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Red Sox implement digital ticketing to keep ticket prices low

By Patrick Dunne

This season, the Boston Red Sox will use a digital ticketing system at select games for upper bleacher seats at Fenway Park.

For 30 games, including the home opener and games against the rival New York Yankees, most $12 upper bleacher seats will be sold as digital tickets only. In order to enter Fenway on game day, purchasers will be required to swipe the credit card that was used to buy the tickets.

The Red Sox hope the new digital ticketing system will keep Fenway's cheapest tickets from being sold at significantly higher prices on the secondary market and the team wants to eventually implement digital ticketing for more seats.

Red Sox senior vice president of ticketing Ron Bumgarner told TicketNews that the team has held the price of upper bleacher seats at a family-friendly $12 the past 10 years.

"We purposely undervalued these tickets for years," Bumgarner said. "We saw that these were being purchased more and more by folks who just want to make a profit off of them. We want to make sure they're accessible to families. Give them an affordable option."

Secondary ticket sellers have criticized this method of paperless ticketing as restrictive and stifling to competition. Fan groups have said it complicates the process of giving tickets as gifts.

Jim Holzman, owner of Ace Ticket in Boston, a broker that has a partnership with the Red Sox as the team's authorized ticket reseller, would not comment on the digital ticketing plan.

Bumgarner said the team’s partnership with Ace "is part of the benefit of being a season ticket holder. We offer them a safe and secure way to resell their tickets."

In response to the announcement of the plan last week, the Washington-based lobbying group the Fan Freedom Project issued a statement in which Elizabeth Owen, a consumer advocate with the group, was critical of the new policy.

"The devil is in the details," Owen said in the statement, "and if you are buying tickets as a gift, or if you find out you can’t attend the game at the last minute, you may be surprised to learn that you are stuck with the ticket."

Bumgarner disputed that criticism. "We're not looking to restrict the passage of our tickets," he said. "We just know that everyone can't get to 81 games a year. We don't want them to open up the desk drawer at the end of the season and find a bunch of unused tickets in there."

The digital tickets went on sale February 1, 2012. The plan is part of a digital ticketing initiative that will be implemented across Major League Baseball in 2012. Bumgarner said that last season, Red Sox 20-game plan season ticket holders were offered a digital ticketing option and the team will try to extend that offer to more season ticket and single-game purchasers this season.

"It'll be as easy as checking a box that says either deliver tickets by regular mail, or email as print at home tickets, or go digital and do it this new way," Bumgarner said, adding that as paperless ticketing grows, new technology will allow purchasers to transfer tickets digitally.

"To over-simplify it," Bumgarner explained, "they'll be able to load the tickets onto their account at redsox.com, go to My Red Sox Tickets, which is our ticket management platform, and drag and drop it to a reseller, whether it's Ace or StubHub or whoever."

Fenway, Major League Baseball's oldest ballpark, will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2012. The Red Sox will commemorate the occasion with a series of season-long events. The April 20, 2012, game against the Yankees marks the park's 100th birthday. Fenway's first game was April 20, 1912, when the Red Sox beat the New York Highlanders, 7–6.

The Red Sox aim to continue their record sellout streak at the historic ballpark. The home opener, April 13, 2012, against the Tampa Bay Rays, will mark the 712th consecutive sellout, which is an MLB record.

The Red Sox announced after last season that they would not raise ticket prices in 2012. Fenway also has MLB's smallest maximum seating capacity at 39,067.

For years the team has had the highest average ticket price in baseball ($53.38 in 2011). Fenway also ranked first last season in the Fan Cost Index at $339.01, according to Team Marketing Report. The Index computes the cost of attending a game for a family of four. High demand and limited capacity lead to Red Sox tickets being among the highest-priced on the secondary market, too.

Red Sox ownership is hoping the anniversary, plus the hiring of high-profile manager Bobby Valentine, will help the team live down last season's historic September collapse that ended with the Red Sox failing to make the playoffs for the second year in a row. The team fell out of favor with some members of its rabid fan base, known as Red Sox Nation, when the subsequent fallout from the disappointing finish hastened the departures of manager Terry Francona, who had guided the team to two World Series titles, and general manager Theo Epstein, who left to become team president of the Chicago Cubs.

The 30 digital ticketing games are the home opener, as well as April 20–22 (vs. Yankees), June 8–10 (Washington Nationals), June 22–24 (Atlanta Braves), July 6–8 (Yankees), July 16–22 (White Sox and Blue Jays), August 3–5 (Minnesota Twins), August 24–26 (Kansas City Royals) and September 11–13 (Yankees).

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