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BENNETT: Timberwolves Sued Over Electronic Ticket Sales

Written By Zach Bennett

Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press reported yesterday that the Minnesota Timberwolves are being sued over the way they sell their tickets. His report — published over at TwinCities.com, which you can read here — details the class-action suit filed on behalf of ticket buyers in Hennepin County District Court. The suit claims Flash Seats, an ID-based digital ticketing system that allows users to enter an event with any form of convenient digital ID, such as a credit card or a Mobile ID through the service’s mobile app, makes it too hard for fans to exchange tickets, sell them on the secondary market or give them away.

The suit, filed by law firm Zimmerman Reed of Minneapolis, claims the Wolves’ new “draconian” and “cumbersome” policies produce “economic harm” and violate contracts, state trade acts and antitrust laws. The lead plaintiffs, season-ticket holders GLS Companies of Brooklyn Park and James Mattson, contend they were not adequately notified about changes in ticketing policy until after they agreed to spend $32,000 and $21,000, respectively, on season tickets in 2015-16.

The suit said the “arbitrarily imposed” minimum resale price set by Flash Seats ranged from 75 to 90 percent of face value and should be much lower for a team with the Timberwolves’ record, 19-42 as of Wednesday.

A statement released by the Timberwolves and Lynx states the following.

“We are aware that a lawsuit was filed this morning in Hennepin County District Court and it is our policy not to comment on pending litigation,” said Timberwolves President, Chris Wright. “What we can tell you is that the Timberwolves and Lynx organizations are confident that Flash Seats supplies the best possible experience for our fans. Flash Seats give our ticket holders the maximum possible convenience and complete control over their Timberwolves and Lynx tickets. We are committed to continuing to give our fans the best possible experience, including the convenience and security offered by Flash Seats.”

Greder adds: “Wright told the Pioneer Press that Flash Seats generally has been well received by fans. Without going into detail, he said the pricing strategy was established to ‘make sure that our tickets are not completely undervalued by the market.’”


 

Knowing Flash Seats has been a popular topic of discussion among season ticket holders, I posted a tweet back in December searching for feedback from those that might, either regularly or occasionally, use the service. I’ve shared three responses sent to me by way of email. Keep in mind these were sent to me by individuals, not corporations like those that are suing the Wolves.

Response #1.

The change to Flash Seats has, at least to me, very much reduced the value of my tickets, and also my interest in renewing my season tickets.  My 2 seats cost me $40 a game each. There is a serious issue with a team’s secondary ticket marketplace when I cannot sell those tickets at $35 for a game I could not attend while out of town (a weekend game no less).

To me the issues are visibility and service charges.  People looking for secondhand tickets are immediately going to go to stubhub [sic] or a similar site. Now, when they don’t find any tickets there, they will go to the wolves site, where they of course are directed to tickets sold by the team, with a bar on the side offering the Flash Seats secondhand marketplace. If they go to the secondhand marketplace, they will find very cheap looking tickets.  Often these tickets are priced below the heavily discounted season ticket holder price. When they select these tickets and go to check out, they are hit with an over 20% fee. This makes a $50 over $60, which is probably very close to, if not higher, than the price you could get it for straight from the Wolves.

Unfortunately the header on Flash Seats website is probably correct. “FlashSeats is the future of ticketing.”  For teams it makes sense to limit a secondary marketplace. Not only to curb scalping, but also to sell more of their own tickets. No more scalpers, no more seeing thousands of tickets change hands on sites like stubhub and missing out on the fees associated with that.  It just makes sense for them.

Response #2. 

So I’ve actually used it in a few different ways. I’m not a season ticket holder but I go to a number of games. I attended the season opener without needing to use Flash Seats, but aside from that every instance has required Flash Seats.

