Ross Levin has been a season ticket holder since the Carolina Panthers started playing 25 years ago.
Every year, the 58-year-old real estate agent has purchased four season passes: one for him, one for his wife, and two for different guests invited to each game. It was easy to hand out paper tickets to friends, family members or colleagues, he said, as they showed their loyalty to Charlotte’s football team.
But he and his group barely made it inside Bank of America Stadium on Friday, as technical glitches on the Panthers’ new full mobile ticketing sent them on a 45-minute chase around the facility to make it inside with their smartphones.
As part of a league-wide initiative, the Panthers went fully digital for tickets to the team’s Friday preseason game against the Buffalo Bills. Officials said the initiative would cut down on fraudulent tickets and allow the team’s customer service to redirect its attention to other matters.
“With mobile ticketing, not having to deal with this now, it will free us up to deal with other issues,” said Joe LaBue, the team’s vice president of ticket sales and services. “It will really eliminate something that’s never fun – talking to somebody about a ticket. They come out to the game, and they find out the ticket is fraudulent.”
But phone glitches and a complicated ticket transfer process left many Panthers fans — including Levin — confused, frustrated and nostalgic for the days of paper tickets, as they hassled with apps, sought out orange-shirted customer service agents and waited in endless lines before making it inside.
LaBue had stressed that the shift was about convenience. For fans like Levin, though, all it seemed to create was chaos.
“It’s just a pain in the butt,” Levin said. “It feels like they’ve taken something away from me.”
Though he had transferred the passes via Ticketmaster to a work colleague, his friend’s tickets would not scan as he tried to enter the clubhouse. The guards sent him back to the ticket office, and then back to the entrance. They were only able to make it inside once Levin phoned his club representative.
“The days of us getting our paper tickets and enjoying that moment and opening them up and smelling them,” he said, “those are over.”
Instead, Friday’s game saw the clunky dawn of a digital era of ticketing: Long lines of Panthers fans, phones in hand, clustered around customer service or small tents that had specifically been designated to assist ticket-holders with the mobile process.
First-time attendees and long-time fans alike said they had trouble loading the Ticketmaster site and logging into the Panthers app — both of which appeared to be necessary to get inside the stadium.
(LaBue had previously said fans would only need to access one of the two.)
Some fans reported waiting up to 20 minutes at the front of the line before bar codes could be scanned off their phones, while others said security guards had essentially “given up” and just started letting people inside the stadium.
“They’re doing this for their own convenience, not as much for the fans,” said Chris Pappas, 75, at a tent under the highway overpass, where he came to seek out help getting the tickets to load.
Pappas said that he’s hardly tech-savvy and had only used a flip phone before Friday’s game. But when the team announced they would be going digital, he exchanged his trusty old device for an iPhone, which would allow him to download his mobile tickets.
Even then, he still couldn’t figure it out until a Panthers employee guided him through the app.
Solestine Lancaster, meanwhile, said that she could not get Ticketmaster to load at all. The website repeatedly went blank because, the 61-year-old accountant guessed, there were so many people trying to log on in such a concentrated space.
“This stuff is killing everybody,” she said.
But not everyone seemed to mind.
Brian Hill, a 51-year-old who works at Union County Public Schools, said his mobile tickets weren’t loading. But that was the least concerning thing outside his first Panthers game since moving to Charlotte from Buffalo.
“I’m used to going to a game with a snowsuit on, so this,” he said, pointing at his shorts, “is more weird to me.”
Staff writers Scott Fowler and Bruce Henderson contributed.