Ticketmaster Losing Its Grip on NFL?

NFL’s Secondary Ticketing Market May Move Beyond Ticketmaster

  • by Tim Newcomb
  • Published: June 14, 2017

Ticketmaster's contract with the NFL ends in 2017.

Ticketmaster has a hold—at least officially—on National Football League (NFL) ticketing, both the primary and secondary markets. But signs point to a shifting of the landscape in the NFL’s secondary ticketing market with the five-year Ticketmaster agreement running out following the 2017 season. That expiration introduces the possibility of the NFL opening up the secondary market to all sorts of players. Or, they could simply choose someone different.

“It is a wait and see what the league says,” John Schriever, senior vice president of ticketing and event management for the Houston Texans, told Venues Today. “I don’t think it is imminent until the fall. The decision is months away.”

The NFL and Ticketmaster remain mum on the topic, with both entities declining comment to Venues Today and Ticketmaster stating it doesn’t comment on pending deals.

If a change does come to the secondary market, right now dubbed the NFL Ticket Exchange, it could account for some radical shifts for some clubs and potentially no change at all for others. Mark Arata, Mercedes-Benz Superdome box office manager, told Venues Today that for teams that own their own buildings, such as the Dallas Cowboys, not having an official league partner could open up other channels. But for publicly-owned buildings hosting a variety of tenants, the idea of switching providers doesn’t seem appealing.

“I think any team that owns their own stadium is going to look at what provides the most up-front money in order to change,” Arata said. “As much as I can despise Ticketmaster, changing isn’t something I can do easily with my 15 to 20 clients.”

If the NFL does allow teams to ink their own deals instead of signing on another league-wide partner—and don’t bet on that being the case as that would leave more money to individual teams through sponsorship deals and the NFL league office out of the mix—it may come down to which ticket exchange providers “back up the truck” with money. Arata said Ticketmaster usually wins those battles, but it doesn’t mean someone else can’t waltz in and write a bigger check.

“With teams that control their own venues, whoever provides the most financial incentives gives them a reason to switch,” he said. “It is hard to switch the system in a multiuse (venue). It is like herding cats.”

That said, don’t expect all that much to change for fans either way, as Arata said he notices many of the tickets into his venue have been posted on StubHub and other places “all the time.”

As teams also explore the digital, print-at-home and mobile opportunities of each of these providers, anyone wanting to dive into the NFL ticketing game will need to bring a wide range of capabilities to the table.

Schriever said he believes the Ticketmaster deal has worked well for him. The current platform provides an opportunity for fans to resell tickets, but still send data to the team about both the buyer and seller, an “important” aspect of the transaction. “It has worked out really well,” he said. “I am looking forward to what the next step is going to be.”

If the NFL does embrace an open platform option that invites multiple parties to get in on the ticket action, expect Ticketmaster and StubHub to get plenty of competition from Amazon and Veritix, which already has inroads in the league with the only non-Ticketmaster deal in the league (Detroit Lions for primary tickets). And the NFL may like that option as a way to glean more data from ticket buyers across multiple platforms.

Across the North American sports landscape, the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League already partner with Ticketmaster and Major League Baseball has a StubHub agreement. Major League Soccer last year signed a multiyear deal with SeatGeek that includes an open platform so that fans can resell tickets on any platform of their choice, but with the buying/selling data still getting transmitted back to the teams.

If the NFL follows a similar model in an effort to mine the data of its ticket buyers, the only thing that can rival data in importance is sponsorship dollars. A final decision on the NFL’s ticketing future will rest on those two components: data and dollars.

  • by Tim Newcomb
  • Published: June 14, 2017