Inside sports business
Brad Griffith was a paid “Moneyball” intern seeking hidden statistical player value for the Chicago White Sox when they won the World Series a decade ago.
Now, the founder and CEO of Gametime, a San Francisco-based mobile-phone application, sits in a Sodo District cafe explaining plans to capitalize on an undervalued part of an estimated $5 billion ticket-resale industry. Griffith, 36, a former Stanford volleyball player, calls Seattle’s response to Gametime “our biggest surprise yet’’ in the four months it’s been here offering a simplified, handheld way to buy last-minute sports tickets — often below face value.
He proudly holds up his iPhone, displaying a Gametime interface with stadium maps from 35 markets and ticket listings for 150 MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA, NCAA and MLS teams. A couple of finger-taps later, a Safeco Field display indicates the best Mariners seats being resold in every section, with high-resolution photographs of how the field looks from their location.
Gametime stores credit-card information, so another finger tap buys a seat and the phone is quickly sent a mobile-optimized ticket bar code that can be scanned directly at stadium entrances without printing it out.
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“In this case, your phone is your ticket,’’ says Griffith, who launched the app nearly two years ago in a handful of markets. “You can be standing in line without a ticket and be through the gate 30 seconds later.’’
That lets fans make impulse buys, up to an hour after a game starts. Competitors like ReplyBuy and The Experience App also offer handheld ticketing ability, but Gametime’s high-res display and simplified purchase process set it apart.
Griffith hopes that simplicity does for ticket resale what Uber did for taxi users.
“Fans can now change plans and go to games at the last minute they otherwise wouldn’t,’’ Griffith says. “The easier you make it for them, the more likely they are to go.’’
Ticket resale no longer involves “scalpers” selling in dark alleys. But today’s legal, mostly online industry still forces buyers to often wade through hundreds of listings and confusing layers of brokers and aggregator sites.
The delivery system can also be problematic. Hundreds of Seahawks and Patriots fans discovered that at February’s Super Bowl, when websites they’d purchased from weeks in advance failed to deliver promised tickets.
Griffith is really just another broker, but Gametime’s bar-coding lets users get “tickets” immediately. And instead of listing hundreds of seats per game, Gametime curates the best “values” from each section according to location and price.
“We’re pulling out the bad ones and leaving you with the good ones,’’ Griffith says.
Ticket prices can often be cheaper than face value because they’re often sold last minute when inventory becomes tougher to move.
Griffith says tech-savvy Seattle millennials have taken to the app.
“Seattle was like our 20th city we went with, but it’s now our third largest in terms of volume,’’ he says. “I find it’s fascinating that Seattle has grown much faster than Chicago, New York or Boston.’’
Mariners tickets were first offered on Gametime in March and about 400 per game are now sold. Sounders FC and upcoming Seahawks games are also now offered.
Griffith figures 80 percent of ticket purchases will be mobile within a few years and — armed with a recent $13 million influx of venture capital — wants to secure more of that “undervalued” market.
But many industry giants still view Gametime as a niche product.
Companies like StubHub have vast ticket inventories supplied partly via lucrative contracts with professional teams and leagues. But teams won’t deal with just anyone and can employ tactics to squeeze out smaller resale companies.
“The Gametime App is part of the digital revolution that sports franchises and their sales staffs have not caught up to yet,’’ says consultant Troy Kirby, director of Ticket Operations at UC Davis and keynote speaker at the upcoming Ticket Summit resale-industry convention in Las Vegas.
“You have big franchises across every league who are shutting off online sales or secondary sites, or creating ZIP code barriers to seating choices simply because they want to control a marketplace,’’ he said.
Griffith says a handful of teams quietly supply him discounted blocks of tickets and he’d like a few more, but Gametime relies mostly on resale websites, individual brokers and select fans looking for help moving tickets. Gametime takes a 15 percent cut of any tickets sold.
Rather than focus on major deals with teams, Griffith’s strategy is to keep getting couch potatoes out to the ballpark with “last minute” buys.
He’s optimistic about growth chances, remembering how few believed in 2005 that the White Sox team he interned for was any good at statistical analysis or winning big.
Then, they won the World Series.
“No ring, but they gave me a watch,’’ he says.
Somewhat fitting, given that his latest quest for hidden value in sports lies in saving ticket buyers as much time as possible.