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Digital? Yeah, that's the ticket for Astros

Friday, March 31, 2017   (0 Comments)

Houston Chronicle | March 31, 2017
For generations, faded photos and torn tickets personified nostalgia - memories, in the words of a melancholy 1960s ballad, in bits and pieces.

More recently, though, the photos have been digital. Increasingly, the tickets are, too.

With opening day Monday, the Astros have embraced digital ticketing. Bar codes, not cardboard, are the gateway to entry to Minute Maid Park for an increased number of fans.

Club officials say 65 percent of season-ticket holders manage their ticket accounts online, printing their tickets themselves at home or presenting them at the gate via a mobile device. That's triple the number of accounts opting for digital management a year ago.

Although the Astros lagged several Major League Baseball teams and teams in other sports - the Rockets, for example, have used the electronic Flash Seats ticketing system since 2008 - Astros marketing executive Anita Seghal said fans are adapting quickly.

About 10 percent of Astros tickets in 2016 were digital, compared to the MLB average of 7 percent, "but we have a ways to go to convert the majority of our tickets to mobile like the Rockets."

Some fans love the feel and collectability of paper tickets, but familiarity and nostalgia come with a price: Astros season-ticket holders who opt for printed season tickets are charged $125 per seat.

Even game-day purchases have gone digital. Astros fans who buy tickets on game day online or via phone receive a digital ticket with a bar code. In-person buyers at Minute Maid Park's box office, though, still get old-fashioned printed tickets.

Digital has its drawbacks, of course, from a collector's standpoint. There were more than a thousand entries Friday on eBay for assorted Astros tickets stubs, ranging in price from $600 for a ticket stub from Nolan Ryan's fifth career no-hitter in 1981, $500 for a full ticket from Game 4 of the 2005 World Series and $129 for a stub from Mike Scott's 1986 no-hitter to a few pennies for games from the last decade.

For some fans, memories transcend value. Astros fan Jacob Stephens has a binder that includes a ticket stub from every game he's attended, including the first game to which he took his month-old son and Mike Fiers' no-hitter in 2015.

"An electronic copy isn't the same thing as a ticket stub," Stephens said.

But other fans like the convenience of digital ticketing.

"Paper tickets can get forgotten," said Astros fan Carl England. "But I always have my phone on me."

Fan Geoff Mecurio added, "Keep it on your phone, share with friends and never lose" digital tickets.

Elsewhere, the Cubs have taken a different tack on tickets, delivering traditional paper tickets to season-ticket holders but eliminating the print-at-home option in an effort to reduce piracy. The other option for Cubs fans is use of the MLB Ballpark mobile application, which handles tickets for all teams.

When it comes to keepsakes this year, season-ticket holders who opt for digital ticketing will receive a commemorative opening-day ticket. The Astros have no plans to offer commemorative tickets for other games this season.

As for the playoffs, the team printed tickets for the 2015 Division Series against the Royals. No plans are in place for the MLB postseason.

Early promotion

Meanwhile, the Astros will try to boost attendance during the traditionally slow opening month of the season by offering tickets to all 13 home games, Monday's opening day not included, for $59.

The Ballpark Plan will be strictly digital because purchasers will not be assigned to a specific seat until six hours before game time. Tickets will be available in the bullpen, mezzanine, field box, view deck and Torchy's party deck sections.