Ticketmaster, whose onerous fees are all but impossible to avoid if you want to see a live event, has inked an agreement with the National Football League to handle a new ticket resale program for the league. Dubbed the "NFL Ticket Exchange," the service will be operated and hosted by Ticketmaster, and will also be accessible from NFL.com. Ticketmaster and the NFL say that the service, which will launch in time for the 2008 season, will allow ticket holders to unload their tickets in a "secure and reliable way."
Ticketmaster currently runs exchange sites for 18 of the NFL's 32 teams. On team sites, tickets are sold at face value, with the company taking a cut at each end of the transaction (i.e., convenience fee, processing fee, printing fee, fee calculation fee). It's an attractive alternative to scalpers for those looking to get seats to an enticing match-up, but those who are looking to sell their tickets will certainly be tempted by the higher prices they can get from a site like StubHub, eBay, or Craigslist.
It's not known whether season ticket holders, who purchase the vast majority of tickets in the NFL, will be forced to use the NFL Ticket Exchange. Some of the teams that currently run similar sites prohibit season ticket holders from reselling their ducats—much to the chagrin of those who have paid thousands of dollars for personal seat licenses on top of the tickets.
One team has even gone to court in an attempt to hunt down and punish season ticket holders who have resold their tickets at a profit. This past October, the still-perfect New England Patriots obtained a court order forcing StubHub to cough up the names of team's ticket holders who have sold tickets on the site. Superior Court Judge Allan van Gestel wrote that the team's desire to be good corporate citizens and report "to authorities those customers that they deem to be in violation of the Massachusetts antiscalping law" was a factor in his ruling.
That said, it's disingenuous to suggest that the Patriots—and other teams—are trying to take the high moral ground in the fight against scalpers. Yes, teams have an interest in making sure fans can afford to attend a game without taking out a second mortgage (although said mortgage will certainly come in handy when it's time to buy beer, hot dogs, a program, and a souvenir jersey).
What the teams are really after is complete control of the ticketing pie. Teams haven't historically profited from ticket resales, and in a market where teams are looking to extract every last bit of revenue possible, selling the same tickets twice looks awfully attractive. The Chicago Cubs have been doing it since 2002, allowing ticket holders to resell their passes on the team's site in exchange for a cut of the profits.
A decade ago, services like the NFL Ticket Exchange and StubHub were not possible, but the Internet and the way it breaks down market barriers has made ticket resale services a profitable market. Depending on the ticketing technology used, it's theoretically possible to track a single ticket from the point of issue to the stadium gate—especially in the case of e-tickets. That presents an opportunity for sports leagues and Ticketmaster—and a threat to resellers like StubHub.
How well the NFL Ticket Exchange is received will depend on a single factor: whether or not the league tries to make it the sole outlet for resale. With some teams having waiting lists in the tens of thousands for season tickets, the threat of losing the coveted tix will certainly steer many season ticket owners toward the league-sanctioned site. On the other hand, the dreaded Ticketmaster Tax might not make scalpers look that bad.