In digital era, Colorado among teams embracing tangible souvenir tickets

On3 imageby:Eric Prisbell10/06/23


Week 6 Picks: Colorado @ Arizona St | Andy Staples & Geoff Schwartz | 10.04.23

You’ll need a digital game ticket to witness a Colorado home game in person during Deion Sanders’ memorable first season. But don’t think you can’t get your hands on a souvenir ticket for a treasured memento.

Video didn’t kill the radio star, and digital ticketing hasn’t killed souvenir tickets.

A 125-year-old, Arkansas-based company is trying to make sure of that – and the can’t-miss football season at Colorado figures heavily into their business strategy.

For generations, Weldon, Williams & Lick has been the dominant player in printing sports tickets for the biggest events. And in this digital ticketing age, it is innovating by embracing a business vertical that doubles down on its roots – high-quality, tangible tickets. 

Only these souvenir tickets are not for stadium entry but to savor for posterity.

Evan Gitomer, WW&L’s chief revenue officer, believes that fans of all ages still have a desire to touch, feel and keep a ticket from a special sporting event they attended. Whether they now keep old tickets in a shoebox, a drawer or in a frame on the wall, he believes they immediately stir memories from an unforgettable no-hitter, a poignant Father’s Day outing or a first date with a would-be spouse.

“When you think about things like college football or college basketball, the fandom and that connection is really second to none,” Gitomer told On3. “People still want that memento.”

What’s old is new again.

In realignment era, souvenir ticket space could flourish

Among WW&L’s current clients in the burgeoning souvenir ticketing space: nine MLB teams, the New Orleans Saints, the NCAA, the Rose BowlAlabama and Colorado. Souvenir ticketing is uniquely suited for an attention-grabbing story like Colorado, the sport’s most captivating early-season drama that has sent ticket prices and viewership numbers soaring.

Fans are eager to get a piece of the Colorado story in any way they can.

In WW&L’s souvenir ticketing concept, all fans – not just the tens of thousands who attend the game in person – can purchase the Colorado memento for $15 apiece. It usually arrives within days after the game.

It’s still too new for immediate sales data on CU souvenir tickets. However, the strategy is for it to be an additional revenue driver for schools. In fact, when a Philadelphia Phillies pitcher threw a no-hitter, WW&L’s souvenir ticket sales yielded some $50,000 in revenue. 

The concept could have significant potential next season when many power schools will be playing memorable first games and first seasons in new conferences. The belief is there’s a market for, say, a souvenir ticket from Texas first-ever SEC game or USC‘s first-ever Big Ten game. 

In the past, WW&L has worked with Alabama, as well as the NCAA on souvenir tickets for the Final Four. For instance, if you attended last year’s men’s Final Four in Houston and looked up on the video screen, you would have seen a QR code that you could scan for your souvenir ticket. 

‘This is a big part of our future’

WW&L’s vision in this space is two-pronged: creating both souvenir and commemorative tickets.

To be clear, a souvenir ticket is one you can purchase post-event to celebrate a memorable game – such as LeBron James becoming the NBA‘s all-time leading scorer – even if you didn’t attend the game.

A commemorative ticket, however, is a one-of-one keepsake that indicates that you sat in a specific seat for that particular event. Think of possessing one authenticating that you sat in Section 31 of Globe Life Field on the night Aaron Judge’s 62nd home run ball landed there in 2022. WW&L says its commemorative tickets are a new value proposition slowly being adopted by several MLB postseason teams and are being considered for conference games at several colleges. 

Souvenir and commemorative tickets now represent about 5% of the company’s business. Over the next three to four years, they expect that to increase to 10-12%. (WW&L still provides some clients with paper gameday tickets for venue entry.)

“This is a very big part of our future, something that we really think will grow,” Gitomer said.

WW&L is taking a time-honored tradition and re-imaging it in a digital age – and in a way they believe no one else can replicate because of the company’s long-established history and deep-rooted relationships with sports clients. 

The company is evolving and innovating as technology rapidly ushers in change. That is not a new company philosophy – it’s a playbook that has served it well for more than a century.

WW&L became player in printing sports tickets

Those inside the nondescript WW&L building in Fort Smith, Arkansas, have taken the adapt-or-die mantra to heart. They’ve exhibited a masterstroke in knowing not just when to pivot but what to pivot to. 

Their history dates so far back there was a saloon on every corner – as well as on the floor below – where their original office stood. 

In the early days, WW&L printed some 95% of the tickets for the Ringling Brothers Circus. Then they expanded to printing coupons for blocks of ice purchased before refrigerations rendered that practice obsolete. Then came the pivot to a host of other offerings, including printing tickets for every win, place or show at horse tracks nationwide. 

WW&L’s resume includes printing tickets for nearly every Super Bowl, six Olympic Games and several Final Fours, World Series and All-Star Games. At various times, they have printed tickets for all major theme parks and several national political conventions. Good luck finding a major college athletics program or professional sports team that has not, at some point, been involved with the company’s ticketing or other fan experience programs.

It’s a niche space – one they essentially own and take great pride in. A company that employs many third- and fourth-generation individuals who are personally invested in its future and remain ahead of industry changes.

Inside the building, Gitomer said, you’ll find two worlds. There’s some machinery that looks like it was used in the middle of the last century. But other areas look much like a start-up office in Silicon Valley.

Gitomer, who has been with the company since April 2022, previously spent 20 years in sales and leadership roles in team front offices in the NFLNBAMLS and NHL. He also led the premium ticketing practice at Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment.

When WW&L called, Gitomer touted the need for digital ticketing adoption, which could have torpedoed his job prospects.

It didn’t. 

WW&L wasn’t looking to bury its head and swim upstream against the industry’s digital currents. Its leadership told Gitomer that his philosophy was exactly what they wanted to hear. They said the company needed people like him to help figure out how they were going to continue serving markets that they’d served for generations.

‘We stand three steps ahead of competition’

When WW&L speaks with schools and franchises that explain they have moved to digital ticketing, instead of criticizing a practice that carries obvious benefits, WW&L looks for other ways to bring value to the relationship. 

WW&L has long had a research and development department. It recently rolled out an entire product development division. And it recently hired what it calls managers of ideas and innovations. 

“We think it’s great to just have people sit around all day and come up with really great ideas of how we can better serve our customer base,” Gitomer said. “So again, if we can sit back and just be a print shop all day long and expect people to print for the next 125 years, wonderful. But I don’t really think that’s going to be a winning proposition for us. So we have to evolve. We have to lean into it.”

WW&L is doubling down on its pedigree – quality printed tickets, but increasingly for posterity rather than event entry. In the process, it is trying to build a bridge to the company’s future. As a service-driven entity, WW&L wants clients to view them as an extension of their fan experience, assisting to enhance their relationships with the fan base.

“As long as we stand behind that, as long as we continue to challenge ourselves with that,” Gitomer said, “we stand three steps ahead of the competition.”

WW&L has a succinct, blunt mantra that has endured for more than a century: “Still here. Still printing. Wherever the technology leads.”

As the digital era has largely rendered gameday paper tickets a relic, WW&L has remained nimble, evolving with technology. And in a season to remember in Boulder, the timing could not be more ideal for fans there to embrace souvenir ticketing’s new age.