By Dr. Jim Reese  |  01/05/2024

By James T. Reese Jr., Ed.D.
Associate Professor, Sports Management

virtual season tickets


The COVID-19 pandemic launched discussions in print and on sports talk radio about the viability of a new revenue stream and a new platform for fans to consume sports. With the explosion of social media over the last decade, fans are looking for exclusive content and to get as close to players and the action as possible, which could be accomplished through a virtual season ticket.

When this desire for greater intimacy is combined with evolving virtual reality (VR) technology and the never-ending need for new revenue streams by leagues and teams, the concept of virtual season tickets (VSTs) is just around the corner.

Exclusive access sports content using VR technology is the next logical step in the ticket industry. VSTs that offer modest exclusive video content, price incentives, virtual watch parties, and team Zoom calls are already popping up at university athletic departments across the country and with professional soccer teams internationally.


Benefits of the Virtual Season Ticket

So if virtual season tickets were regularly used, what would ticket holders receive? The overall concept is appealing: no $12 drinks, parking fees, hotel rooms, traffic, obnoxious crowds, or lines at concession stands or restrooms during game week. Virtual season ticket holders would have exclusive access from the comfort of an individual’s “sports cave,” which would likely make that location an immediate favorite of friends and family and greatly improve the fan experience.

From a team owner’s perspective, the concept of season tickets not bound by stadium capacity or limited to just home games is a dream come true. In addition, the 147,000 devotees on the season ticket waitlist for the Green Bay Packers would no longer need to wait a generation for their season tickets.

Other National Football League teams with waiting lists of 25,000 people or more – such as the Commanders, Giants, Eagles, Patriots, Steelers, Saints, and Broncos – would benefit tremendously as well. The virtual season ticket would provide a significant benefit to the general public by allowing fans to easily “attend” a chosen event.

From a logistics perspective, a virtual season ticket would work like a traditional season ticket. Just as with traditional ticket plans, a virtual season ticket would be offered at different price points with different levels of content and access.

A virtual season ticket could involve a single game, multiple games, a mini-plan, or a season ticket package. A minimum of at least three unique price points could be available.

In addition, a person could purchase access to a favorite player or favorite team. For a premium price, that fan could even purchase a league pass.

A few possible season ticket plan options could include:

  1. Virtual stadium seat locations: This ticket option would include a virtual access view from an actual seat within an existing facility. Virtual ticket holders would see and hear exactly what fans experience from the stands at live events. For a nominal upgrade, a fan could listen to a favorite television or radio broadcaster.

  2. Audio access only: This option is similar to how NASCAR fans have streaming access and can listen to the communication between their favorite driver and crew chief at live NASCAR races. Ticket holders could either attend a game in VR from home or from a VR seat location at a sports facility. They could simultaneously listen to live audio from the field from their favorite player or switch between different players on the same team or players on both teams. A small microphone attached to each player would provide the audio during the event.

  3. Exclusive in-game access: Just as in the previous ticket options, ticket holders could either watch the game in VR from home or from a VR seat location at the facility. However, this groundbreaking option would create audio and video feeds via a small camera attached to each player, so people could experience the game from a player’s perspective. The virtual season ticket holder would have the ability to connect with a favorite player or switch between players on one or both teams. With this type of exclusive access, the fan gameday experience would never be the same.


Implementation and Marketing to Virtual Season Ticket Holders

Although accessing VSTs could be as simple as utilizing a phone or television app, implementing VSTs could take some time. In addition to making sure the cameras and microphones would provide reliable feeds and be safe for players, approvals would need to come from sports leagues and players’ associations working in collaboration.

There may even be a market for attaching cameras and microphones to officials, umpires, and coaches. Since VSTs would be a paid subscription, the filtering of foul language on the field would not be a factor. However, a mechanism would need to be put in place to shut down audio and video feeds in case of serious injuries.

Just as with television and radio broadcasts, ads and sponsorship could be embedded into the VR feed during breaks and timeouts. These ad opportunities would keep current revenue streams in those areas intact.

From a player’s perspective, using virtual season tickets is a literal goldmine as well. Combined with existing social media, live on-field audio and video provides players with additional opportunities to build their brand and keep fans excited to watch a broadcast.

The thin line between sports and the entertainment industry could virtually disappear as players market themselves with their language and actions on the field (such as good guy, bad guy, or leader). Players could build legions of supporters, using their personalities to further connect with their fans.

VR headsets could be designed to represent the colors and logo of all league teams and be licensed by the league and teams to retailers. It prompts an obvious question: Could players begin licensing their likeness on VR headsets and merchandise?


The Implications of Virtual Season Tickets on the Sports Industry

VSTs, in theory, could permanently alter the way sports are consumed around the world. Although there would always be a market for the game day experience of attending live games and events, the convenience factor and exclusive content associated with VSTs could negatively impact attendance at sport facilities.

A shift in the capacity of sports facilities could take place. If less money is spent on and at these facilities, cities will feel the impact in the form of job losses and negative economic consequences.

Another result could be that the millions of dollars spent by cities on sports facility construction could significantly decrease. Owners would no longer need to hold cities hostage with the threat of relocating.

Similarly, taxpayers not interested in watching sports would not need to support new sport facility construction through tax increases. Money spent on new stadium construction could be redirected toward local schools, roads, and other necessary services.

Although comprehensive VSTs may not benefit cities with professional sport facilities, they provide numerous benefits for leagues, teams, players, coaches, and fans. The implementation, however, could take some time due to evolving technology, league rules, and negotiations with players’ associations.

However, the enormous amount of potential new revenue will ensure that VSTs happen sooner than later. What VSTs will do to the future of sports as we know it is still uncertain, but they could literally transform how we consume and manage our sports content.

So would you be willing to purchase a virtual season ticket for an upcoming season and register to watch different events?

About the Author
Dr. Jim Reese
Dr. Jim Reese is an associate professor and coordinator of internships and community relations in the sports management program at the University. He is a former ticketing administrator in the National Football League.

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