There has always been something disconcerting about asking for the four best tickets to a sports event and being told by a surly guy smoking a cheap cigar that he has four in the third deck behind a pole for $10 each and make up your mind quick, Mac.
It has taken a generation of the young and a computer outfit that understands them to bring a new kind of pleasantness and fairness to buying tickets. Consider an outfit called Ticketron, a division of Control Data, which had its troubles when it started operating in 1968, but last year sold nearly 27 million tickets—about eight million of them to sports events. The 734 nationwide outlets are located in major stores like Sears and Macy's, and a prospective game-goer simply walks up and states a ticket preference. The request is punched into a computer and the best available seats are offered with a minimum of delay.
It's clear that, interpersonal relationships aside, ticket computers have it all over people. Computers don't sneer nor do they hold back tickets for their computer friends. There is evidence that many Manhattanites prefer to buy tickets for Madison Square Garden events at the Macy's Ticketron outlet a block away from the Garden, even though by so doing they have to pay a 50¢ to 75¢ per ticket service charge.
Sensing that Ticketron is a winner, teams and athletic facilities are getting their own, small, newly developed Ticketron computers. Ticketron says it does everything but kick field goals. It can handle season tickets, including upgrading customers to better seats as they become available; it prints tickets; it bills; it sends out promotional materials. It costs $35,000 a year to lease and is just the ticket, says Ticketron, for anyone who has to mess with selling more than 10,000 tickets a week. The L.A. Dodgers and the Montreal Alouettes have the new gizmo, so does Chicago Stadium; at least two major universities are seriously considering it. Universities are likely candidates because, as Bill Schmitt, Ticketron's president, says, "If you foul up the alums who donate the money, you're in bad shape."
Ticketron foresees many future applications in sports. Because young people have fallen in love with the outdoors, Ticketron has developed a similar affection. Campsites can be reserved through Ticketron at 52 major California state parks ($3.50 to $5 a night), 110 parks in New York and 14 in Virginia. The service charge is $1.75 but worth it to foil the mobs. A test program is under way on the desirability of reserving golf tee-off times through Ticketron rather than going to the course to sign up, and tennis-court times may be so reserved before long. A charter-boat operation in California is interested in Ticketron. As for the East, a new sports complex is negotiating. Ticketron is also looking into European and South American soccer. "We can straighten out almost everything," says Schmitt, "except one—we are not a cure-all for a bad team." Schmitt isn't sure how far all this will go but he promises not to put x's on riverbanks telling us where to stand to fish.
Although electronic progress is making inroads, some old realities remain, e.g., the best way to get a good ticket for the World Series, the NBA championships, Forest Hills, the Super Bowl or an Ohio State football game is still to know somebody.