIDE THE STRATEGY

In announcing the news, Chiefs President, Mark Donovan, noted, “The sports and entertainment ticketing industry continues to evolve as technology and purchasing habits change.”

In the same press release the Chiefs rolled out the Bud Light Game Day Pass, Anheuser-Busch’s Director of NFL Partnerships, Anna Rogers, shared the following: “At Bud Light, we are continually looking for innovative ways to bring friends together and enhance the fan experience with each of our partner clubs.” Anheuser-Busch and Bud Light played a notable role in building a synergy with the Chiefs in designing the offer.

The synergy in message around bringing friends together is notable as Bud Light has focused much of its advertising concept this year on that very subject featuring ads like ‘Between Friends’ that aired during Super Bowl LI with similarly themed ads that ran during the NBA Finals.

The harmony between the ticket offering and Bud Light’s ad campaign is no coincidence as echoed by Chiefs Vice President of Ticketing, Tyler Kirby, who we were able to speak with at length on the new ticket option.

“Part of the design of this program was prompted by our great partners at Bud Light. They’ve introduced a new platform based around friendship. We thought this concept was a perfect fit for what our partner was trying to accomplish.

…we hear from fans about the value of sitting next to the same group of people each game and forming a camaraderie. We think that creating new pockets of fans who have committed to year-long tickets is going to be an added benefit to the game day experience for a lot of these purchasers.”

Photo via Chris Fox, 5T Sports

On timing, product development has been in the works for a few years as the Chiefs looked to capitalize on continued retail trends that show an increased focus on purchases through and use of mobile devices.

“We have discussed for a couple years now a concept where fans would receive their tickets the day of the game via mobile. It accomplishes a lot of things in making sure that fans have secure tickets and better allows us to communicate directly to the end user, ultimately improving their game day experience.

Last season, we implemented a ‘Ready-to-Print’ policy that delayed printing of electronic tickets as a step in this direction. It worked very well in protecting from ticket mismanagement and fraud. In addition, our percentage of tickets entering via mobile has doubled each season since we offered it as an option three years ago.”

Communication with fans was another inspiration for the product.In building the relationship with fans through the season-long pass, Kirby noted that it, “helps us communicate directly to them and understand who our ticket purchasers are.”

Getting close to the customer is a strategic advantage for any business, and the team saw this as a win-win with opportunities to use that relationship to further enhance the fan experience in the future.

“This does allow us to get to know our customers better. Because we can communicate directly with these purchasers, and they are going to be in very specific areas through the Upper Level of the stadium, we can potentially cater certain areas of the stadium to those Bud Light Game Day Pass Holders.”

Photo via Global PR Trends

Another focus was product positioning of the offer to a specific marketing persona (marketing term for defining an ideal customer’s traits to focus efforts on based on research and real data) that would best resemble a younger and emerging consumer that might even be a member of the coveted Millennial generation.

The marketing persona for the Bud Light Game Day Pass might value something along these lines in the offer:

“We were very intentional to leave out all other benefits to protect those as part of our traditional Season Ticket Membership packages. Based on our research when we were developing this offering, we believe that this group of purchasers does not value the add-on benefits as much. We think they see the value in the use of technology in direct delivery and the access to the stadium for the lowest-possible price.”

That targeted customer mind find alignment in their lifestyle with core features of the concept:

“We think the basis of the concept is around flexibility and the use of technology and less about a desire to have the same seat or a long tenure as a Chiefs Season Ticket Member. So while there may be different types of options available for these fans year-to-year, we don’t think they are valuing the same things that our traditional Season Ticket Members do.”

As noted, the target of the marketing persona is a younger demographic:

“We are definitely interested in the demographic of these buyers and how it may differ from our traditional Season Ticket Members. Initially, we see this as something being purchased by younger fans, young professionals, college students, and others who maybe like the concept of a Season Ticket Membership, but have yet to invest in a full-season package. Because of this, we do believe that we’ll end up marketing and communicating with them differently than our traditional Season Ticket Members.”

Finally, the stripped down offer is addressed to answer barriers to purchase that the targeted marketing persona may or may not encounter in decision-making:

“We hope the low price point allows some fans the opportunity to attend games who otherwise may not be able to afford to come to every game, no matter what they spend once they’re inside the stadium.”

When put together, all these pieces help explain the strategy in the Kansas City Chiefs (and perhaps too, the Jets) offering the new, lower-cost, mobile-only season ticket option for fans this season.

FUTURE PLANS

We also asked Tyler Kirby of the Chiefs whether the Bud Light Game Day Pass is a one-year product or if it is likely to return in some form next season and how the rest of the league might react.

“I think there is a good chance that some version of a mobile-only ticket or “Ready-to-Print” form of delivery will be available every year. This specific product will depend on how the test goes and ensuring that all fans using this product truly do have a better experience.”

It was interesting to note the team is definitely looking to learn and gain analytical data from the test.

“We do believe there will be a number of teams that will be looking to us and the Jets to see how these types of ticket offerings perform throughout the year in order to decide if introducing similar programs makes sense for their fans…

Because we are treating this as a test run, we want to figure out the best way to utilize the technology that’s available and want to continue to innovate and think beyond the short-term. If there is something we learn along the way that will create a better experience for our fans, we will investigate that and figure out how to implement for our fans in future years.”

Chiefs Fans at Arrowhead Stadium — via KCTV

As technology, demographics, and buying patterns change around us, NFL clubs like the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets are looking to adapt as well to optimize their in-stadium product and match the needs of current and prospective customers.

How the mobile-only, season-long passes fare at Arrowhead and in the Meadowlands will be instructive on whether the traditional season ticket products of the past will have some company going forward.


Front Office Sports is a leading multi-platform publication and industry resource that covers the intersection of business and sports.

Want to learn more, or have a story featured about you or your organization? Contact us today.

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