Earlier this year, I decided to garner a boatload of daughter points all at once to make up for the fact that I moved 1,300 miles away from home. My dad came to visit me for Father’s Day, so I got us tickets to see the Baltimore Orioles play at Camden Yards. We both love baseball, and this would be fun. My dad is a sucker for a stadium he’s never been to, a beer he’s never tried, and a good old-fashioned 1:05 p.m. Sunday start.
I bought the tickets through the Orioles’ official website. I didn’t even go cheap and get them off a resale site. The main reason I bought them from the Orioles directly is because I wanted physical tickets. I thought it would be nice to have a souvenir. I bought them far enough in advance (thinking ahead, another point!) that the tickets could be mailed to me only to find out that this was… not an option. Not having one made my entry more difficult and my experience slightly worse. That’s because digital-only tickets are bullshit.
The transition to digital tickets has been happening gradually, but 2018 was the first year I really noticed it. All tickets are going digital now. A study by Juniper Research estimates that one out of every two tickets will be digital by next year. The NFL moved to a fully digital ticket system this season (and in their announcement managed to say some thoroughly creepy things about knowing exactly who is in every seat at every game). We have essentially eradicated the only souvenir that was practical, individual to the game you attended, and free. We’ve replaced a tangible ticket with an alternative so persnickety that half the time they don’t even work on the first or second or third time.
There are only a few things you can buy at any professional sporting event for less than $5. There are buttons and keychains. Most stadiums have a $5 koozie. But none of these have the date of the game you attended on them, which defeats the entire point of a souvenir: to remind you of a specific experience. You can buy a scorecard to keep a boxscore, but even those are vague enough to work for any game, and you have to do the work yourself.
Our phones, meanwhile, evolve and become outdated. Imagine being a Cubs fan in Cleveland who watched the team win in game seven of the World Series and having only a digital ticket to prove you were there, one that will disappear from history the minute you upgrade your iPhone.
And even though the technology of digital tickets has gotten a lot better, it is still, frankly, terrible. For the Father’s Day game, I was sent PDFs of my tickets to print out or pull up on my phone upon arrival. Being a highly technologically competent millennial, I went the phone route. But when I tried to give the gate person my tickets, it took us a good five minutes to make the process work because PHONES CAN’T BE SCANNED WHEN THERE IS A VERY BRIGHT SUN GLARE ON THEM. I was doing my least favorite thing: holding up a line of people who just wanted to clear the bottleneck and buy a lemon chill or whatever, all because my tickets wouldn’t scan. Over the past year, I have been stuck in a line at almost every stadium event I attended watching someone try to zoom in on their phone while the person with the scanner waited patiently.
I understand why people like digital tickets, I really do. It is easy to lose a piece of paper. Digital tickets are (for now) more difficult to forge, easier to transfer, and do not cost stadiums and teams money to produce. On the other hand, digital ticket trade has a huge bot problem, and tickets on the resale market often fetch much, much higher prices at a profit for middle men who are not associated with the art/sport you want to support. So if a game is going to be good, or important, or is on the Fourth of July, fans end up paying exorbitant prices so random middle men can make money. This is stupid!
In their press release for their all-digital rollout, the NFL suggested that fans may be able to “amass a digital collection” of tickets in the future. Because that is just what I want: an Apple Wallet full of a thousand old sports tickets that I have to flip through to find whatever boarding pass I need to get on a plane. Or even worse: to be shown some random man’s collection of digital tickets as a strange brag at a bar.
A real ticket has art on it. It has a picture of a player on the team. Each year, a designer gets paid to make it special. At the bottom it says which two teams are playing, where my seat is, and what the date is. I can frame it if the game becomes something meaningful to me or someone else. In a box under my bed, I have several dozen tickets from games that meant something to me: games with people I loved, games that were historic, games I want to remember.
I loved spending Father’s Day with my dad at Camden Yards, and I’d love to have a souvenir to remember it by. I could have won even more daughter points by making Dad a beautiful frame full of tickets from games we attended together for a gift, but that’s no longer an option. Digital tickets may be the future, but that doesn’t mean they’re any good.
Correction: This post originally stated that the Cubs won the 2016 World Series at home. It happened in Cleveland.