Scarborough High has offered online ticketing for its sporting event for a few years, with limited interest. But online sales were brisk two years ago when the Red Storm hosted Thornton Academy for a football title game. Ariana van den Akker/Staff Photographer

You can purchase tickets to a concert or a professional sporting event on a cell phone. Soon, you might also be able to buy tickets to local high school athletic events on a phone app.

Digital ticketing is an emerging trend among high schools across the nation, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. And while it’s been slow to catch on in Maine, it does have a small foothold. The Maine Principals’ Association sells digital tickets to its championship contests, and Scarborough High has been selling tickets online for a couple years.

“We don’t get a lot of people using it,” said Mike LeGage, the athletic director at Scarborough. “But we wanted an online option for folks. We use it for a lot of events, as well as our drama productions.”

Mark Koski, the CEO of the NFHS Network, said high schools in 38 states now offer online ticketing options. A year ago, there were 28 states.

“There’s a lot more interest in this nowadays,” he said. “It’s a trend of the times.”

Koski estimated that “several thousand” high schools across the country use online ticketing. The NFHS works with Huddle, an online ticket company based in Georgia, to partner with state associations, such as the MPA, to sell electronic tickets for their state championship events. Any online ticket purchase also involves a service fee. Huddle also provides paper tickets, free of charge, to all its partners.

“We know there are fans who want paper tickets, so that’s still an option,” said Koski. “But there are still a good number of schools that have gone strictly to the electronic tickets.”

The MPA has been offering digital tickets for three years. Mike Burnham, the MPA’s executive director, said he notices a big difference in championship events.

“I’ve seen it happen in state championship hockey games,” he said. “The line to get in is wrapped around the corner, people arriving 15 minutes before the game is supposed to begin. If they’re told they can go to this website and buy a ticket, you see people peeling out of the line.”

There is a link on the MPA’s home page to purchase digital tickets.

The MPA cannot offer digital tickets to events at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland or Cross Insurance Center in Bangor because both are affiliated with Ticketmaster. But digital tickets can be used at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium, the Portland Expo, the Augusta Civic Center, St. Joseph’s College or any of the high school sites used for state title games. A separate entrance is set up for digital tickets, where they are scanned.

“It’s just a convenient way to not stand in line and still get tickets,” said Burnham. “It’s seamless.”

Huddle still provides paper tickets to about 10,000 high schools. But BJ Pilling, the executive director of GoFan (Huddle’s online mobile app), sees a swing toward digital ticketing. He estimated that around 2,000 high schools use the GoFan platform, most located in football hotbeds such as the Southeast or West Coast.

“We’re definitely seeing the trend in society moving more digitally, for sure, especially with more people carrying less cash,” he said. “They want to buy things the same way they buy coffee.”

Jordan Ferreira, the assistant athletic director at Scarborough, said the school recently switched to a new online partner called Ticket Spricket. He noted that online ticket purchases often depend on the importance of the game.

“A couple of years ago, we had a home (football) game against Thornton Academy,” he said. “It was a cold, windy night, and for whatever reason, we sold a lot of online tickets that night.”

Online tickets are sold at Scarborough for football, soccer, volleyball, basketball and lacrosse games. Tickets cost $3 to $5.

“It’s a nice convenience for us to have for our fans,” said Ferreira, noting people buying online tickets for theater performances can use a seating chart to reserve seats. Athletic events are general admission.

“I can tell you that our theater performances last year sold a significant amount of (digital) tickets,” he added.

There are many schools that prefer the paper ticket. Craig Sickels, the athletic director at Freeport, said his school simply doesn’t get enough fans to warrant the switch. He noted that the average paid attendance at football and soccer events in the 2018-19 school year was 303. The biggest crowd was 648 for the Class E football championship game against Dirigo.

“We’re not going to consider it,” said Sickels. “We just don’t have the volume of tickets.”

Thornton Academy Athletic Director Gary Stevens also favors paper tickets, but for another reason: tradition.

“We do it the old-fashioned way,” he said. “We occasionally do a presale if it’s a big game, but we use old-fashioned tickets. No apps. No scanners. The experience that the Thornton Academy fan has now is the same as dating back to the 1930s, when the archway (into Hill Stadium) was built.”

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