Team joins Cowboys, Saints, Sounders as primary ticketing clients

The NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers have signed SeatGeek as their primary ticketing provider at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. It’s the second NBA client for the technology firm, which got its start a decade ago in the secondary market.

SeatGeek is also the primary ticket provider for the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center.

The five-year agreement, under which SeatGeek also serves as the Cavaliers’ official ticket reseller, runs in the seven figures annually, said sources familiar with the negotiations.

In addition to primary ticketing, the deal also makes SeatGeek the Cavaliers’ official ticket reseller. (Courtesy Cleveland Cavaliers)

In addition, SeatGeek becomes a Cavaliers and arena sponsor with naming rights to a premium lounge at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, its box office and a guest services location. Plus, it’s the presenting partner of the coming events tab on the arena’s website.

On the ticketing front, SeatGeek will ticket all Cavaliers games, along with those of the American Hockey League’s Cleveland Monsters and Cavs Legion, the NBA2K esports team, along with the G League Canton Charge at the Canton (Ohio) Civic Center.

After a lengthy shutdown, the first ticketed event at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse is Dec. 19, the date of the 2020 CBS Sports Classic in men’s basketball. The matchups are North Carolina-Ohio State and Kentucky-UCLA.

The first Cavaliers’ home game is Dec. 22, part of a 72-game NBA season announced this week by league officials. Both events are pending state and city approval to allow fans in the stands, said Nic Barlage, the Cavaliers’ president of business operations.

The deal comes comes after SeatGeek signed deals with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints (plus the Pelicans) and State Farm Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals, plus Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders, and Liverpool FC of the English Premier League, plus some venue-specific agreements.

The deal is a meaningful one for Jack Groetzinger, SeatGeek’s co-founder and CEO. He grew up in Cleveland and is a huge Cavaliers fan, having attended hundreds of games during his youth.

“One of core tenets of our technology is flexibility in allowing the team and a venue to do all sorts of different things, whatever they want, versus the ‘my way or the highway’ approach to putting on an event,” Groetzinger said. 

“Ticketing systems have not been something that historically fans love,” he said. “It’s something you have to endure to go to an event. The Cavs are a forward-thinking organization. They care about dollars and cents but they also really care about the fan experience.”  

The deal falls in line with the thinking of an organization that has historically been on the cutting edge of ticketing, dating to Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s ownership of Veritix and its FlashSeats digital platform.

More than a decade ago, the Cavaliers were among the first teams to introduce paperless ticketing through fans’ credit cards and driver’s licenses. The technology evolved to ticketing barcodes on mobile devices.  

In 2015, Veritix merged with Axs, a ticketing system owned by AEG, and the Veritix name went away, along with the FlashSeats brand. Axs assumed all ticketing operations at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Gilbert no longer holds an ownership stake in the ticketing space. 

The Cavaliers talked to multiple ticketing firms before selecting SeatGeek. Barlage said they were the right partner at the right time based on the economics of the deal, the technology in place and the entrepreneurial spirit shared between the two entities.

“For us, it was the first time we could reevaluate the landscape of ticketing partners in many years,” he said.

“It was a great fit. SeatGeek was very aggressive in their pursuit of us. We spent a lot of time talking to their existing partners and those in the past. There was an extensive amount of background research.”   

Those discussions extended to the Dallas Cowboys, among the first big league teams to use SeatGeek as their primary ticketing source. Chad Estis, the Cowboys’ executive vice president, worked for the Cavaliers when they first rolled out FlashSeats for the 2006-07 season. 

The Cavaliers got his feedback as well as that of Doug Dawson, the Cowboys’ vice president of ticket sales and service.

The Cowboys, a former Ticketmaster client, are in their third season using SeatGeek. The team is “ecstatic” with the decision they made and their customers seem to enjoy using the system, Dawson said. 

The Cowboys did their own research before signing SeatGeek in 2018. They spent 600 hours examining the platform, extending from the 11-person ticketing operation to the IT department, event operations and accounting.

“Anytime you change ticketing companies, you go through the initial learning curve,” Dawson said. “Our staff had 180 years of Ticketmaster experience and zero on SeatGeek. There were little bumps in the road at the beginning but nothing that prevented us from conducting our business.”

The one thing that stands out with SeatGeek is ticket buyers for events at AT&T Stadium don’t call the team with questions or issues as much as they used to, Dawson said. It’s not necessarily a knock on Ticketmaster, he said.

SeatGeek also handles PSL transactions, and AT&T Stadium tour business, along with concerts and other events such as this week’s PBR World Finals XXVI, a four-day event.

“Making a change like this obviously was a big deal but one we wouldn’t have done if we didn’t think it was going to be a technology upgrade,” Dawson said. “That’s why we made the decision and why we’re happy three years later.”

In response to the pandemic, SeatGeek has developed its own technology called SeatGeek Adapt to address social distancing seating maps and other protective measures as sports venues gear up for fans returning to games.

As it stands now, the Cavaliers plan to use those add-ons tied to COVID protocols, Barlage said. 

The Cowboys, though, are not using SeatGeek Adapt to help map out restricted capacity, Dawson said. 

“We wanted to maximize our building and to do that, it’s a manual process,” he said.

AT&T Stadium has 80,000 fixed seats and is capped by the state at roughly 25% of capacity.

“Our head of ticket operations literally went row by row, seat by seat in our building to make sure we were following the rules but also maximizing our inventory,” Dawson said. “It wasn’t that we didn’t trust the technology, but we only want to do it once.”

Barlage credits the ticketing industry in general for putting a greater focus on digital technology during the most challenging time in the history of live entertainment.

“The pandemic is going to force innovation and evolution at such a higher rate that as we return in sports, it’s going to put us in a much stronger situation than if it was just status quo,” he said.