Cavaliers lead charge into age of electronic sports ticketing

CLEVELAND – The Cleveland Cavaliers envision an arena full of cheering fans with no tickets in their pockets.

Ticket brokers say it can’t be done, but the team believes electronic ticketing will sweep the sports and entertainment industries, much like it did the airline industry.

“The paper ticket market is fundamentally inefficient and arcane,” said Chad Estis, Cavaliers chief marketing officer. “I don’t think there’s a role for that in the future.”

While some Major League Baseball teams have introduced electronic ticketing, the Cavaliers have taken it a step further, providing a completely paperless transaction. Nearly a third of their season-ticket holders use Flash Seats, owner Dan Gilbert’s online ticketing company.

The firm is looking to sell other professional teams on the concept, allowing them to cash in on the lucrative secondary ticket market. Teams have long been frustrated by the fact that they sell seats for the price listed on the ticket only to see scalpers outside the stadium get double and triple that figure.

“I hope to be in every league starting next fall,” said Flash Seats chief executive officer Sam Gerace, who would not say which teams have expressed interest.

A decade ago, the airlines industry found it could save money by going paperless and eliminate passengers’ fears of losing or forgetting tickets. Southwest Airlines says 73 percent of its bookings are done through the Internet.

Flash Seats isn’t all that different. Season-ticket holders who elect to go paperless register at and get into games by swiping a credit card or driver’s license at the arena.

They can transfer their seats by e-mail and may sell their tickets via Flash Seats, naming their price. Flash Seats charges the buyer a 20 percent fee.

Among the benefits: buyers don’t have to worry about a ticket being counterfeit, Gerace said.

The secondary ticket market has grown into a $10 billion-a-year industry, according to Sucharita Mulpuru, a senior analyst for Forrester Research Inc. About $3 billion of those sales are online.

“The online piece of it has been growing quickly. There are new sites. There’s more comfort with it,” said Mulpuru, whose clients include eBay and Amazon. “Before it was a very fragmented local process. The Internet has helped to eradicate those geographic barriers.”

The NFL is looking into electronic ticketing league wide, exploring whether it would be viable for teams that host just 10 home games, including preseason, each year, versus 41 for basketball, said Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman. He would not comment on whether the league has had discussions with Flash Seats.

Fifteen Major League Baseball clubs use technology similar to Flash Seats. Fans buy seats online, then go to a kiosk outside the stadium, swipe a credit card and get a receipt that gets them in the gate, said Jim Gallagher, spokesman for

The San Francisco Giants are one of several teams that provide a Web site for fans to sell and transfer tickets much like Flash Seats, but the transaction isn’t entirely paperless, team spokesman Russ Stanley said.