Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Hard Truth About Hard Tickets

While on a recent trip to visit my parents, I was going through some memorabilia that I had gathered over previous sports road trips and subsequently forgotten. Old programs, bobbleheads, and collectibles such as the 30 MLB mini ice cream helmets I systematically acquired during my 2001 road trip comprised the majority of this treasure trove. But what gladdened my heart was the discovery of a few dozen tickets from some of my first road trips between 1986-88 and my five-week trip in 2003. I don't recall saving these stubs, but there they were, hidden beneath the 2001 MLB All-Star Game program. Going through these brought back so many memories and as I did, I realized that young sports fans today might never have the opportunity to happen upon such a find. Not because they don't save their tickets, but because they can't.

One of the trends taking over the Big Four sports is the elimination of the hard ticket. Ironically, it was StubHub that pioneered the delivery of the electronic ducat, which is either a piece of paper that you print out at home, or a bar code that you use on your phone. StubHub should really be called NoStubHub. In either case, these are poor substitutes for the old hard ticket, which is more colourful, has more information on it, and is more durable than a piece of paper. Of course, the bar code on your phone disappears the next day.

Some teams still provide season ticket holders with a unique hard ticket for each game, but these are difficult to acquire on the secondary market as sellers can list these online by just providing the bar code, which is transferred to the buyer's phone. StubHub does offer UPS service to mail hard tickets and you can occasionally physically visit a StubHub office to pick up hard tickets in select markets, but the other online resellers have no such services. The best place to get hard tickets on the secondary market is through scalpers out front of the venue, or to scavenge the seating bowl after the game.

Other teams, however, have completely eliminated the hard ticket. Most notable are the Atlanta Falcons, who now provide no hard tickets, having sold out the season. When I travelled there last month, I had already bought my seat in advance. I was unable to get a hard ticket from the box office, and as season ticket holders use cards to enter, there were no tickets hanging around after the game. Even scalpers only had paper tickets from what I could tell. Some venues print out a "seat locator" (Brooklyn Nets sample above) for those entering via phone, and this is certainly better than nothing, but at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, nothing is what you get for a souvenir. I had a similar experience at StubHub Center in Los Angeles for the Chargers, but was able to find a season stub after the game.

Unfortunately, I think the trend towards purely electronic entry will continue and finding hard tickets will become even more labourious. I understand that soft tickets make counterfeiting more difficult and save teams a bit of money, but there are ways to ensure that fans who want a permanent collectible can get one. Simply allow those who request a hard ticket at the box office on game day to get one. This can even be done during or after the game and it doesn't have to show a seat on it, should the soft ticket have been acquired through a third-party broker. Charge a couple of bucks even, if you need to. The Islanders printed hard tickets upon request (for free) when I was a season ticket holder and this service was much appreciated. From what I could tell, it did not unduly add to the strain at the box office.

I entreat the Falcons, Chargers, and any other teams who allow entry primarily through electronic means to consider a similar method to allow fans who want a permanent ticket to get one. I believe that hard ticket collectors such as myself number less than 1% of all fans and hence this request could easily be met without any difficulty.

Before I finish, let me bore you with the stories behind some of the tickets I discovered hidden in my parents' basement.

My first sports road trip was a weekend bus tour from Waterloo to Detroit to see the Blue Jays in Tiger Stadium. Three of my friends, all 19, joined a group of older guys who were more concerned about drinking than baseball. It was my first time across the border as an adult and an eye-opening experience. The game was delayed by rain for about two hours and so we moved over to the good seats, sitting there for most of the game. Larry Herndon hit a two-run shot in the second that held up as Detroit won 2-1. When we returned to our seats near the end of the game, we found that our group had left, stranding us in an area of Detroit that you didn't want to be stranded in. We somehow managed to flag down a cab and were surprised at the bulletproof glass protecting the driver. We spent the night at the Renaissance Center, partying with a group of high school kids from Grosse Pointe who were celebrating their graduation. The next day, we returned to Tiger Stadium to see the Jays win 4-2. It was this brief journey that got me started on sports road trips.

In December 1986, we took a bus trip on Big Man Chappy Tours to Philadelphia for a weekend. The first event was the Army/Navy game at Veterans Stadium, won by Army 27-7.  That night, we headed over to the Spectrum for the 76ers and Nets, which Philly won 105-100. I somehow managed to get Julius Erving's autograph too. The next day we returned to Veterans Stadium on an extremely cold day to watch the St. Louis Cardinals take on the Eagles in what turned out to be the worst game of the year. Three overtime field goals were missed as the clubs tied 10-10.

When play began on Monday, September 28, 1987, the Blue Jays had a 2.5 game lead on the Tigers with 6 left to play (Detroit had a game in hand). I attended all three games against the Milwaukee Brewers at venerable Exhibition Stadium, driving each time from Waterloo, and the Jays lost all three. The ride back was very quiet after that last loss. Meanwhile, Detroit split a four-gamer with Baltimore to set up a winner-takes-all series at Tiger Stadium. The Jays needed to win one to force a playoff, but they lost all three games to Detroit, who clinched the A.L. East on the last day of the season.

The next year, there was a beautiful Easter weekend in Boston. With four days off, three friends and myself took another Big Man Chappy tour. There were two Celtics games at the Boston Garden, with the first being an Eastern Conference Final preview against the Pistons. Boston won 121-110, but they ended up losing to Detroit in the playoffs. After an off day, we spent all of Easter Sunday at Boston Garden. First, the Celtics beat Dallas 110-101, then the Bruins knocked off the Islanders 3-2 in Denis Potvin's last regular season game. The next day was the opening of the baseball season and the Red Sox hosted the Tigers in what was the actual first game of the season. Before the game, down by the Tigers dugout, my friend saw Sparky Anderson and told him that us Toronto fans were not too happy about 1987. Sparky just laughed. Meanwhile, Jack Morris faced Roger Clemens and I'll never forget Gary Pettis swinging at the first pitch of the season and popping out. Looking back over the Baseball Reference box score (all four reference sites are wonderful resources for looking up games), I see that Clemens balked 3 times that day, something I don't recall. At any rate, Detroit won 5-3 in 10 innings.

Looking at these tickets brings back a lot of great memories (check out the prices!) and it was fortunate that I found them. I hope that 30 years from now, somebody who is just now beginning his own sports road trips will have the opportunity to discover old ticket stubs and take his own trip down memory lane. So if you are a team that is thinking about ending hard tickets, consider the future instead of the present. There is nothing as important to the sports traveler as their collection of hard tickets - let's keep it that way!




  1. Hey Sean,

    THanks for taking us down memory lane. I like how the sports was the center of the trip, which helps you remember the surronding details about who was there and what happened etc!

    Hope you're right and stub hubs do stay around. Am wanting to go watch an Antalya Spor football match in just over four hours, but I can't buy tickets online with a Passolig card. Which I can't sign up for as I don't have a call number. This is a card that everyone uses to get into the games - I believe it's mainly for security reasons.

    Will be heading to the stadium early, passport in hand and hoping i can get a ticket, ideally a hard copy :)

    Thanks again for sharing, Jub

  2. Very nice post I think every sports lover like this post.
    Thanks for sharing.