8 minutes

Customer experience and fan engagement are the banner themes for the future of ticketing, and there are many exciting, innovative technologies that can both augment and elevate both. Creating a unique, personalized experience is both what customers crave in the era of the mobile phone/instant gratification, and unduly difficult, requiring a nuanced approach.

Softjourn recently took part in a panel at 2019’s FutureTix Symposium discussing the technology that can help assuage issues tied to serving patrons at the expected level. Softjourn’s CEO Emmy Gengler participated in the panel Back to the Future – What was, what is, and what will be!

Check out the panel questions and Gengler’s thoughts on how companies should approach and take advantage of these trends as they impact the live event ticketing space.

Interviewer (I): How do you see technologies—yours or others—evolving the patron experience?

Emmy Gengler (EG): Artificial intelligence (AI) is already having a big impact on the patron experience, before, during, and after events. Predictive analysis can push events to potentially interested patrons based on purchase history, and chatbots can help patrons discover interesting events in their area. Organizers can personalize the event by understanding patrons’ behavior and thus push food and beverage discounts when patrons are most likely to buy. AI can also alert patrons to other areas of the venue for different activities or shows. After the event, follow-up surveys and other types of outreach can collect thoughts and feedback to better inform future events.

Virtual and augmented reality (VR, AR) can enhance the experience for those either at the event or those who could not make it to the venue. These types of technology can put people in the middle of the action. I really enjoyed what the Alliance of American Football was doing. They developed a “live fantasy football” application that was fed with information from sensors placed directly on the players. This allowed patrons to predict what play was going to be next. While this is a prelude to betting, I think we’ll see more of this technology. Another example is Xperiel’s AR system that turned sports games into interactive video games for patrons in the stands—for example, they could shoot digital basketballs from their seats toward the physical baskets on the court.

Streaming is another area that shows a lot of promise for expanding the patron experience. Both live streaming and video on demand present the potential for expanding audiences, providing different kinds of promotions, and offering different types of experiences that can feel more personalized and unique.

I: Are there any areas where you think we’ve failed fans that should or could be improved?

EG: The biggest fail still happens before the event: during the ticket purchase process, especially for very hot events. Bots still buy up a large quantity of tickets. There are companies that specialize in preventing this type of occurrence, but even as they make improvements and work toward a potentially permanent solution, the bot creators figure out improvements as well. To combat this, ticket vendors and software developers have to keep improving and use new technology like AI and behavioral biometrics to determine how patrons are buying, where they are buying, and how often they buy. This helps determine if a purchase is completed by a human or a machine.

Another fail is that we’re asking fans and patrons to commit and buy tickets months in advance; tickets that are often very expensive. The industry doesn’t offer anything in the way of recompense for consumers, such as refunds or exchanges. This ultimately has the chance of creating a poor consumer experience.

Many companies claim they can solve the consumer buying experience and give control to the rights holder, but what many don’t realize is that defining the “rights holder” is difficult. Should the rights holder be the artist, the promoter, or the venue where the event is held? Not an easy problem to solve.

I: To what degree—if any—has the ticket become more than just a ticket? That, in digital form, it can be a key to unlock any number of different opportunities.

EG: What we have seen for a while now is tickets being used as digital wallets, as an example. Teams opting for traditional barcode tickets that can also allow patrons to connect funds or a bank account so they can purchase food and beverages or merchandise at the stadium. This can be based on what the patron has been upsold or based on loyalty and provided by the team, for example. Or the use of RFID tickets in the form of wristbands for entrance to festivals, tied to a bank account for paying for food and beverage, and merchandise at an event.

Also we see an RFID tickets use for personalizing an experience at places such as the College Football Museum. Based on the team patrons are a fan of, they will have a personalized experience every time you go through the museum.

I: There continues to be a focus on AI and its ability to deliver smarter, faster answers than humans do. Where are the current wins? Where are the fails?

EG: There are many potential applications for AI, but two of the biggest are personalization and event discovery.

Forty percent of tickets for a live event typically go unsold, and the main reason for those unsold tickets is simply that potential attendees were unaware of the event. I’m sure we’ve all been in that situation where you hear about something happening in your area that you would have attended, but you found out too late. Event organizers certainly spend a lot of time and energy promoting events, but consumers are bombarded with ads and promotions for all kinds of products. AI can help solve this by helping event organizers reach the most interested potential attendees in a more direct fashion.

AI can also assist with personalizing an event by reviewing patrons’ past behavior. This gives event organizers more information regarding when it’s best to push appropriate food and beverage offerings as an upsell. The overall aim is to improve the customer’s experience with additional purchases.

However, AI isn’t perfect. Training a machine requires a lot of data; and not just any data, but clean, unbiased data. More data creates a more accurate AI. One example of a poor dataset was when Google attempted to correct their bias toward hiring male engineers by training an AI to evaluate female engineers. The issue? Their historical data was limited to male engineers, which meant they had no evaluation for female engineers.

I: Where are we seeing the most “leakage” in terms of data or revenue, in your opinion?

EG: Event planners continue to lose out on creating an actionable plan from the data they collect. There’s so much they could be doing with the data collected, or expanding to include new data that illuminates patron habits and patterns.

