If mobile-only ticketing is the future as companies like Ticketmaster continue to insist, the future did’t look very bright at Super Bowl LVI.

Ticketmaster’s system reportedly went down about 75 minutes before kickoff, eliminating the ability for any user to transfer tickets from one account to another. This lockout, which meant that many consumers who had already purchased tickets – even through “official” marketplaces – were left stuck outside of the stadium until nearly the end of the first quarter when systems were brought back on.

“It was a huge issue,” said one executive for a large ticket broker, who requested to remain anonymous. “It probably impacted multiple millions of dollars worth of ticket sales.”

Insomniac browser for ticketing professionals

Tickets for Super Bowl LVI were not issued in any other format than the digital-only one that kept tickets locked to specific mobile applications on users phones. So when the system crashed, there was no alternative – such as a paper ticket that could be scanned. Impacted consumers instead waiting with mounting frustration as the game proceeded with them stuck outside, despite having paid thousands of dollars for tickets in the hot market leading up to the game, which saw the home Los Angeles Rams win the Lombardi Trophy.

The outage on Ticketmaster’s system impacted all ticket transfers across all marketplaces – meaning that buyers on official marketplaces like On Location, StubHub, and SeatGeek were impacted just as badly as those who purchased on Ticketmaster, and consumers who used other marketplaces to purchase were still stuck as the Ticketmaster system has no alternative method of ticket distribution – save for events held in markets like New York, Connecticut, Virginia, Illinois, and Utah where legislators have required consumer choice in ticket format by law.

Despite thousands of tickets being available for purchase in the lead-up to the game, virtually all ticket listings were taken down due to the outage as kickoff approached.

“Ticketmaster needs to provide answers today as to why their transfer option went down 75 minutes before kick of the Super Bowl,” wrote user @tickets113 on Twitter. “The outage resulted in barcode invalidation to the 3 approved secondary exchanges. Last minute buyers had no inventory to buy. Secondary ticket Exchanges that weren’t integrated either took down inventory or had sales come in that sellers couldn’t transfer. A complete mess. Halfway through the first quarter the system was restored. Not sure who, what, or why is responsible but heads should roll today.”

Requests for comment and clarification on what exactly happened sent to both the National Football League and Ticketmaster have not received a response as of Thursday afternoon. There is no indication that any public notice regarding the issue was ever made by Ticketmaster, its customer support operation, the NFL, the venue, or either participating team.

Learn more about the Insomniac web browser, designed for ticket resale professionals

“The screen gave us an order number and then requested we wait for the ticket to process,” says Megan Schmidt-Weymans, who bought a last-minute ticket through Ticketmaster after her fiancee – a huge Rams fan – had previously bought his own. “After some time we went to the resolution desk and spoke with a Ticketmaster rep there. He informed us we would have to wait for it to process which seemed odd since we had waited and nothing changed… We tried the Ticketmaster ‘contact us’ online which forced us to email and the phone number to customer service noted a shortage in reps and to email and then hung up. We waited and I eventually forced my fiancée to use the one ticket we had that was valid since this game was to be a wedding gift to ourselves.”

It wasn’t until the middle of the second quarter that she once again attempted to get help from the Ticketmaster staff on site, only to find out the ticket was no longer even pending transfer, but gone altogether. It was only through the intervention of a SeatGeek representative who heard of her situation as it deteriorated that she was able to attend at all – SeatGeek had been restored by that point, and she was able to score a ticket to catch the second half with her future spouse.

SeatGeek may have saved the day (and earned a customer for life), but she’s stuck waiting for Ticketmaster to take care of her refund on the original ticket that kept her locked out of SoFi Stadium.

“We have emailed numerous times and as previously said the help desk number is useless and tells you to email after a long voice message and then hangs up,” Schmidt-Weymans says. “The customer service for ticket master has been awful and non responsive.”

It is impossible to know how many consumers were impacted – many who might have purchased last-minute tickets most likely just made other plans, with no way of quantifying those numbers. Schmiedt-Weymans says she saw “countless” people heading to the Ticketmaster area of the resolution desk hoping for assistance with their tickets.

System failures locking out large portions of consumers have becoming a recurring issue in recent years. The College Football Playoff saw major issues due to mobile-only ticketing in 2018, as did an outage that impacted numerous events in 2017. In response to that outage, sports business reporter Darren Rovell pointed out the enormous difference in scale between the isolated occasions of fraud that companies like Ticketmaster often cite in their push for mobile-only ticketing and the impact of an outage like any of these. “Teams say they are going mobile to prevent fraud,” he tweeted. “What happened tonight with Ticketmaster outage affected 50x more than will ever be frauded.”

In reality, mobile-only ticketing systems are more about market control by the platform and its clients. SafeTix – the dynamic barcode system that powers Ticketmaster’s mobile-only app at enabled stadiums – was designed with the control of secondary market ticketing in mind. It has been used to deliberately lock out consumers who purchased tickets through competing resale marketplaces, and to punitively remove season ticket accounts from those who have been found to resell too often or for too much money – such as in a recent example from Penn State University. It is for reasons like this that states like Florida are currently considering legislation to require consumer choice in ticket format.

Tickets for Super Bowl LVI sold for an average of over $6,200, according to data provided by Ticket Club. That had dropped to $4,880 on the day of the game, which means that Ticketmaster’s outage potentially kept a large number of price-conscious consumers out, who had been hoping to see the market continue to drop after it started at record-highs and then declined as the game approached.

We will update this story with additional details or any comment we receive from Ticketmaster or the NFL.

Vivid Seats ad with text your ticket to mindblowing over a vivid seats logo