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San Francisco 49ers turn to restrictive paperless tickets

By Alfred Branch Jr.

The San Francisco 49ers are turning to restrictive paperless tickets next season, a move that will make them the first NFL team to utilize the technology.

In an e-mail last week to prospective season ticket holders, the team said that fans can voluntarily opt into the new system or continue to receive traditional hard copy tickets.

But the team incentivized the move to paperless tickets by offering no-fee ticket transfers and no fees for the recipients to print their tickets at home, except if the transfer occurs on Ticketmaster's proprietary TicketExchange. Ticketmaster is the provider of the paperless ticket technology.

"Paperless ticketing by Ticketmaster allows you to enter 49ers home games with just the swipe of your credit card," the team wrote to fans. "The concept is very similar to an electronic plane ticket and is the future of sports ticketing. Paperless ticketing gives you a greater level of convenience, flexibility and security when managing your game tickets."

Ticketmaster's restrictive paperless ticketing system, which has been the subject of regulation in New York and proposed regulation in several other states, does not allow for the easy resale or transfer of tickets between fans.

In many cases, restrictive paperless tickets cannot be resold or transferred at all. Because the initial purchase is tied to a specific credit card, for someone to gain entry to the event they have to use that particular credit card — and sometimes also show separate identification.

Such paperless tickets cannot be resold on StubHub, TicketsNow, Razorgator or any number of other third-party secondary ticket marketplaces, Web sites or exchanges.

The 49ers appear to be offering some sort of ticket transfer mechanism, but only if the intended recipient either turns over their own credit card information, or they use Ticketmaster's proprietary TicketExchange Web site, which typically places caps or price floors on resale.

Caps place an upper limit on what a fan could charge to resell their ticket, while a price floor places a low end limit — usually face value — meaning a fan could not unload their ticket for an amount below that price. Often times, price floors are used to protect season ticket holders, but they can also lead to fans being stuck with tickets that they have to charge a certain amount for.

Bargain-hunting fans routinely find tickets on the secondary market for less than face value, and season ticket holders are often willing to take something for their resold tickets instead of being stuck with them.

A spokesperson for the team did not respond to a request seeking comment. Ticketmaster's parent company Live Nation, realizing that opposition to restrictive paperless tickets has been mounting, has even tried to coin a new phrase to re-brand the technology, called "Fan Protected Paperless Ticketing."

"With paperless ticketing, the credit card you carry in your wallet everyday will now be what you scan for entry through the Candlestick Park gates," the 49ers wrote. "That’s right, just bring your wallet to the game and scan your card to enter. You can even register separate credit cards for each ticket on the account — ideal if you’re sharing season tickets with friends or family members."

Among the benefits their paperless ticketing system offers includes, "No more lost or stolen paper tickets," and "The power to transfer tickets easily to anyone with access to the Internet, anytime or anywhere, even at the last minute." In addition, the team said the system allows fans to manage their season ticket inventory "quickly and easily," through the team's Web site.

But don't be fooled by the team's claims, says the Fan Freedom Project (FFP), an advocacy group that opposes restrictive paperless tickets. In a statement, Jon Potter, president of the FFP, said the only people who benefit from restrictive paperless tickets are Ticketmaster and the 49ers.

"They want you to believe that paperless tickets are better for fans. The truth is that the only people who benefit are Ticketmaster and the 49ers. With paperless ticketing, fans have no control over what we can do with our own tickets. Instead, Ticketmaster dictates who we can give our tickets to, and how much that transfer will cost," Potter said. "This is nothing more than an effort by Ticketmaster and the 49ers to restrict your choices and extend their hands even deeper into your pockets."

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