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Digital age making ticket stubs a relic of the past

Jay Busbee
Yahoo Sports

One of the best sports collectibles around is in danger of vanishing.

Somewhere in your possession, you have a ticket stub that embodies some of the best memories of your life. You dig out that old stub of a long-ago game, movie or concert, and in an instant, you're right back there again, surrounded by a screaming crowd, with your favorite people around you.

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Fewer and fewer people are using printed tickets for sporting events in the digital era. (AP)

Marcel Proust wrote an entire seven-volume epic on this topic – involuntary memories springing forth from a single item, not ticket stubs. And although that stack of stubs is all-but-worthless junk to anyone else, to some fans it's more valuable than their blood relations.

But, like so much else in the digital era, ticket stubs are a rapidly vanishing icon. The closest comparison is music. Back when your parents and grandparents (or you, if you're of a certain age) were buying early rock music, albums were enormous, with art designed to match. Each iteration of the medium grew smaller and smaller, to the point that the only time you see record art now is on a thumbnail-sized icon on your iPod.

Similarly, ticket stubs to premium events like Super Bowls, World Series and heavyweight championships were once miniature works of art all their own. From there, tickets moved to mass-produced dot-matrix printouts, then to print-at-home PDFs, and now, like album covers, an image on your phone.

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During this past baseball season, Major League Baseball tried out Apple's new Passbook app, which allows users to store everything from tickets to boarding passes to loyalty cards in one virtual location. Four teams used Passbook as a storage device for the last two weeks of the season, and according to MLB Advanced Media, a surprising 12 percent of all single-game tickets bought in that span were stored in Passbook. It's a handy little app. Using GPS, it pulls up your ticket right when you're walking up to the stadium. Well, an image of a ticket, anyway, which is the whole issue here. Is a picture of a ticket the same thing as a ticket? That's the kind of conundrum that could keep dorm-room philosophers busy for a full night.

Digitally delivered tickets, which include print-at-home, now comprise a significant majority of all baseball tickets -– 70 percent at the end of this past season, according to a report in Mashable. Whether you see this as the end of an era or the inevitable march of technology depends on how sentimental of a person you are. You can't deny that there's something cool and convenient about being able to buy a ticket on the way to an event rather than going to the back corner of some record store (yes, kids, there used to be stores that sold nothing but records) and shelling out some hard cash. Sadly, though, the extra-stab service charges have jumped from live to digital without hesitation.

Though any collectible is truly worth only what someone is willing to pay for it, premium professionally graded tickets can bring in big coin. Early Super Bowl tickets with high grades for their condition regularly show up on eBay in the mid-four figures. And according to ChicagoTix.com, only 13 complete sets of all 46 Super Bowl tickets are in existence. Big-moment tickets – perfect games, for instance – also carry value, as do "ghost" tickets for playoff games never played.

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Now, we grant you, the passing of the ticket stub ranks rather low on the list of sports indignities. Shoot, with that same phone on which you store your ticket, you can take enough photos of the game (and video too, but don't tell anyone) to preserve memory in a way the ticket stub never could.

Still, like books, movies, photos and music shifted from tangible to digital, the ticket stub will still be there, but it won't be there, if you get what we mean. Plenty is gained in convenience and portability, but if you'll give us our get-off-my-lawn moment, something's been lost, too.

Someday ages hence, you'll look back on that stub and smile at the memory (or cringe, if it happens to be a Nationals 2012 NLCS version). Chances are you'll have to explain what it is to your grandkids, though.

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