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Celtics, Red Sox move toward digital tickets

The Celtics are piloting a program called “Parquet Pass,” which would provide digital ticketing for season ticket holders instead of paper tickets like the ones used now.

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

The Celtics are piloting a program called “Parquet Pass,” which would provide digital ticketing for season ticket holders instead of paper tickets like the ones used now.

It is almost game time, and you are at your favorite pregame pub, waiting on your buddy, the one with the Celtics season tickets in his pocket. Except there’s one problem: He is stuck at work.

Starting next season, it won’t be an issue. Your friend will simply sign into his online account, e-mail the tickets, and you are off to the game.

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The Celtics are moving to electronic ticketing for season ticket holders with their Parquet Pass, a square of plastic that serves as everything from ticket to stored value card to tracking device.

They are not the only ones. The Red Sox will also offer digital ticketing, though they are just beginning their ­pilot program for 600 members of the Royal Rooters club.

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The Celtics’ “Parquet Pass” card.

Moving to paperless tickets is one more way in which tradition is giving way to convenience, for the fan and for the club. The cards also represent a new way of doing business. Digital ticketing adds ease for the fan, yes. But it may help the teams far more.

The teams want their season ticket holders, their highest-spending and most dependable customers, to feel valued and connected to the brand. To foster that, the teams will offer loyalty programs, targeted advertising, and promotions.

Customers who feel the maximum connection to the franchise are more likely to crowd through turnstiles, shop at the team store, and buy special promotional packages. The teams are using digital ticket technology to mine personal data about customers’ habits and reward them for those habits.

“With everything digital, there’s a trail that you can clearly look at and see how tickets are being utilized,’’ said Celtics president Rich Gotham. “It gives a level of intelligence to deal with your customer. We feel like we should know that person, and they should know us.’’

As technology has evolved, so, too has the way to reward fan loyalty. “That’s where this business is headed, from being a ‘season ticket holder’ to you’re becoming a ‘season ticket member,’ ” said Matt Griffin, Celtics vice president of strategic marketing and business operations. “It’s going to be much more than a ticket.”

Getting to know you

The Celtics program, tested in a pilot program this season, is billed as a way to give control and convenience to the fan, using cards for parking and merchandise, food and beverage, perhaps even outside the arena.

With a couple of clicks (the Globe was allowed access to the system), fans can manage their tickets online, assigning them to anyone with an e-mail ­address. The recipient then has the option to enter a credit or debit card number to swipe at the gate or print the tickets at home. Once at the turnstile, a receipt prints, making these not-quite paperless.

The pilot program included about 650 people and has taken some time to work seamlessly, with an adjustment period for both ticket takers and fans. The Celtics estimate that they will have 70 percent adoption next season. Ticket holders can also opt to stay with paper tickets.

Then there’s the next phase, expected to be available by the postseason: smartphones.

“The technology was the big factor,” Griffin said. “We’re stillpushing Ticketmaster very much on that road map, but where it is now versus where it was 12 months ago is like night and day. It’s a much more effective tool.”

The loyal treatment

The Red Sox, a step behind the Celtics on the timeline, are a step ahead in technology as they move to add digital ticketing as one component of their new Rewards Loyalty Program.

“One of the advantages of the system that we’re putting in is to make it a more convenient experience for the fan,” said ­senior vice president of ticketing Ron Bumgarner. “It’s going to be much faster for somebody if they choose to load their tickets on their card to tap and go.”

The Sox have joined with Fortress US on a program based on one used by the Washington Nationals, while taking cues from Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union. The Nats are producing contact-free cards, one per seat, that will eventually get rid of the need for ticket takers, modeled on the one used by soccer clubs in Europe, including the Liverpool team owned by Red Sox principal owner John Henry.

The card is part of a bigger loyalty program the Sox are hoping will change the way fans engage with the team. (Using electronic tickets is not mandatory to participate.)

Fans enrolled will be able to earn rewards, much as they might in airline or hotel programs, getting points for attend­ing games, for watching or listening to games at home, for using e-cash at concession stands, for tenure as a season ticket holder.

They can then use those points for auction items — like throwing out a first pitch or assist­ing the scorekeeper behind the Green Monster, while accruing points for bronze, gold, and diamond levels of achievement. There will also be monthly and yearly awards.

“The core of the program for us is really about providing addi­tional value and benefits for our most loyal fans,” Red Sox vice president for business development Tim Zue said. “It is centralized around this RFID card, this Red Sox Rewards membership card that they can use as their ticket if they want or as a form of payment.”

Take your pick

There seem to be few places physical tickets are still required. Airlines have given up. Concerts have gone digital. But sports are different. There’s the nostalgia factor.

“For me, being able to get a hard ticket allows me to better retain the memories and have the sentimental value that comes from attending a game, with the ticket as proof that I was there,” Celtics season ticket holder Mark E. Shamber wrote in an e-mail.

Shamber carries a Red Sox ticket stub from June 13, 2007, almost everywhere. It was the last time he spoke to his father, who died of a heart attack the next day. “That ticket serves as a ­remembrance for me,” said Shamber.

It’s a common refrain. Fans value their tickets.

Under both season ticket programs, paper tickets will still be available, free with the Red Sox and an extra $20 with the Celtics. In both cases, anyone can still use the online management system. As Zue said, the Sox are stressing ­“options and flexibility” with the new system.

“It’s been faster at the turnstile, and it’s a lot easier to hold a card than having to keep track of tickets,” said Bill Stearns, part of the Celtics pilot program. “I would tell other season ticket holders to ask for it.”

Patriots will pass

Digital ticketing has been around US sports since at least 2009, when the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes went digital out of ­necessity: They were facing bankruptcy, and paperless tickets saved $40,000 to $50,000 a year. Three years later, the club has 92 percent adoption, senior director of ticket operations Doug Vanderheyden said.

That 92 percent figure is a pipe dream for the Celtics and Red Sox in the early stages of their programs. And it is not even a consideration for other clubs in the Boston area.

The Patriots, according to spokesman Stacey James, have no plans to give up physical tickets anytime soon and have different needs because of the small number of home games.

The Bruins, unable to produce paper tickets after the NHL lockout ended, went without them this season. But their program just forces fans to print out tickets at home.

“We haven’t decided what we’re going to do moving forward,” Bruins president Cam Neely said. “It’s something that we’re certainly going to talk about.”

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@
globe.com
. Follow her on
Twitter @amaliebenjamin.
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