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Mementos in the the Digital Age

I love ticket stubs.

I love ticket stubs so much that I have a collage of them in my office.

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(Not sure how many ticket stubs are on the Stub Wall, but I seem to add to a new addition every month or two. It is also, admittedly, a childish collection…but I don’t care.)

As a kid, I would collect them – not just my tickets from, say, a hockey or football game, but ticket stubs discarded by others at those games as well (I’m sure my parents were thrilled that their son brought home dozens…literally dozens…of ketchup-stained football tickets). Seems old habits die hard, as I have ticket stubs on my wall, in various scrap books, etc, while also finding that they make wonderful bookmarks (and make for a bit of a wonderful discovery when finding them between the pages again years later). Ticket stubs were, and still are, a physical, tangible reminder of an event – whether it was the result that was memorable (I had ticket stubs from the two times I saw the Stanley Cup presented in Edmonton…now, sadly, lost or at the bottom of a forgotten box in some storage unit somewhere), or that the game was part of a vacation or while living abroad, or wanting to remember who I went to the game with, or if the ticket was particularly aesthetically pleasing (cricket tickets, in particular, are lovely). Some bring back great memories, while others (such as a ticket from the last Atlanta Thrashers hockey game) are bittersweet. Nowadays, I don’t save every ticket from every event I attend, but it is more about having a representative sample of different events for my Stub Wall. Perhaps the only exception are tickets from games when I have taken my son. I have a separate book for those tickets, though I have put a few memorable ticket stubs from father-son games on the Stub Wall:

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(Note the ticket at the top, Greenville Road Warriors v. Gwinett Gladiators. Not a particularly memorable ECHL minor league hockey game, mind you, but my son chewed on the upper left corner of the ticket throughout the first period. As a parent, you get sentimental about the silliest things.)

In any event, there has been some discussion – such as this article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this past summer – that the paper ticket, and the instant souvenir that comes with it, is rapidly on its way out in sport. The vast majority of tickets sold now are digital, and it makes sense. Digital tickets are more convenient, they can be sold or transferred easily, they are somewhat more secure, and they have all-but-eliminated tickets being lost or misplaced. The question is whether there is still a place for the physical ticket in the digital age. From the Post-Gazette article:

The ticket stubs are physical representations of memories, of games won and lost, of records set and time spent with friends and family, and like many other objects — photographs, books, compact discs and, yes, even newspapers — they are starting to disappear in the digital age.

Sports franchises are rapidly moving to digital ticketing as a means of gathering data about customers and generating revenue by collecting fees every time a digital ticket is resold, something not possible with hard-copy tickets, but the movement has the unintended consequence of eliminating a cheap memento for fans and a collector’s item for others.

The article goes on to argue that ticket stubs also become mementos when the unexpected occurs, such as a no-hitter in baseball, and that teams have responded by issuing physical tickets retroactively. However, this suggests that value of a ticket stub is only related to the events on the field. Of the tickets on the Stub Wall, only a handful of them are there because of a particularly important moment that happened on the pitch/field/ice. Most are triggers for other memories, and that the outcome of the events are in the background. For example, I have a ticket from the Fourth Day of an England v. New Zealand test match at Lord’s in 2013. Yes, I remember that 14 wickets fell that day with England winning the test, but it was more about taking my son to the game and having him charm the people around us, or talking cricket with my mother and father who attended with my wife, son, and I, or the fact that I was watching a test match at Lord’s! Point is, there is value in these object that go beyond either the result itself or the utilitarian value of allowing one passage through a stadium gate.

As such, I wonder if there might be a market for fans like me who want the physical ticket because of a kind-of anticipatory nostalgia. I would be willing to pay for, say, a physical ticket for my son’s first sporting event, or a game attended spent on a special occasion with family or friends, or just because I want to add to my collection. Of course, the question is whether it is worth it for teams to go to such lengths for an seemingly shrinking market, and whether they would be enough of a trade-off from the digital benefits (such as transfer revenue or the customer data) for a memento. That said, there is something to having a beautiful, perhaps fading ticket stub, and being able to say “I was there.” The hope is, particularly for collectors/sentimentalists like me, whether this will be possible to do in years to come.


3 Comments

  1. 48panda says:

    Awesome ticket wall. There’s no substitute for a real ticket. I don’t like it when you have to go to StubHub and have to get a printout with a barcode instead of a proper ticket. Especially when an A4 sheet actually uses more paper!

    • Thanks – its a bit silly, but I love my ticket wall. 🙂 And, yeah, the StubHub thing is always a bit of a crapshoot. I have ordered hard-copy tickets from StubHub just to receive the actual, physical ticket and ended up with just the regular Ticketmaster sheet. Always a bit of a letdown.

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