- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 23, 2000

The ordinary sports ticket, for decades just ink on heavy paper, is now the battleground of a fierce war of technology morphing not only the look of nearly every ticket but how teams interact with fans.
One side of the battle involves teams, leagues and printing companies, each trying to produce and sell a ticket that is inexpensive and easy to produce, attractive to collectors and hard to copy.
On the other side and by many accounts gaining significant ground are counterfeiters using home computers, scanners and high-end color copiers and printers to reproduce tickets with often startling success.
At risk is the interest of fans, already showing their dissatisfaction with pro sports in growing numbers, particularly in the NBA and NHL.
As a result, dozens of sports teams are rapidly embracing new ticketing technology like untearable papers, digital bar coding, custom holograms, special varnishes and ultraviolet inks just about anything to keep forgeries out of their buildings. And a once-insular sports industry is now taking cues from such outside organizations as the U.S. Mint for security guidance.
"It's just unbelievable what just regular people have been able to do, on their own computers or even down at their local Kinko's. The look is sometimes really identical," said Kirk Schulz, president of Premier Southern Ticketing, a Cincinnati company that prints tickets for many teams.
"We first went from traditional black ink to full color, and they found a way to beat that. We then started seeing a lot of holograms, and people were getting holograms from their local craft shop and working those in. We as an industry have had to work hard to stay a step ahead."
For decades, counterfeiting has been a small, steady and often unpublicized part of professional sports. But as ticket prices have soared in the last five years, along with interest in prime seat locations, so has interest in making a quick and handsome buck off off fakes. Ticketing industry executives estimate that popular sporting events, ranging from the Super Bowl to a sold-out New York Yankees regular season game, usually have at least 300 people trying to get through the turnstiles with counterfeit tickets a number increasing in many cities.
"We've been in contact with the other leagues to exchange ideas and information, and unfortunately this is something that has hit us all to some degree," said Kevin Hallinan, senior vice president of security and facilities management for Major League Baseball. Last month's World Series was the latest major draw for counterfeiters, and Hallinan and his staff recorded 11 arrests before Game 1 that depressed sales of forgeries for the rest of the Series.
While 300 fakes in a 18,000-seat arena or 65,000-seat football stadium don't seem like a large number, it can cost teams tens of thousands of dollars a game. And every team is loath to gain the substantial bad press and customer relations problems that such counterfeits can produce.
"You have to believe that the rising cost of tickets is having a big impact on what's happening," said Don Andrews, president of QuickTick, a Houston ticket printing company. "These people go where the money is, and at $50 a ticket, we're now at a level where it's really worth it for counterfeiters to go to the trouble."
The NBA recently became the first U.S. sports league to pass $50 in average ticket price, with a 2000-01 season average of $51.02. The NFL and NHL are close behind at $48.97 and $47.69, respectively. Baseball's average is $16.67, but the prices for the playoffs and World Series are much higher.
The primary security tool to prevent forgeries for both sports tickets and licensed apparel is currently the hologram, a time-honored tool used frequently in concert ticketing.
But quality custom holograms are expensive to reproduce, even in mass quantities. The cost to print tickets with a custom-designed hologram can exceed $2 each. Although that doesn't seem like much, it is exponentially higher than ordinary paper tickets that cost between 8 and 12 cents each to print.
"If a team or a promoter is really concerned about counterfeiting, the sky is basically the limit in terms of design and customization, but it does come with a price," Andrews said.
Another popular technology is ultraviolet inking, a technology advanced foremost by the U.S. Mint. All new American paper money is now embedded with specially dyed threads that show up yellow and red under special ultraviolet lights. Though violet ultraviolet ink is commonly available, the other UV colors are available only to commercial printers that pass clearance checks.
"We've definitely taken cues from [the U.S. Mint]. They've obviously needed to push the ball forward," Schulz said.
Bar coding also is rapidly gaining acceptance. Three baseball teams the San Francisco Giants, Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians and a handful of NBA and NHL teams place individual bar codes on the backs of all tickets.
A successful read of a bar code by an optical scanner installed inside the turnstiles allows fan entry through the gate. A duplicate bar code or poor read by the scanner instantly signals a likely forgery to ushers.
A long-range idea mentioned within ticket industry circles are smart cards designed to completely replace tickets. Instead of any type of paper ducat, fans would receive a plastic card about the size of a credit card and embedded with a computer chip that would store data corresponding to games for which the fan purchased seats. The technology is somewhat similar to the American Express Blue smart cards now on the market.
But all these new technologies still rely on two less advanced yet still critical elements: reliable support computers that don't crash and knowledgeable employees. Early last year, the Orioles experienced some scanning and processing glitches in their bar code ticket system, leading to delays for fans in getting through the gates.
"The ticket-taker himself is really the big problem nowadays with holograms," Schulz said. "Most of the takers at the turnstiles are usually either somebody retired or a kid. And after taking several thousand tickets, they're just not looking that closely anymore, [so] a lot of different holograms can pass through."

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