How SEPTA picked TicketLeap for its Pope Ticket Lottery


Since it was founded in 2003 by a Wharton grad, online ticketing platform TicketLeap has been organizing events small and large. Now, they’re gearing up for their — and Philly’s — biggest yet.

TicketLeap was tapped by Amazon and SEPTA to help sell passes to ride the Regional Rail from the ‘burbs during Pope Francis’ visit in late September. SEPTA’s first go at selling the passes was a bust — now they hope with a new structure and a new partner, things will be better the second time around.

“It’s nice and exciting to be part of a solution to a citywide problem,” TicketLeap CEO Tim Raybould said. “It’s cool to be working on something that, at least locally, high profile.”

Last week, SEPTA first started selling one-day Papal visit passes for the Regional Rail, but ended up having to suspend the sale due to technical problems that arose from the sales site getting three times the traffic it was prepared for.

Those passes were on a first-come, first-served basis. This time around, SEPTA is conducting it as a lottery instead — that means not everyone has to inundate the site at once. Anyone who applies for a Regional Rail pass within a 24-hour window on Monday will have the same chance of obtaining a pass, no matter what time they log-in to the site.

After a chat with Amazon about hosting the traffic that’s expected to pour into the system, SEPTA reached out to TicketLeap to inquire about serving as the domain for the re-launch of their Papal pass sale.

So Raybould and two of his TicketLeap colleagues met with SEPTA’s IT director Bill Zebrowski, discussed the problems with SEPTA’s first rollout of the Papal pass sale, and came up with the lottery format of solving the problem.

Raybould says TicketLeap will host the lottery and payment systems; while Amazon is providing the “pipes” behind the technology, TicketLeap will be administering the technology itself.

Though TicketLeap has never hosted an event that has 350,000 available “tickets” like this one does (175,000 each for Saturday and Sunday), Raybould said he’s confident the site can withstand the demand as it accepts lottery entries, mostly because not all 350,000 people will be — hopefully — logging on at the same time.

If they were selling the passes in real-time? “It would make me nervous,” he said.

Once TicketLeap administers the lottery itself, the next step is randomizing that list, pulling out duplicates and then sorting it. SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams said TicketLeap will be responsible for weeding out the data for possible fraud.

The data will be sorted until there are no tickets left or no people who want tickets left, Raybould said. From there, the passes will be administered to winners.

“The approach we’re taking with the lottery is going to work,” he said. “We’re confident in that.”