Debut of Ravens' digital ticketing service hits bump but runs smoothly on game day

As the Ravens ushered in a new era of digital ticketing before Thursday night’s preseason home opener against the Los Angeles Rams, many fans found themselves meeting the new technology with relative ease. Others found themselves lost in translation.

Even though the paper tickets that had been fans’ key to entering M&T Bank Stadium for a generation were a thing of the past, flashing a digital ticket on an iPhone or a season-ticket holder’s card was quick for those who arrived early. Maybe even quicker than before.

“Oh, absolutely. For one thing, I just take this one [card] to every game,” said John Wilkinson, 67, of Columbia, clutching the purple card hanging from his neck that belonged to his son, Michael, who has had season tickets for five years.

“Not worry about having to dig out paper out a drawer, and then have to take three tickets and make sure everybody gets the right one. This just simplifies everything. Brilliant idea, a great improvement.”

The lines lengthened as kickoff loomed, as with any game. One gate, C, was closed because of construction, which didn’t help.

“When the season starts, that's going to be a problem. … When the season starts, people don’t show up to the game until it’s kickoff,” said Forest Hills’ Mark McCauley, 59. He and his wife, Nancy, 60, have held their season seats as long as these Ravens have existed; Mark held them for the Baltimore Colts as well.

“Preseason, half the people are here,” he said. “When 100 percent of the people are here, in full tailgating mode, they’re not going to be happy when there’s deep lines.”

They agreed, like most fans, that the digital transition was no big deal. Looking at the near-seamless process through the entrances Thursday evening, it was easy to forget that for many Ravens fans, the conversion hadn’t been so breezy.

On Wednesday, multiple season-ticket owners who didn’t want to attend the game discovered that when they tried to gift tickets to friends or family through the Ravens Mobile App, their intended recipients would receive dead links.

“I initially got a series of error messages,” said Bob Zgorski, 66, of Glenelg, “and then eventually I stopped getting the error messages, but when I got to the tickets, the tickets showed up, but there’s a button in there that says ‘send,’ and that’s not active.”

The system outage lasted most of Wednesday and was directly tied to Ticketmaster, said Baker Koppelman, the Ravens senior vice president of ticket sales and operations. People who had already been logged in when the mechanics were down were unable to transfer or sell their tickets.

Zgorski has held season seats since 1996. He wanted to transfer his tickets to his daughter, Emily, and grew increasingly frustrated as the day wore down and nothing seemed to change.

“You click that button all day, and nothing happens,” he said.

Zgorski wasn’t alone in his predicament. Those who tried to transfer tickets Wednesday called a phone number listed on the Ravens website for help, and were often greeted with a busy tone.

Zgorski was only able to reach a human once in over 12 hours or so, and when he did, he was less than satisfied with the request for patience he was given. He was told systems were down and would be up by 4 p.m. Wednesday, and was referred to Ticketmaster.

“We rely on them, as does every NFL team to run the mobile ticketing service,” Ravens president Dick Cass said.

It might seem like a minor inconvenience to try to work around a glitchy new app to try to send tickets, but when the permanent seat licenses are, at least in Zgorski’s case, over $5,000 a year, a possibility that expensive tickets would go to waste was “unacceptable.”

“They brush it off, start telling me how his customer service reps were getting beat up by the 1,500 calls they were getting,” he said of the supervisor he had spoken to on the phone. “Really wasn’t whole lot they could do about it. It was very dismissive and very frustrating.”

For Scott Boylan, 58, of Washington, the ticketing problems were more than frustrating. They were nearly the last straw with the Ravens.

“Frankly, after last year, all the problems the team had, they’re kind of on probation for me,” Boylan said. “I’m just thinking of walking away. This is the kind of thing that doesn’t help.”

Boylan wanted a friend to take his four seats for the game, but when he tried texting the tickets over, a service he said the app offered, he, too, was sending a dead link. The problem was eventually resolved by the afternoon.

The lanyard-strung card that contained all of his tickets that he and all PSL owners had been mailed in July could have been a quick fix, perhaps, but Boylan said it was a last resort to pass that off to someone, even if he wasn’t out of town.

Honestly, he said, it was a risk he didn’t want to take anyway.

“I’m not going to hand that [card] out to anybody, that’s my whole season,” he said. “I don’t know why they didn’t have paper tickets along with digital last year or this one and say, ‘Here’s the mobile option,’ and roll it out. These systems always have these problems.”

Boylan said even if the Ravens had solved the problem eventually, which they did by the afternoon, he hoped they learned a lesson for the regular season and beyond.

“I think it’s going to be fine as the season goes on,” Cass said. “Just like all of us, you wait to the last minute, you know you’re going to give them to the neighbors, but you’ve got to transfer them, you wait until yesterday or today. And that’s what a lot of fans did and it put a tremendous amount of strain on our phones. I think the Ticketmaster thing was just unexpected.”

Service had been returned by 10 p.m. Wednesday, per Cass. But fans like Zgorski and Boylan were unable to cut through the busy tone until the next afternoon to find that out.

“Generally, people who were calling us, we were able to walk them back through,” Koppelman said. “We’re not aware of any system outages this morning.”

Bel Air resident Jen Chase, 46, avoided the transfer headaches altogether. Thursday’s game was her first time to M&T Bank Stadium, and the tickets were a gift to her from a coworker — who had sent them last week with no hangups.

“I just logged into my account and they scanned it [at the gate],” she said. “I know [the staffer] had a little trouble scanning it at first, but he finally got it to go through.”

Mark McCurdy, 62, of Elkridge, said his problems with the new system were a little less technical. They were more related to his son, Tyler, 28, who was “dismayed” when he learned paper tickets were no more.

“My son has saved the ticket from all the Ravens games he ever attended,” McCurdy, also a season-ticket holder since the team’s existence, wrote in an email. “That kind of action, filled with sentiment, is now lost. Another big-foot move by a league that has lost its way.”

McCurdy wanted to continue a tradition he had created with his own father. The third of four boys, a trip to Memorial Stadium to visit the Colts was the kind of ritual he wanted to establish with his own kids — and tickets, a physical embodiment of the nostalgia, was a key piece of it.

“When the Ravens came into town [in 1996] I wanted to get tickets and make memories with my two boys,” McCurdy said. “That is what football used to be about for fans. This action strikes at that core by denying the souvenir while exulting the commerce of ticket sales.”

For Donna Higdon, 55, of Frederick, the change was not as gripping, but was albeit a little bittersweet.

“I liked when you opened the envelope and [the tickets] had all the different players on it, and the names,” she said. “All that kind of stuff. That part, I think, we’ll miss.”

kfominykh@baltsun.com

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