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Going mobile and virtual stadiums: How Ticketmaster is enhancing the fan experience and driving revenues for sport

Tickets have been a part of sport since day one and have significant functional, financial and sentimental value. Chris Gratton, MD of Ticketmaster Sport UK, explains how the company is working with the industry to innovate one of the original sports technologies.

29 March 2023 Steve McCaskill
Tottenham Hotspur have added Ticketmaster's 3D Virtual Venue technology to their ticketing platform


Few items of sporting paraphernalia possess such importance and sentimental value as the humble ticket. Originally introduced at the dawn of professional sport to determine who can and cannot pass through the turnstiles, these small bits of paper or card evoke fond memories long after the holder has left the stadium. 

The concept of a ticket has changed little since the 19th century, with most innovation focusing on turnstiles and other entry mechanisms, but ticketing operations have evolved significantly.

While many spectators still pay their entrance via a hole in the wall outside the venue, most leagues and clubs have embraced online ticketing as a more efficient, convenient way to manage, sell and distribute tickets.

Ticketmaster has been at the forefront of this evolution, becoming a household name among consumers and a trusted partner for some of the most famous names in global sport, including Premiership Rugby and Premier League clubs Arsenal, Brentford, and Tottenham Hotspur. 

Ticketing has come a long way since early paper tickets

Efficiency and innovation

Ticketmaster has a dedicated sports division that helps sports properties manage, sell, and distribute tickets more efficiently in the back office, while introducing fan-facing innovations that enhance the fan experience, increase satisfaction and drive revenues.

Chris Gratton, Managing Director, Ticketmaster Sport UK, tells SportsPro he believes the company’s technology portfolio is capable of satisfying every level of sport.

“We have three core offerings – retail, white label, and self-service,” he explains. “Retail is ticketmaster.co.uk which markets some sporting events direct to fans, and hosts them on a discovery platform using the power of our brand to drive sales for theirs. Someone might be coming to London for the weekend and will check Ticketmaster to see what’s on, for example. We also use this for big one-off events like a Tyson Fury fight or for WWE as they want that traffic.

“White label is what we actually have deployed at the majority of our sport club, rights holder, or tournament [partners]. These are high touch, high frequency, high volume clients, and it’s quite complex as we manage season tickets, memberships and single tickets. 

“Finally, our self-serve platform Universe which allows an event owner to self-serve and set everything up themselves. We actually see a lot of success using this platform for sport tours, rugby camps, soccer schools and teams that don’t have complex sales.” 

Across the board, clients receive access to tools that help manage inventory, understand more about their customers, and provide insights that make it easier to run live events. But advances in technology and changing consumer expectations mean Ticketmaster’s offering now goes beyond these core functions and into areas like mobile ticketing, online exchange platforms and stadium virtualisation capabilities. 

“Ticketing is evolving fast,” Gratton says. “The use of technology solves a lot of planning headaches that [partners] have had in the past.

“Fan expectations have never been higher than they are now and the speed with which technology is developing and changing in everyday life is really significant. We need to keep pace with everything we’re doing.

“Firstly, we streamline the process for the partner so that they can be more efficient and focus on growth. Then we look at what we can do to improve the fan experience by taking out friction, eliminating those pain points and making transactions simpler while making sure we maintain a resilient platform. 

“Their first touch point with a fan is often to look at tickets. So, we want to enhance that initial interaction and subsequent customer journey. Fans just want to come to the site and transact quickly and easily.”

Virtual Venue is one way Ticketmaster is looking to increase sales using technology. The feature allows fans to see the sightline from any seat in an equipped venue and to explore a digitally recreated version of a hospitality area. Fans can be confident about what they’re buying and might even upgrade to a more premium experience if they know exactly what’s on offer. 

Away ticketing in soccer is another area of focus. Traditionally, home teams have printed and physically sent tickets to the away team which then sells admission via its own channels. If any tickets are unsold, they are sent back to the home club who has no visibility over what’s left until receiving the shipment – limiting their ability to sell to their own fans. The system also means away fans cannot benefit from any of the advantages of Ticketmaster’s platform – including mobile ticketing.  

Ticketmaster now allows home teams to sell tickets to away fans, resulting in a much more efficient experience for all parties. 

“Why should the experience be any different for an away fan?,” Gratton asks. “Our away ticketing system makes a lot of sense for both fan and club.”

Going mobile

Indeed, the move to mobile ticketing has been one of the biggest cultural and technological shifts in recent times. Using Ticketmaster Sport technology, organisations no longer send out paper tickets, but instead issue barcode-enabled digital tickets that can either be printed at home or added to a smartphone wallet. This system is more convenient for fans who can easily share digital tickets with friends and family and don’t have to worry about their delivery getting lost in the post. 

Mobile ticketing comes back to fan expectations. Fans are used to digital delivery in everyday – we’ve been getting boarding passes for years, so the concept wasn’t alien to consumers.

Chris Gratton, Managing Director, Ticketmaster Sport UK

The shift was already underway before the pandemic but has accelerated in a post-lockdown world. While there were some sport-specific challenges, such as how to manage season tickets, Gratton says the technology and consumer acceptance was already in place.

“Mobile ticketing comes back to fan expectations,” says Gratton.  “Fans are used to digital delivery in everyday – we’ve been getting boarding passes for years, so the concept wasn’t alien to consumers.” 

The next step is enhancing security: “Digital tickets already have reasonably strong security but we’ve now started [a wider rollout of] our SafeTix technology, which has seen great success  in North America already,” Gratton continues. “SafeTix features a rotating [barcode] which adds another layer of security, reduces the risk of screenshotting and ensures all tickets are transferred correctly.

“We’re really excited about the possibilities as this space grows.”

This feature forms part of SportsPro’s Live Events Week, a week of coverage exploring how promoters and host destinations are bringing events to life, as well as how venue operators and their suppliers are navigating newfound economic pressures. Click here to access more exclusive content and sign up to the SportsPro Daily newsletter here to receive daily insights direct to your inbox.

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