Wagner ends 40 years of putting Packers fans in their seats
GREEN BAY – Retirement is just the ticket for Mark Wagner.
After 40 years of putting Packers fans in their seats at Lambeau Field, Wagner, 60, is looking forward to seeing games from their perspective.
"To be able to sit and watch a Packers game and not think about all the other things that go on behind the scenes will be fun," he said.
Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy said Wagner's absence at Lambeau Field will be noticed.
"For many of our season ticket holders, he was the face of the Packers," Murphy said.
Decades of change
When someone retires after four decades, it's traditional to look at the status of things and how much they've changed. Wagner, whose last day is Friday, has a long list.
When he started, the ticket office consisted of two people and had a season ticket waiting list of about 9,000 people. Today it's a staff of five with a waiting list of 130,000.
Forty years ago, the Packers didn't have a computer to help manage their ticket base. They used a computer at the Associated Bank operations center.
"We'd do changes on three-by-five index cards and send that over to Associated," he said. "They'd make the changes and send back a new card."
What formerly was called scalping and was mostly illegal is now the secondary market and even the NFL participates through the NFL Exchange, though there are many independent brokers as well.
Wagner said Gold package holders, many of whom come from Milwaukee and other points south, use the secondary market a lot, especially when they are assigned night games.
"It's a way for them to sell their tickets and pick up tickets for another game," Wagner said.
Some changes are more current. While a core group of season ticket holders continue to do business by check, 60 percent now pay by credit card. Only five years ago, it was more checks than cards.
And because a lot of activity has moved to the internet, the staff's responsibilities shifted as well.
"Before, it was a lot of processing in the office. The flip side is customer care," he said. "We've become a kind of help desk for Ticketmaster. We spend a lot of time assisting folks."
And the changes aren't done yet. Credit cards are about to be eclipsed as well.
"The future is your phone," Wagner said. "Some teams are already all electronic."
On game days, ticket staff handles will-call tickets and assists fans who forgot their tickets at home or those who find themselves holding counterfeit tickets.
Technology hasn't ended counterfeiting, but along with new security protocols, it changed the dynamic. Before ticket scanning, the holders of counterfeit and real tickets would confront one another at the seat in the stadium. With ticket scanning at the gates, counterfeit ticket holders don't get into the stadium.
Wagner said ticket buyers should use credit cards because they have an extra layer of protection against fraud; often they can get their money back. And fans paying cash for tickets at the stadium should have the seller come with them to the gate to have the ticket scanned before paying for it.
Packers officials won't release details, but Wagner said the team does monitor the behavior of fans. Team policy allows season tickets to be rescinded for bad behavior, whether it's by the season ticket holder or someone who buys their ticket.
"We note when there are arrests or ejections. We note it in the holder account," he said.
Wagner is surprised more ticket holders haven't signed up for the pay-as-we-play playoff tickets option. Under that system, the Packers charge for tickets only as the team advances in the playoffs. Season ticket holders who use that option get wild-card game tickets at a discount if they sign up before a deadline. Divisional and championship round tickets are not discounted. The NFL controls ticket prices for all playoff games, but the teams administer sales.
Beginning this year, the NFL required teams to offer playoff tickets along with the regular-season package, and season ticket holders will get another solicitation before the regular season begins in September.
The Packers continue the Brown County lottery that rewards county residents for supporting a 0.5 percent sales tax that paid for the 2003 renovation of Lambeau Field, but two years ago cut the number of tickets from 4,000 per game to 3,000 per game.
The number was reduced because it was taking two offerings to get all the tickets claimed. It took two again this year, but all were claimed earlier than last year.
The team culled some 7,000 names from the lottery list for which there had been no activity for several years. That meant offers were not going to people who were no longer interested.
"I think that helped," Wagner said.
Despite yearly price increases, Wagner said his office receives few complaints. People understand why prices go up, he said.
The Packers have said they will try to keep ticket prices near the league average in an attempt to appease other NFL owners, who share in ticket revenue and who think a waiting list of 130,000 could support higher prices, and season ticket holders, who are not at all happy about higher prices.
Wagner said retired Packers President and CEO Bob Harlan's decision to create two season-ticket packages when the team stopped playing games in Milwaukee was genius.
Not only did it allow Milwaukee fans to remain invested in the Packers, It keeps the packages more affordable for fans. The Green package includes one preseason and six regular-season games and the Gold package has one preseason and two regular-season games.
The ticket office also is responsible for special events as Lambeau, such as the University of Wisconsin-LSU football game in September 2016 and the Billy Joel concert scheduled for June 17.
For his part, Wagner finally will get to watch home games from his recliner, eventually in the living room of a new house he and his wife, Mary, are building on the bay, near Dyckesville not far from where he was raised.
Retirement also will allow them to travel. They have four children, including triplets, living in three cities.