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A white 1¾-inch by 3-inch torn Buffalo Bills game ticket dated September 7, 1980, bestows great joy to me and many Bills fans.
The ticket stub represents the Bills' 17-7 victory over their archrival Miami Dolphins, ending the longest losing streak in NFL history versus a single opponent, 20 straight games. The misery of the streak was over. Joe Cribbs and Roland Hooks scored touchdowns in the last four minutes of the game, propelling the Bills to the historic victory. The frenzied crowd at Rich Stadium stormed the field, tearing down the goal posts and celebrating like never before.
Ralph Wilson in the postgame celebration said "it was the biggest win in Bills history." For Bills fans, it sure felt that way. Today, every time I look at that cherished white ticket stub, all kinds of joyful memories from that day come flooding back.
Since the inception of the franchise, Buffalo Bills fans attending the team's games have had a paper ticket in hand or, in the past two seasons, a season ticket credit card to enter the stadium. That may no longer be the case in the future as the team is moving to mobile ticketing. It is a trend across the NFL, as the league takes advantage of advances in technology for convenience and security purposes.
Though it is good the Bills and the NFL are utilizing the latest technology, it is not without consequences that could be deemed significant. Mobile ticketing eliminates for fans the ability to keep and collect tickets from memorable games.
Game tickets are an essential part of the history of the game. Tickets document the game's place and time in history. They serve as an artifact that connects us with not only football, but the games and events that the Bills and our favorite players play. They create an emotional connection to the team and the players. The ticket stub is a connection that lives on long after the game.
Ticket stubs are a popular keepsake among the most treasured mementos for fans and collectors. They often represent significant moments in our lives, either a special occasion (child's first game, girlfriend, family get-togethers, etc.) or a memorable game (ending the Dolphins' streak, clinching a division title, winning in the last seconds, etc.). The NFL risks losing some of its history, as a ticket ties fans to games and moments that create and stir memories.
Receiving season tickets is the first physical sign of the upcoming NFL season. It begins to build anticipation for training camp and the season. Many of us look forward with excited anticipation waiting to see what the new design of the tickets will be for the coming season. What players and/or themes are the Bills featuring on the new tickets? The tickets usually have unique designs portraying the team helmet and logo and with great use of player photos or artwork. This excitement and build-up to the season is now lost without paper tickets.
Tickets have become popular collectibles among fans, enthusiasts and collectors. Some fans are methodical in the way they save their ticket stubs; most are more random, just tossing them into a shoebox, a drawer or stuffed into a coat pocket.
This rise in popularity of ticket collecting has spawned several resources, including a beginner's guide, a price guide book and an active secondary sales market. Also, tickets can be graded similarly to baseball and football cards, increasing their collectability and value.
In the past several years, the NFL has produced fancier high-quality tickets for the playoffs, Pro Bowl, Super Bowl, and other special games, that are highly collectible. In addition, some teams - the Patriots, Steelers and Cowboys - go to great lengths to produce highly desirable tickets.
Older tickets and historically significant game tickets are the most valuable and in highest demand. For the Bills, that would include early AFL game tickets especially related to their first season and tickets from their 1964 and 1965 championship seasons. Other Bills tickets that are historically significant are the AFC Championship games, the Greatest Comeback and Home Run Throwback. But any Bills game ticket can have value depending on the person keeping it and why. Some fans may have wanted a ticket stub from quarterback Josh Allen's first start.
Mobile ticketing should be adopted by the Bills, but not at the expense of the fan's experience. Fans should be able to use mobile ticketing when it fits their needs. But they should also be encouraged to use their season ticket credit card or utilize printed tickets as they desire. The fan is the customer, and if helping to capture the ongoing history of pro football or capturing their own experience is important to them through their physical ticket, it should be encouraged.
Fans and collectors want to relive their experiences and feel part of the game, and old musty ticket stubs enable them to achieve that, bringing them closer to their team and the league.
It is these emotional connections to our team that separates the NFL from other sports and makes football America's most popular sport. The NFL and the Bills should not do anything to discourage these connections, especially when it is as simple as printed tickets.
Greg D. Tranter is president of the Buffalo History Museum and has the largest and most comprehensive collection of Bills football history. The collection contains more than 6,000 three-dimensional objects and 100,000 archival items.
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