As live events return to some level of normal in the wake of COVID, one group appears to be utterly left out: consumers who do not have smartphones, and therefore can’t access mobile-only tickets.
People like Brampton, Ontario resident Debbie Ervine, who will apparently be missing out on a chance to see Elton John’s farewell tour. “I heard he was having a final tour and he would never be coming to Toronto again, so I thought this is my big chance to finally see him,” Ervine told reporters.
Long a priority of companies like Ticketmaster, mobile-only ticketing is becoming a requirement for many live events with COVID safety as the excuse for the shift away from offering consumers a choice on what format their tickets come in. This is even becoming the norm in states like New York, where the law requires tickets be offered to consumers in a freely transferrable (read: paper) format, but authorities are allowing temporary exceptions to in the name of COVID safety.
This means systms such as Safetix, which were initially designed to restrict consumer rights for transfer and resale but have since been re-branded as integral to a safe reopening plan, are being employed regularly. Beyond making it much harder for consumers to use or sell tickets they purchased without Ticketmaster’s say-so, these systems are a bonanza for data harvesting and selling to partners, a major part of the businesses relationships with partners.
The loser in this shift is clearly the consumer. Obviously the utter loss of data privacy when Ticketmaster or AXS can scrape your phone and sell what it finds to partners and willy-nilly restrictions on your rights as someone who paid for tickets is bad enough, the real loss comes for consumers like Ervine that don’t have a smartphone at all.
Per Statistics Canada, approximately 10 percent of Canadians over the age of 15 don’t have a smartphone. Those numbers skew heavily towards the elderly, and lower income individuals, for whom a smartphone either isn’t a priority, or isn’t affordable. For those individuals, a concert ticket that is accessable in no format other than downloading a smartphone app to access tickets (which you have to bring with you an have internet access at the venue to pull up, due to rotating barcodes) is a problem.
“I think they must not realize that not every human being has a smartphone,” says Ervine, who has a landline phone and a flip-phone style mobile device for emergencies. ” I can’t believe I can’t see Elton John because I don’t have a smartphone.”
“What if you lose your phone? What if you lose the file? What if you lose the link you are supposed to send yourself? It just doesn’t seem like the best option,” Ervine said.
The Guardian also recently reported on the issues facing consumers without smartphones in this new envornment. One family saw the mobile-only requirement coupled with restrictive transfer policies wreck Wimbledon plans. Sally Parker had purchased tickets for the final day of the tennis tournament to give to her 79-year-old mother, only to find that there was no legal way to get the tickets to her.
“I was told that as I’d made the purchase, I must attend and names can’t be changed,” she told the newspaper. “My mother can’t use a computer let alone an online ticket portal and I feel this discriminates against older people.”
In that article, a survey by Oxford Internet Institute was cited that shows nearly half of people over the age of 65 do not own smartphones.
“At the moment it seems that many businesses in the events and entertainment industry are requiring customers to book online or via a smartphone, which automatically rules out many older people,” said Caroline Abrahams, the charity director of Age UK. “A policy of this kind therefore risks widening the digital divide and reducing the opportunities for many older people to go out and enjoy socialising once again. While we fully understand the need for event venues like Wimbledon to prioritise infection control, we also think they need to ensure they are being genuinely inclusive, and that means offering an easily accessible offline booking option as well.”
In the U.S., organizations like the United States Minority Ticketing Group have consistently spoken out against the forced shift to mobile-only ticketing as being discriminatory.
“Exclusively offering mobile, non-transferable tickets is another way of blocking people out with less resources. There’s a long history of individuals in power defining which consumers are valuable in the marketplace,” says Scot Esdaile, Executive Director of the United States Minority Ticketing Group (USMTG) and national board member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Eliminating such restrictive systems is one of the key priorities of the USMTG, which includes dynamic barcodes and other paperless tickets as one of 11 of what it calls “discriminatory practices” that prevent the existence of an “equal entertainment industry for minorities”
Event organizers who stand to benefit from the mobile-only shift are quick to defend the practice and point out workarounds available to consumers who can’t access mobile-only tickets. “While mobile ticketing is now the primary means of ticket delivery at Rogers Centre, guests who require accommodations, including those without a smartphone, can contact the box office for assistance,” a Rogers Centre spokesperson told CTV News Toronto when asked about Ervine’s case.
“We recognise that there are those who are less comfortable with a change of this magnitude,” The All England Lawn Tennis Club, which operates Wimbledon, told The Guardian. “We have offered our assistance to anyone struggling with the technology and have handled thousands of enquiries to provide comfort as best we can.”
The fact that thousands of enquiries have been involved in this painful shift away from simple tangible tickets should shed some light on how widespread the issue really is for consumers and the impact this forced shift in favor of mobile-only ticketing really has.