Most folks probably remember Super Bowl XLII as the first time the New York Giants took down the New England Patriots on the NFL’s biggest stage. Michael Focareto, however, probably thinks of Feb. 3, 2008, as the day a life-changing idea was born.

Focareto attended that game in Glendale, Ariz., and noticed that the Color Guard troops who participated in pregame pomp and circumstance had to stand for the rest of the game. He looked around the stadium and noticed there were plenty of empty seats.

That’s when inspiration struck.

He began reaching out to major sports teams in Arizona and proposed that they donate unused game tickets to service members and veterans. Eleven years later, that concept has grown into Vet Tix, a nonprofit that gives veterans and active-duty troops free or heavily discounted tickets to sporting events, concerts and more.

“Our tagline is, ‘give something to those who gave,’” said Steve Weintraub, Vet Tix’s chief strategy officer. “The reason why Vet Tix was created was as a way to say thank you to military and veterans.”

Vet Tix has distributed almost 6,500,000 tickets to troops and veterans, according to a live ticker on its website. The organization gave out 1,980,460 tickets in 2018 alone, Weintraub said.

The tickets come from donations via event-ticketing companies like Live Nation, which has an official partnership with Vet Tix. Live Nation is currently Vet Tix’s top donor and has provided the company with over 1 million tickets.

“We’re big believers in the power of live [events],” said Kate Lieberman, Live Nation’s vice president of guest services. “And our company wants to continue sharing those experiences with our veterans who have given so much to serve and protect our nation.”

To qualify for Vet Tix, veterans need to create a free account on the site and become one of the organization’s more than 1 million verified members, according to Weintraub.

At that point, they will get notified via Vet Tix emails about events in their local areas and can enter randomized lotteries to try to land a ticket. They’ll be notified if they’re selected and will only have to pay a small PayPal delivery fee, which Weintraub said never exceeds $14.97, to have their tickets delivered to them electronically.

You can increase your chances of winning those lotteries by bidding virtual coins during the selection lotteries. Weintraub said you get 10 coins upon registering for Vet Tix and can earn more by uploading photos of yourself after attending an event, or through other methods. It’s also worth noting that if you bid those coins in a lottery and don’t get selected, you get them all back.

One of the virtues of Vet Tix is the tendency for veterans and troops to run into their fellow service members at events.

“It makes it easy to talk to them,” said Bob Hanna, a 63-year-old Army veteran and Vet Tix client. “You’re able to strike up a conversation with what would otherwise be a complete stranger, but they’re not because you share a bond.”

Hanna served in the Army from 1975-85 as a military police officer. He’s gone to many events through Vet Tix, including country-music concerts and a taping of a “Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” episode that included Fallon surprising a woman by bringing her husband, who she thought was still deployed, on stage.

He was also able to take his grandson to his first New York Knicks game and was awarded Vet Tix’s 3 millionth ticket, which happened to be for a New York Yankees v. Baltimore Orioles game in 2017. He and a good friend who was a huge Yankees fan got to sit right behind one of the dugouts.

“It was more than cool,” Hanna said. “It was an amazing, amazing memory.”

Weintraub said he hears stories like this all the time. Once, Taylor Swift’s mother picked out a few young girls in the front row of one of her concerts who happened to be there through Vet Tix and brought them to meet Swift after the show, he said.

Austin Bartlett, a 39-year-old former Marine Corps sergeant, said he was also able to score great seats to a Taylor Swift concert because of Vet Tix. He has used that organization to see everything from a Fiesta Bowl football game to a Cyndi Lauper concert to the Colorado Symphony.

“It’s a great organization, and I always take tickets when I get them,” he said.

Weintraub said that Vet Tix has collected more than 700 testimonials from its users, attesting that their experiences at these events has at least momentarily helped with their PTSD. Specifically, he said, it’s helped them be better in crowds and prevents them from becoming “isolationists.”

He also emphasized that Vet Tix was established to help vets live their civilian lives to the fullest after their military service is over.

“It’s a sacrifice,” Weintraub said. “So when you come home, it’s a way to send these families to an event … as a way to make up for lost time, rebuild relationships and for a couple hours a day to take your mind off the daily stresses of life.”

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