TicketLeap's Papal channel on Slack

It’s hardly a lottery when nearly everyone who enters wins. But thousands who entered a lottery to purchase a SEPTA pass to see the Pope in September are going to feel like winners today.

TicketLeap CEO Tim Raybould said that despite some original reports showing that every person who entered the Papal pass lottery won, it’s actually more like most people won. Here’s a breakdown of what happened with the sale:

For both days of the Papal visit, SEPTA offered a total of 350,000 Regional Rail passes for getting into the city — 175,000 for Saturday and 175,000 for Sunday. When the lottery opened Monday, SEPTA received a total of 328,000 requests for tickets. Math would tell us that, in this case, everyone gets a pass.

But the requests were broken down by station. Thirty-five stations will be running and each has a 10,000 pass capacity, and some of the more popular lines had requests that exceeded that 10,000 allotment. So TicketLeap put the people who requested those popular stations in another lottery. If they lose, they will be notified today and will get first dibs on selecting another station to enter the city.

And they’ll want to. SEPTA is going to be the best (and one of the only) ways to get into the city. Mayor Michael Nutter and a number of federal and local officials announced road and highway closures Wednesday, saying that many of the major highways used to get into the city with the exception of I-95 will be shut down. Officials will also close the Ben Franklin Bridge to traffic.

TicketLeap’s involvement in SEPTA’s sale of the Papal pass system turned what was originally a sales website nightmare into smooth sailing. Prior to Monday’s lottery, SEPTA ran its own sale of the Papal passes that was on a first-come, first-served basis. So when 255,000 people had tickets in their carts in the first five minutes, the website crashed and no one could secure a ticket.

Once TicketLeap came in, they helped SEPTA with strategy as well as execution. Rather than operate on a first-come, first-served basis, TicketLeap ran a lottery system that — as long as you entered sometime throughout a 24-hour period — you would have the same odds of winning a pass. The system was able to handle the demand, as requests were spread out throughout the day instead of coming in all at once.

While Raybould said TicketLeap was confident in its technology, Sunday night was still stressful. TicketLeap employees used the popular messaging system Slack to keep in touch at midnight on Sunday night as the lottery opened, and were chatting back and forth with each other from about 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. as they watched the traffic come into the site, sharing screenshots and funny tweets about how smooth it was going.

“We felt confident in the technology that people wouldn’t in fact all come at midnight,” he said, “but there was still that thing in our minds, so it was a little bit of watching the clock and waiting.”

Raybould said TicketLeap hasn’t been retained to handle any other Papal-related sales for SEPTA moving forward.

Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017.