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General Admission Tickets: Attempts to Replicate an Obsolete Collectible Fall Short

General Admission Tickets: Attempts to Replicate an Obsolete Collectible Fall Short
October 26, 2023
Dylan Dittrich

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Future generations will never know the sheer panic, resulting relief, and pulse-pounding thrill of thinking you left the tickets to the big game on the counter, only to remember you slid them into your back pocket on the way out the door. There they are, phew.

They're also unlikely to nurture a growing stack of tickets from the games they attended, as the world eschews paper for the convenience and simplicity of digital ticketing. Gone is the feeling of renewal and hope that season ticket holders felt when they gazed upon a freshly delivered booklet of tickets, the pages to a story yet to be penned. Gone is the will-call rendezvous. Gone is the sketchy stadium-side transaction and the triumph of discovering the tickets are authentic after all.

Digital collectibles and apps scramble to fill the void, but they're creating a new category, not replacing what was rendered obsolete. It's difficult to contrive a replacement for a keepsake that was wholly organic and naturally supply-constrained. Cards are printed in arbitrary quantities, but the number of tickets corresponds with the number of seats in the arena. Only so many were actually in the building on the night of the incredible play, or the comeback win, or the milestone achievement, and only so many were retained as years passed. There was a real connection to the event in question, and the quantity of those connections was ever dwindling.

Like many other categories, ticket stubs exploded in popularity among collectors in 2021 and 2022 for the above reasons. Perhaps prices escalated too quickly.  8 of the top 10 sales of all time took place in 2021. And then 2022 followed that up by delivering 5 new entries to the top 10 in just the first two months of the year. The record holder from 2018 until 2021 was a single-day ticket to the inaugural Masters, then called the Augusta National Invitational. It sold for $116,075 in April of 2018. That record was lifted to $175,000 in October of 2021. By December, it was $270,600. By February, it was $468,000. A month later, the current record was set via a private sale brokered by Golden Age. It was a ticket to the same inaugural Masters, autographed by 17 participants, and it sold for $600,000.

As swiftly as prices went up, they returned to earth as the boom faded and speculators returned to other areas of interest. Stubs for Mickey Mantle's debut, once sold for as much as $142,000, now more commonly sell for mid-five-figure sums.  Other pockets of the market have been plagued by concerns of fraud. Lionel Messi's debut ticket, which neared $50,000 at its peak, fell to low four-figure levels, while Pele World Cup debut stubs met a similar fate.

The market has no doubt cooled, but it remains active. Heritage sold over $800,000 in tickets last quarter, including a $300,000 result for a Jackie Robinson debut stub. Now, when moments of significance happen in modern sports, collectors search for any way they can get their hands on an elusive paper ticket, or when those efforts prove fruitless, they long for the bygone era of stubs.

Professional sports franchises have noticed.

Postseason MLB contenders, the Rangers and Phillies, have taken to selling commemorative tickets as souvenirs. They're printed with the game and seat number of your choosing for $15 to $25. It's not bad. It's like the Topps Now of tickets. And if you were in the building, it's a cool way to remember it. A nice stocking stuffer. But you didn't have to be in the building to secure one, and that makes it a category all its own. It's not a ticket stub. It's a tchotchke.

The Chicago Blackhawks are getting warmer. They recently announced a program allowing only fans who scanned into the game the opportunity to purchase a commemorative, physical ticket (including their unique seat details) for $10. Yes, that's $10 more on top of the digital ticket you already paid for to cover printing and shipping. Ah, so the ticket was not in the building for the moment. They've got the natural supply constraint part in place, but it comes up short of forging a tidy connection to the event itself - more tchotchke than ticket.

The tickets that are most collectable and valuable were never initially purchased as collectibles at all. That's what made them special. Their seemingly irreversible extinction could further strengthen their nostalgic appeal, as in other obsolete artifacts like vinyl and maybe one day VHS (we'll see, Pete Davidson). But that appeal can't be replicated and mass-produced.

It's just a relief to see Ford's Theater hasn't taken to selling commemorative tickets after last month's $262,500 sale of front-row tickets from April 14th, 1965.

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