The death of the printed ticket to the Leafs games was inevitable. Not everyone is a fan

As a loyal Toronto Maple Leafs season pass holder for over 40 years, Ron Powell’s enduring fandom is undoubtedly a testament to his patience, not to mention his willingness to shell out a hefty annual payout – around $ 12. $ 000 per season now for his pair of seats in the second row of the top ball at Scotiabank Arena.

But this year is also a test of the handling of Powell, 77, with a smartphone.

For the first time in the club’s more than 100-year history, the Leafs, like the rest of the teams under the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment umbrella, are not printing traditional paper tickets on heavyweight card stock. ‘Ancient. The only way to access the Scotiabank Arena is to have a digital ticket downloaded to a mobile device.

This is a change that has been on the horizon for years, of course; in previous seasons, the Leafs have given subscribers the choice of paper or digital tickets. And while the Leafs cited concerns over COVID-19 during their last break from paper – a bit of a spin that raised skeptical eyebrows – many teams around the world had avoided physical tickets for the digitization of bar codes long before the pandemic. The Los Angeles Dodgers, favorites to win this year’s World Series, stopped issuing paper tickets in 2014.

Yet for less tech-savvy Leaf devotees like Powell, abandoning paper is unwelcome on more than one level. On the one hand, Powell said he only has about a year to own a much less sophisticated cellular device.

“My daughter was ashamed of my flip phone, so a year ago she went and got me one of these smartphones,” Powell said. “This thing does anything but wipe your nose. But I’m not good with it… I see (the younger ones) using these things. They’ve got that inch that goes a mile a minute. But I’m sorry, I do. can’t do that. And I can never do that. “

On the other hand, Powell said the new technology is robbing him of one of his favorite hobbies: collecting ticket stubs.

“You take away the tradition to save a few bucks, that’s what it boils down to,” Powell said. “I have ticket stubs for everything. I’m a ticket stub guy. I have Leaf Stanley Cup games from the 60s. I have Toronto Blue Jays World Series games from 1992 to 1993. I have my drawers full of them. Good memories.”

There’s an irony in moving away from physical banknotes: While teams shy away from them, collectors have gobbled them up. While there have been plenty of headlines on sports cards that bring in huge deals – a 1979 Wayne Gretzky rookie card that sold for $ 1.29 million (US) in December – the price of heels from tickets, although with their more modest valuations, made gains, too.

“COVID has taken the hobby (of collecting ticket stubs) to whole new levels,” said Russ Havens, owner and curator of TicketStubCollection.com. “Everyone had free time. They go through their shoeboxes, their garbage drawers. Suddenly, prices skyrocketed.

Printed tickets are no longer part of the game day experience at Scotiabank Arena.

  • Ron Powell, longtime season ticket holder for the Leafs, isn't a fan of the switch to digital ticketing: “You break the tradition to save a few bucks, that's what it boils down to.

Havens calls the disappearance of the printed tickets “both gruesome and heartbreaking – and inevitable.” And there are those who suggest that for some collectors it has also been lucrative.

“I think with the teams shutting down hard tickets, it created a bigger market for collectible tickets,” said Glen Pye, a Toronto collectibles dealer. “As much baseball cards have gone up, so much premium tickets have grown even more. “

Certainly, there are more salespeople trying to make money with the heels. Havens said that before the pandemic, there were typically around 75,000 listings for souvenir tickets on eBay on any given day. At the height of COVID, he saw that number rise to around 130,000.

Pye, president of Glory Days Collectibles in West Toronto, said he recently sold a 1988 World Series Game 1 ticket stub – in which the Dodgers’ Kirk Gibson hit his famous home run – for around $ 800. That same ticket, Pye said, was valued at around $ 200 before the pandemic.

There are more expensive tickets on the market. One of Michael Jordan’s first NBA game is currently on sale for around $ 25,000. Pye said tickets to the 1932 Stanley Cup Final – the first time the Toronto NHL team hoisted Lord Stanley’s chalice when he was known as the Maple Leafs – cost around $ 20,000. A full and intact 1972 Canada-Soviet Summit Series Game 8 ticket, meanwhile, can fetch around $ 10,000, while a heel of Auston Matthews’ memorable four-goal NHL debut in Ottawa. in 2016 is already worth a few hundred dollars.

Longtime Leafs season ticket holder Ron Powell isn't a fan of the switch to digital ticketing:

This is the price some fans are willing to pay to return to a big occasion. Which brings collectors to a more recent point of speculation. If the paper stubs are no longer available as souvenirs, what’s the next step? What if, say, Matthews broke Rick Vaive’s single-season franchise record in the months to come. Are the barcode screenshots from that night meant to decorate sports bars?

Havens said he knew of a company that was trying to jump in that loophole, printing physical tickets to digital-only events for fans who would like a paper keepsake of the moment. It’s a ploy that seems ruthless enough to be Leaf-ian: selling two tickets to the same event to the same customer.

“It’s cynical, but it’s correct,” Havens said.

Another collector predicted that it won’t be long before fans with digital tickets can mark their attendance at a special event by purchasing an NFT or non-fungible token. NFTs are blockchain-backed assets that have become popular among sports collectors. Matthews, for example, used an online auction last summer to sell 107 NFTs – mostly digital artwork – for a total of around $ 200,000, some of which was donated to the hospital. SickKids.

Tom McDonald, vice president of ticket sales and service at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, said there have already been conversations in the industry about developing NFT as souvenirs.

“We are not there yet. But I could see a day very soon when NFTs are the items that, in fact, commemorate those special nights, ”McDonald said.

What would a considerable portion of the Leafs’ fan base undoubtedly say, “Huh? McDonald, for this reason, said MLSE has been slower than some professional sports operations to switch to digital-only tickets.

“There is a bit of affinity with paper tickets, so we’ve just been slow and deliberate to make this process easier for our members,” McDonald said. “It took some getting started in some cases, which we were only too happy to do.”

Even though Powell complains about pushing his 77-year-old thumbs to navigate his smartphone – “Seniors don’t like change, and I’m old,” he said – he happily pointed out that ‘he had recently used the Leafs’ online tutorial. to transfer a pair of seats for Wednesday night’s game to a neighbor. As it turned out, Powell had to miss Toronto’s home opener for the first time in 41 years due to a health issue unrelated to COVID.

For large sports organizations, the advantages of digital-only seating are numerous. There are those, for example, who see this will go a long way in eliminating street-level ticket scalping – the profits that franchises have been trying to capitalize on for years with strategies like so-called dynamic pricing, which attempts preventively add a premium to games in high demand.

While paper tickets can be redeemed without the Leafs’ knowledge, the digital-only version – as transfer of ownership requires the recipient of the tickets to provide an email address or phone number – gives the club a point of contact. for each person seated at the Scotiabank Arena on any given night.

“A lot of teams are using COVID as an excuse to go digital… but it’s really about data accumulation,” said Pye, longtime Leafs season ticket holder and ticket broker. “Facebook is built on it. Data mining. They want to know everything you do with your life and then they can send you targeted ads. There are a million different benefits for a team if they have all of this information.

Powell said, “They know exactly who’s in my place in every game now – which I don’t like. Big Brother has entered my life in a way that I am not comfortable with.

Alas, there is no known record, digital or physical, of Powell’s presence at the biggest Leafs game he has ever seen. It was May 2, 1967 when he and his wife Nancy used his father’s season seats – the same ones in the family since 1949 – to witness Toronto’s most recent Stanley Cup conquest.

“Do you know the saddest one? Said Powell. “I have looked everywhere and I cannot find this ticket stub.”

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