Digitalisation and an active fan scene - 1. FC Köln shows how both can be combined
19 January 2023
1. FC Köln and EVENTIM Sports GmbH have been working together in the field of ticketing since 2004. A lot has happened since then, Torsten Wessels, who has accompanied the Cologne team from EVENTIM Sports Consulting since the beginning, can still remember the following situation:
"Back then, there was a photo of me in the GeißbockEcho, the FC's stadium magazine at the time, standing at the turnstile to the stadium with a 4er Nutzen ticket." Those days are over, the turnstile is still there, but 95% of tickets are now scanned digitally, for example from a smartphone or smartwatch.
Since this season, 1. FC Köln, which has been a first mover in the field of mobile tickets since 2015, has relied entirely on digital season tickets. We are very pleased that Dominic Pütz, Team Leader Service & Ticketing, gives us exciting insights on this topic. We talk about the digitalisation of ticketing, the fans' reactions and the insights that 1. FC Köln was able to gather at the first home games of this season.
Dominic, the first home games of the new season have been played. We are very curious to hear what your first findings are from the live operation of the new, digital season ticket. But let's perhaps start further ahead first. You have been relying on mobile tickets for years. Where did your drive for this come from so early on?
Dominic Pütz: Sure, the mobile ticket was already introduced at FC in 2015. It was another, more cost-effective way of sending tickets - both for us as a club and for the fan. In addition, the handling is much more comfortable for the stadium visitor. There is no more loss of post, forgetting the ticket and also the sometimes difficult physical transfer.
How has the rate of mobile tickets developed over the last few years?
Dominic Pütz: Until this season, we offered mobile tickets exclusively for single tickets. Before Corona, about a third of stadium visitors used mobile tickets. During Corona, we used mobile tickets exclusively, especially for matches with reduced capacity. Due to the short notice of the pre-sales and the allocation of the tickets, this was not possible in any other way.
Season ticket holders also had to call up a mobile ticket in the ticket online shop during this time; the plastic ticket was not valid at this time. Day tickets were only available on mobile during the Corona period.
For the 2022/23 season, we made the complete switch to digital tickets - for both individual and season tickets. The use of the digital versions is 95%. Only 5% of stadium visitors use the paid plastic season ticket or paper tickets.
The digital ticket is available for both single and subscription/season tickets. When booking a digital ticket, the buyer can decide after the purchase whether he or she wants to save the ticket to Apple or Google Wallet or download it as a PDF. In addition, forwarding to friends and acquaintances is possible with one click. The season ticket can be forwarded either as a whole or individual games from the season ticket. The recipient of the ticket does not need his or her own customer account to save the ticket.
Why did you decide to offer digital season tickets this season? Was it clear from the beginning that you would rely 100% on the digital season ticket?
Dominic Pütz: Yes, until the 2022/23 season, we actually only had the plastic season ticket, although the mobile day tickets have been around for much longer. For this season, however, we have decided to recommend the digital season ticket to the fans. This was already preset during the conversion process. If you really wanted a plastic season ticket, you had to actively contact us and you got it for a surcharge. In this way, we wanted to convince as many season ticket holders as possible of the digital season ticket. But it was also clear from the beginning that we would continue to offer the plastic season ticket in order to do justice to all target groups among the season ticket holders.
What about individual tickets? Are they only available digitally?
Dominic Pütz: In addition to the digital day ticket, the classic paper ticket will continue to be offered. However, 95% of fans already use the digital ticket, as fans have quickly understood and learned to appreciate the advantages of this new ticket type. After booking, they can decide how they want to save the ticket, whether in Google or Apple Wallet or as a PDF document. In addition, they can forward tickets to third parties with one click.
How do you deal with guest tickets and away tickets?
Dominic Pütz: We have two options. If the host club also works with EVENTIM.Tixx, the fan of the host club can book the tickets directly in the online shop of his club with seat accuracy. In this case, our FC ticket layout is used and the ticket barcodes generated are imported into our access control system so that the tickets can be scanned. Alternatively, we send the guest club the required number of tickets as print@home by e-mail.
What challenges did the changeover to the digital season ticket present you with in recent weeks and months?
Dominic Pütz: Last summer, we digitised and optimised not only the season ticket but also the public transport ticket. All in all, this was a considerable change for stadium visitors, which we met with explanations, instructions and explanatory videos. Nevertheless, there were of course many questions at the beginning about how to handle the tickets, e.g. about the new forwarding function.
In addition, every stadium visitor now needs a functioning login for the ticket online shop. As "preparation", we have therefore cleaned up many duplicates in the system, activated accounts and correctly stored authorisations.
Digitisation of public transport tickets:
As with many (sporting) events, the ticket price for home matches of 1. FC Köln already includes a public transport ticket to the event. Until this season 2022/23, this ticket was generated at the time of ticket purchase for digital tickets at 1. FC Köln, so that the tickets had to be purchased in person. In cooperation with the start-up Ride, this process has now been decoupled so that ticket buyers can call up their free public transport VRS ticket directly from the KVB (Kölner Verkehrsbetriebe) until shortly before the match - all they need is their ticket number.
How did the first match days go? What insights can you share with us?
Dominic Pütz: The first match days were already service-intensive, as we had to explain a lot, especially in the run-up (keyword: customer login in the ticket online shop). However, almost all stadium visitors were understanding and appreciate the advantages of digital tickets. So we have an excellent solution for the majority of our fans. For the small group that needs a plastic season ticket or a paper ticket, we also have an appropriate solution and are able to offer needs-based ticketing.
What is your conclusion after having played a few home games this season? What are the advantages of the digital season ticket?
Dominic Pütz: The digital season ticket makes handling much easier for stadium visitors. The solution is cost-effective and sustainable for all sides. The season ticket holder is also flexible in passing on the tickets until kick-off and the service on match day has been noticeably reduced, as no one can forget their ticket or it is defective.
Thank you for your insights and for sharing your findings from the first months of "ditigal ticketing". We are curious to see how the topic will develop for you and are working on further optimising the digital ticket at the same time.