The first experience with it was the second game of the year in which a friend owned tickets they weren’t able to use. They had to get my email and I had to create an account. This seemed completely unnecessary, clunky and annoying. As you’re signing up it gives you really weird warnings about entering a credit card to use with your account and then the team asking to see that credit card in order to get into the game. I ignored this because I figured there was no way they were actually checking credit cards as each person goes into the game. And… They’re not. That wasn’t comforting as a fan, either. It made me think ‘Ok I’m new to this thing, it has all these steps, I’m going to get down to the arena and pay for parking and not even get into the game’ to myself and further the hatred for Flash Seats.

Another time my roommate purchased seats for the 3 of us second hand. It was nice knowing the tickets were legit, but there are other ways to go about that. When we got there we had to go through security in a strange manner because they scan one code for 3 seats. So then you have to say “These two are with me” and the staff looks at you weird like they don’t really know what’s going on and you just proceed up to your seats. If we didn’t happen to live together this would be even worse. I don’t know of any way to ‘leave seats at will call’ essentially. I mean, you could transfer the tickets to their FlashSeats account but now we’re at the point of requiring an account for every person in attendance. Again, not good.

The final way in which I’ve had experience for is actually something that I’m not going to be all the way through until Friday’s game. I am hosting an event at that game and I have to somehow distribute 36 tickets to everyone. I don’t have their emails. I don’t have paper tickets. I have a feeling I’ll have a massive headache Friday night. I’m just hoping I get to see some of the game. When the team “transferred” the tickets to me I was shocked. I was expecting to get a chunk of paper tickets that I could easily hand out to everyone. I would be happy to talk to you Friday or later about how that portion of it goes…

Beyond all of this, the software is just awful. Have you seen it? It looks like they designed it for the original iPhone and then never touched it again. It’s just awful.

Some pros… Because I can’t be all negative.
-The team probably likes it from a logistical standpoint. You can see where tickets are going, get more data on everything, etc.
-If I were a season ticket holder I would have my account once and be mostly good to go. The ability to transfer seats to others would be easy. 
-It cuts down on paper use. It’s definitely a clean and green solution, and this part of it I really like. I just hate that they did it so wrong.

Response #3.

Zach,
I saw your tweet about experiences with Flash Seats and I must say that I have been impressed thus far. I have used the Flashseats just once so far this year but can already see my tickets to upcoming Wolves games on my phone, even if they are for a game that is months away. It is nice to know that I won’t have to worry about forgetting or losing my tickets because many times when I buy tickets for a game that far in advance I put them somewhere for safe keeping and then they are safely at home as I arrive at the stadium. 

I believe that the site will continue to improve with time and will be even better than it is now, much like most sites. I don’t agree with the comment that @Twolvesblog made about flash seats killing attendance. I haven’t done the research but I would guess that many teams have tickets online or are leaning that way. Our attendance is down because of years of disappointment. If you go look at the Twins attendance for example, their attendance when they won the series was okay in 1991, but the fans came out of the woodwork in 1992 once they saw the product on the field prove something to them. That is what I believe will have to happen here as well. Blowing leads and not winning at home is killing attendance, not convenient ticketing services. 


Some have suggested that Flash Seats has negatively impacted attendance, at least as far as Timberwolves games are concerned. As of this writing, the Wolves are 19-41 (11-21 at home) and rank dead last in terms of average home attendance with an average of 14,045 patrons through 31 (of 42) games at Target Center, according to ESPN.com. Meanwhile, the Lynx finished the 2015 season with the second-highest average home game attendance among WNBA teams, of which there are 14. According to Street & Smith’s Sports Group (SportsBusinessDaily.com), the WNBA, as a whole, drew an average of 7,318 fans a game, a 3.4 percent drop in attendance from last season — the lowest gate in the league’s 19-year history. But during a season in which they won their third championship since 2010, the Lynx saw a marginal increase (0.3 percent) in home attendance.

As Greder notes, both the Wolves and Lynx partnered with Flash Seats last year, becoming the first professional sports teams to go 100 percent digital for ticket sales. If I had to guess, it seems more likely that the Wolves lackluster attendance has come as a result of the team not being very good. The Wolves finished the 2014-15 campaign in possession of the NBA’s worst record and ranked 29th in average home attendance.