For decades, buying tickets to a game or an event was the simplest of transactions. You put down your money and you received a ticket that got you in the door.

Tickets were frequently more than just passes. Often, they were hard evidence of your devotion, a status symbol to grasp tightly and flash proudly.

Anyone who has attended a game, concert or play in recent years knows how different things are now. The old ways are not long gone, but they're headed in the same direction as cassette tapes and video rentals.

A significant portion of ticketing is now done online, and woe to those without a smartphone and an internet connection.

Now a standard in the marketplace, online ticketing made a splashy entrance into the high school realm in recent years, resulting in both harmony and headaches for schools and users alike.

"It's pretty much the way things are going," Spring Lake Park Associate Principal Megan Jahnke said.

Online ticketing had made inroads into the high school arena before COVID-19, but it took off when the pandemic was foremost in people's minds, when it was in the public interest to avoid direct contact with others. When the games resumed, it had already become difficult to buy paper tickets at many schools. "We had to start doing it during COVID," Jahnke said.

So far, the level of online ticketing varies by school. Some, such as Wayzata, Eden Prairie and Centennial, cannonballed into the online pool, selling tickets there exclusively.

"We don't take any cash, it's all online," said Russ Reetz, Eden Prairie activities director. "We talked about providing a cash option if people wanted that, but the majority of fans wanted online only."

The Minnesota State High School League has led the charge into online ticketing. All state tournaments adopted an online-only policy for ticketing last year, taking some who had traveled to a state tournament by surprise.

At the softball state tournament in North Mankato, some who made the trip without tickets were without options when tickets were not available at the gate. Eventually, a solution was found that involved the manager at the gate taking cash in exchange for purchasing online tickets for fans without smartphones.

It was a workaround that worked, but it was also a one-time solution.

"People are just going to have to get used to it," MSHSL Associate Director Laura Mackenthun, the league's director of technology, said at the time.

Old-school schools

While acknowledging what appears to be inevitable, many schools aren't willing to give up the old ways quite yet. Spring Lake Park has a ticket window dedicated strictly to those buying tickets in the moment, whether with cash or plastic.

"We're just easing into it," activities director Will Wackman said. "We just went to credit at the concession stands, and people really like that. But we want to keep all of our options open. We decided this year to just let the customers decide what they want."

St. Michael-Albertville also has adopted a multipronged approach to ticket sales, a nod to the significant number of fans still adapting to technology that younger fans have already embraced.

"What we're hearing from the older people is 'Thanks for still having the option to just pay cash,' " activities director Keith Cornell said.

Why turn to online ticketing? Reasons are plentiful, but two stand out: security and efficiency.

Totino-Grace activities director Mike Smith said dealing with cash is both slow and dangerous.

"We normally have to bring cash boxes into the offices and count the money by hand. This way, we don't carry all that money around, and we just have to do this," Smith said, then mimicked the pushing of a button.

"It directly addresses safety and the issue of transporting cash securely at events," Centennial activities director Matt St. Martin said.

Reetz said online ticketing allows for improved monitoring and control of crowds. "We know who's attending games," he said. "And it's a great benefit for fine arts, because we can have assigned seating in the performance center."

Problem solving

At some schools, online ticketing has drastically reduced, if not eliminated, long lines at ticket windows and admission gates. But not everywhere. Because internet access and savvy vary by community, some schools offer an online option at the gate, where potential spectators are assisted in the ticketing process by staffers with internet-connected tablets. They scan QR codes and help fans use debit cards or payment apps to access tickets. Spring Lake Park's Wackman saw it done well.

"They did a great job of that at Wayzata during volleyball sectionals last year," he said. "They had people helping out, showing where you need to go, what you need to do. That's what needs to be done right now."

St. Martin said Centennial, like many schools, has made it a priority to pass along instructions to opposing schools and their fans about the process Centennial requires for ticketing. So far, it's paid off.

"We have yet to encounter a spectator unable to purchase a ticket," he said. "And we've had two home football games and we have not had long lines to purchase tickets."

One area that concerns most school administrators: fees charged by online ticketing websites. Most ticket services add a small processing fee per ticket. Activities directors are wary of added costs.

"Our priority is to make games affordable," Smith said. "If there's a fee of $2 a ticket, that's $8 for a family of four. That's too much."

Gradual acceptance

Elk River activities director Mike Cunningham acknowledged that his school will have to start selling tickets online soon, but for now the Elks haven't made the change.

"People up here are not quite ready," Cunningham said. "People still want to do things the old-fashioned way."

He is wary of moving ahead too quickly.

"We just got online ordering at our concession stands, where you can place an order from your seat and then go pick it up," Cunningham said. "We are just getting used to that. It will take a little time."

The expectation is that most schools will venture into online ticketing soon.

"We're just moving that way," Wackman said. "It's just how fast do we want to go there?"