PSU moves to e-ticketing

UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State season football tickets were delivered across the region and far beyond in mid-July, but some officials anticipate — even hope — that as many as a quarter of blue-and-white fans enter Beaver Stadium without a traditional ticket this season.

Penn State plans to embrace mobile ticketing for home games, something the athletic department has had success with on a smaller scale with men’s basketball and hockey in recent seasons.

Athletic department supporters of the move cite convenience (for resale and transfer) and security as compelling reasons for embracing the option. Many fans are familiar with mobile ticketing from airline travel, concerts and other experiences. Plus, mobile tickets have been proven to cut ticket fraud significantly.

Mobile tickets have been an option for regular season basketball and hockey at Penn State the past few seasons, and the adoption rate has grown regularly. Additionally, more than 80 percent of tickets for playoff hockey games early March were distributed exclusively by mobile.

For football, connectivity and customer service represent two of the biggest challenges. Beaver Stadium is obviously much larger than either the Bryce Jordan Center or Pegula Ice Arena. Still, proponents of the move believe they’re ready to handle the volume and provide the necessary support for 100,000-plus fans (or at least a quarter of them) on gameday.

“If by the last home game against Maryland we’re averaging 25 to 30 percent of fans in the venue utilizing mobile entry, that would be a fantastic year,” said Jeff Garner, assistant athletic director of ticketing sales and service. “It’s up to us to prove this is going to work and this is going to be convenient and easy.

“One of the biggest catalysts, honestly, is that we were beginning to run into some fraud issues. We actually had people who were counterfeiting the paper stock, with foil and everything. We had several tickets that looked and felt like a real Penn State ticket, but when you flipped it over, the back side was from the Philadelphia Eagles.”

Garner, who has been at Penn State since 2013 and whose background features five years with the Altoona Curve and State College Spikes in a variety of roles, including senior director of ticketing sales and marketing, is a strong advocate of mobile ticketing for football.

It’s his job to be familiar with ticketing technology and trends, finding ways to enhance th—e experience of fans and make the case for approaches Penn State can adopt.

As part of his work on the subject, Garner conducted a benchmarking study on how other teams handle their ticket operations.

On a recent trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta for an Atlanta FC soccer match that attracted 70,000-plus fans, he saw the stadium’s all-mobile-ticketing approach — with unmanned kiosks — in action and was impressed.

Plus, Atlanta provides an interesting case study related to football. In the Atlanta Falcons’ final game in the Georgia Dome, the NFC Championship Game in January 2017, the team reported more than 1,000 issues of ticket fraud. Eight months later, at the start of the 2017 season, with the regular season debut of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, there were just four instances of fraud.

For Phil Esten, Penn State’s deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, some closer-to-home comparisons matter as well.

“Typically, with things like this, you look at different peers in the marketplace,” Esten said. “So we’re looking at Pennsylvania, what’s happening in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, as well as those we’re competing against, the Ohio States and Michigans.

“We want to be competitive and meet customers’ expectations. At the same time, ticketing is an area where we need to be out front but not necessarily leading. For example, we’ve proven that a place we want to be an absolute leader is in areas like student-athlete experiences — nutrition, psychology and sports science.”

Penn State plans to push out information about the mobile move for football beginning in mid-August. Basically, it requires the download and use of the GoPSUsports app, with best practices that include downloading mobile tickets to an electronic wallet or saving them as a photo to limit the need for broadband access and connectivity on gameday.

Garner stressed that mobile tickets just mean an expansion of options for ticket holders. This season fans can use their season tickets, print-at-home tickets or go mobile.

To help facilitate the use of mobile tickets — even reaching the level of 25 or 30 percent of adoption — the athletic department has added more scanning devices and invested in upgrading wireless connectivity in and around Beaver Stadium.

Mobile tickets will be accepted at every gate and in every line this season.

Garner said officials discussed mobile-specific lines but wanted to avoid confusion and hopefully limit congestion entering the stadium. Esten said Ticketmaster supported the implementation, helping financially with an investment in technology.

Both know the move relies on connectivity and on strong customer service. Those are not easy hurdles. Because of a limited pool of potential employees — some gameday personnel already travel a couple of hours to work at Beaver Stadium — a true customer service mentality is much different than that of simply scanning a ticket.

Still, Garner is optimistic, and Esten is realistic.

“I don’t necessarily foresee Penn State moving exclusively to mobile ticketing at any of our venues in the near future but as people become more and more connected they’re going to want that as an option,” Esten said. “And we are committed to providing the kind of customer service our fans expect.”

Only one group of fans will not have a mobile option this season. Ironically, it’s students, potentially the most mobile savvy group of fans in Beaver Stadium on a Saturday.

Garner said the department is currently in the planning stages for a mobile approach for students, with the ultimate goal a tap-and-go implementation to enhance the speed of access to seats.