The Sounders are betting big on mobile.
For the past four years, Seattle’s professional soccer club mailed physical “MatchPass” plastic cards to season ticket holders, replacing paper tickets the team previously offered as entry into matches.
Now, though, the Sounders are ditching the plastic cards and instead encouraging their most loyal fans to use smartphones as a ticket.
This week, the team sent emails to season ticket holders instructing them to download a revamped mobile app that allows them to manage their season tickets and transfer tickets to other folks. It is the first MLS club to officially adopt mobile ticketing in this manner.
This is a big bet for the popular soccer club, which has led the MLS in attendance since it joined the league in 2009. And not all of the team’s supporters are on board with the move.
“I just prefer something tangible in my hand rather than on my screen,” one fan tweeted.
“There was nothing wrong with the matchpass,” another said. “The app should be an option.”
“Hi pls consider that some season ticket holders ie my father don’t own smartphones,” tweeted another.
There are still options for those that don’t own a smartphone or do not want to download the Sounders app (iOS, Android, Windows), as season ticket holders can still print tickets from home with Ticketmaster’s Account Manager online platform.
The redesigned app not only provides a ticket into the game, but also lets fans manage their rewards, contact account reps, see the latest promotions, and get access to exclusive content — it’s similar to a mobile fan loyalty program the Seahawks may implement next season.
For example, the Sounders unveiled new uniform designs today exclusively through the app, before revealing the kits to the public later today.
— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) February 17, 2016
While the Sounders are the first MLS team to adopt full-on mobile ticketing for season ticket holders, other professional franchises have already done so. The San Francisco 49ers did away with paper tickets prior to the 2015-16 season, which angered some longtime fans because of a rule that prevents digital tickets from being printed until 72 hours before a game. The Sounders do not have such a rule, which could affect how fans re-sell their tickets on the secondary market.
The Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox also eliminated paper tickets last year, noting the ability to better track fan habits as one advantage of digital ticketing. The Atlanta Braves also did something similar, even going as far as charging a $250 fee to season ticket holders who still wanted to print traditional paper tickets.
The Sounders, meanwhile, are heavily promoting the new mobile experience, advertising it front-and-center on the team’s website —”Your phone is your ticket to everything Sounders FC this season,” the site reads — and buying up billboard space in Seattle:
Some season ticket holders don’t mind the shift to mobile ticketing.
“At first glance, it seems really easy to use,” Andy Boyer said of the app. “Most of the limitations in the old system were due to limitations in Ticketmaster’s platform. Anything that makes it easier for my group to manage our tickets is something I’m in favor of.”
Heather Redman, a local angel investor and Indix executive, told GeekWire that she liked using the mobile app last year.
“I’m a huge fan of getting rid of plastic generally, although I can’t wait until we move out of the app world into something less siloed,” she noted.
Redman also said she hopes there will be more functionality baked into the app.
“For the Sounders, driving more folks to the app will be good in the long run for sure,” she said. “I hope they come up with some innovative features. It would be nice, for instance, to be able to buy food at the match and show ID with the app so we can leave that plastic at home, too.”
Colin Lamont, meanwhile, said he was generally unconcerned with the change, as long as the technology holds up.
“I just found out I can download the MatchPass to my Apple Wallet so even if the Sounders mobile app doesn’t work, I’ll still be covered by Wallet on my iPhone 6s,” he noted.
Using technology and data to enhance the game-day experience for fans is a growing trend in the sports world. It’s something that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal talked about at the big Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month.