For the past year, the Cleveland Browns have done almost everything right.

But this is wrong. Incredibly wrong.

The only way you can gain admission to a Browns game this season is to display an electronic ticket on your smartphone. No physical tickets are available. Period.

Among those outraged is a 31-year season ticketholder who has control of 20 seats in the Dawg Pound. He was perfectly content with his old flip phone but was forced to buy a smartphone.

Although he bought a cheap one, relatively speaking, he shouldn't have had to fork out $150 just to use tickets he had already paid an astronomical sum to possess.

“It's ridiculous,” says Mark Koenig, at a volume only slightly below the decibel level that greets a Browns touchdown. “I was blindsided by this.”

Although Koenig could be the poster child for what's wrong with this policy, let us count the ways it is misguided.

First of all, I don't want four or five strangers handling my phone. You have to show it at the gate, show it to get on some of the elevators and show it to get through the entry door to your seat.

Second, it takes longer to get inside the building because mobile tickets take longer to scan. Ushers have to dance their little red beam all around the target until it finally locks in.

Third, if the special app takes a long time to load — and it took an eternity to load for the person I was with at the Browns' first preseason game — the wait is even longer. No wonder barely half the crowd was seated by kickoff.

(Some fans couldn't load the app at all. News 5 Cleveland interviewed one woman who broke into tears while on the phone with her mother. “Kickoff is literally in eight minutes. They’re just telling me there’s nothing they can do.”)

Fourth, if you're worried that the app won't load, you can't take a screenshot ahead of time because a screenshot won't work.

Fifth, what if you forget to charge your phone and it runs out of juice, or it just plain breaks?

Sixth, if your friend bought all the tickets for your party, once you're seated you can't go to the concession stand or the restroom without the other person — or that person's phone — because you have to show your ticket to get back inside.

(Yes, you can email tickets to everyone in your party, but that requires each person to download the app and create an account. Once they do that, you must go through a four-step process to send each ticket. And then each of your friends must go through a five-step process to accept the ticket.)

Seventh, you can't take home a souvenir ticket.

And, of course, No. 8: What if you don't own a smartphone? A shade under 20% of the population still doesn't.

“Here's the thing that bothers me the most,” Koenig says. “I've been a season ticketholder since 1988. And you tell me all of a sudden that I can't get my tickets because I don't have a phone?”

The changeover involved an additional, albeit much smaller, financial hit to Koenig.

“I bought these nice lanyards that they sold in the gift shop for, I don't know, $15 or $20, to hold your ticket so you could wear it around you neck and not have to fumble to find it or maybe lose it. You just showed the usher your ticket. And now those things are obsolete.”

By contrast, the Cavs do it right. You don't have to use a mobile ticket to get into what is now Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, but if you do, you only have to present it once. The folks at the gate use scanners that double as tiny printers, spitting out a thin paper ticket you can show to ushers and/or use to locate your seat.

A graduate of Wadsworth High who now owns a general store in tiny Lattasburg (about 10 miles east of Ashland), Koenig, 57, gets even more fired up when he looks back at his long history of fandom.

“Let's face it: From the majority of the time they've been in the new stadium, THEY should have been paying ME to go watch the football game. The product they've been putting on the field has just been horrendous.”

That is unlikely to be the case this season. But the wait for a competitive team has indeed seemed endless.

So, OK, Browns, now that you're good, why are you torturing your fans?

The team mostly blames the NFL, saying the league has been pushing the 32 franchises in this direction.

“The mobile ticketing is actually being driven by the league,” says spokesman Rob McBurnett. “All teams are being required to ultimately institute mobile ticketing throughout all of their venues.”

When asked whether there is a hard deadline for teams to implement an all-mobile system, he replies: “There's a couple of years. I don't remember the exact date. But from our end, we know this is a learning process for our fans and we've worked really hard to help educate them and make sure they understand that this was going to come into play.”

Perhaps they need to work a little harder. This fan reads about the Browns in the paper, watches them on TV and listens to the chatter on talk radio, and had never heard of the policy.

As for the sluggish turnstiles, McBurnett lays much of the blame on tailgaters.

“Ingress has been a top priority for us the past several years, trying to get the fans in the stadium more efficiently,” he says. “It's great that we have an awesome tailgate atmosphere in Cleveland, but oftentimes [it results in] a high load of volume coming into the South gates [at the last minute].”

McBurnett says the team has been rolling out the new policy slowly, using it for summer practices, the orange-and-brown scrimmage and then the first exhibition game.

He insists the team has gotten few complaints.

Team officials have had to work their way through the transition, too, he admits. They now realize they needed to trot out more bodies.

“If anyone has any issues accessing their tickets, we've deployed additional staff by the gates and inside the gates to assist with that process.

“And then, ultimately, if there's an issue that fans can't access their phone, either a member of the staff or they can go down to the ticket office to find a resolution.”

Yeah, that wouldn't take long. Almost 68,000 people pouring into the place and you just trot on down to the ticket office.

The NFL claims the impetus to push mobile ticketing was widespread fraud. The reason you can't use a screenshot — which could be copied — is that the app has a rotating bar code that renews every 15 seconds.

But still ... nine steps to transfer a ticket to the others in your group? Absurd. Compare that to the old-fashioned way: “Here's your ticket.”

You don't have to be a Luddite to think the previous method was far superior.

But don't bet a dime the NFL will rethink this move. If the fans have put up with such indignities as “personal seat licenses,” what could the league possibly do to chase them away?

 

Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or bdyer@thebeaconjournal.com. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31