It’s not just about collecting and analyzing; event organizers need to invest in people or software that can analyze the results of a data analysis and deciding as to what forward action seems like the best course. Then this needs to be put into an actionable plan that a company can then execute.

Augmenting an event with additional experiences doesn’t just happen on its own. Discovering patterns is not the end point of data collection. Event organizers need to dedicate resources to the process of working with the data and then acting.

I: One of the technologies to emerge in ticketing over the last five years—really a service—is ticket insurance. Adoption seems to be growing though the return policies are still fairly rigid for consumers. Will we ever get to a point where consumers can return tickets, for whatever reason, for full refunds or credit? Even partial credit?

EG: A: Yes, eventually the industry will be pressured in to it given the fact that patrons are used to returns in other retail experiences. Obviously in this industry, we are dealing with a number of stakeholders who could be responsible for parts of the cost of a ticket: artists, promoters, venues, etc. Therefore it is a challenge to offer a refund to a patron. The question becomes not whether or not a refund is issued, but who is responsible, who is going to pay.

In the short term, patrons are stuck with some combination of insurance and/or reselling on the secondary market. It would be nice to see the primary market offer some sort of insurance where, say a patron is stuck in traffic and won’t make the event; perhaps the primary seller can then resell the ticket to another interested patron, and reimburse the first? It could all be done via mobile, thus providing the best customer service for the patron.

But I don’t necessarily see that happening anytime soon.

I: With that mind, as always, we look to what the airlines are doing in terms of pricing strategies and consumer experience. What are we trying to adopt at the moment?

EG: The ticketing industry already has and will continue to adopt dynamic pricing, which entails increased levels of pricing per location depending on the venue, detailed definitions of premium seating, and identifying what seats patrons are willing to pay more for. This varies by event and the event’s intended demographic.

Access control is another carryover from airlines, like using CLEAR for getting into events. CLEAR is a biometric security platform that stores individual’s personal information, links it to that individual’s biometrics, and allows them to bypass the travel document checker at security checkpoints by using fingerprint and/or iris identification.

I: Are there any downsides to identity-based ticketing?

EG: The usual downside is that patrons must give up additional personal information. The theory is, if patrons are rewarded quickly with something like a discount, coupons for food and beverage, etc., they are usually OK with this exchange.

Another downside is that while it’s important for event organizers to know who is attending the event for both marketing and security purposes, providing identifying details can be a hassle for the ticket purchaser. In a typical travel scenario, travelers know who’s going on a trip; it’s not likely that someone would buy plane tickets months in advance without knowing who’s traveling.

But for ticketing, it is often I’ll buy a few tickets and figure out at a later date who’s coming with me.

I: Should tickets be allowed to be locked down in the way we’re starting to see with say Ticketmaster’s SafeTix?

EG: SafeTix doesn't necessarily have to lock down a ticket. The purpose of SafeTix is to prevent someone from taking a screenshot of the ticket and distribute the ticket multiple times.

With SafeTix technology, the actual ticket isn't delivered until a time that is close to when the doors for the event opens. The problem with SafeTix is that consumers don't understand how it works; they don't realize the true ticket isn't delivered until later, or that the ticket isn't transferable between people or devices. There have already been and probably will continue to be issues with allowing late activation of a ticket. Stadiums and venues have reported issues with connectivity right before the event as groups of attendees are trying to access their ticket at the venue gates. It has and can continue to cause issues with getting people in the venue fast enough.

Potential solutions to this problem include upgrading connectivity and/or improving infrastructure at events, educating consumers.

I: Where we do we see the secondary market going?

EG: The secondary ticket market is here to stay. This market is a necessity for several reasons: half of ticket inventory sells below face value; patrons needing to purchase tickets six to 12 months in advance of a show when it’s difficult to predict their own schedule that far into the future; and event organizers not being willing to provide an exchange or refund.

We will certainly continue to see primary ticket sellers partnering with secondary players or building out their own secondary functionality to enable patrons to resell securely on their site.

I: How does streaming play into the overall marketing or P&L of a show? What is the data telling us about these consumers?

EG: Streaming live video directly from an event can enhance the patron experience for both those already in attendance and those who are at home. Patrons already at the event can see what other experiences are currently ongoing if there are multiple rooms or stages, allowing them an overview of what’s on offer. This can increase ticket sales. Eventbrite published statistics that stated 67% of live stream viewers would purchase a ticket after seeing a live stream from an event, which adds to the topline for the following year. Live streaming is becoming popular at festivals, airshows, and other events.

Streaming can also be used to upsell exclusive live video or video on demand, such as exclusives for VIPs or narrowing streams to specific teams, players, artists, or others that patrons are interested in. It can provide additional personalization.

On top of the potential for additional ticket sales is the opportunity to implement advertisements and sponsor revenue.

I: Softjourn is in a number of other areas with regard to tech. Is there anything you’re seeing advance in the other industries (i.e., fintech) that you see starting to cross over into the ticketing space?

EG: We have seen crossover in a number of technologies, like access control from the travel industry; from financial we see crossover with looking at issuing virtual prepaid cards, with spending rules for certain times or with certain merchants for specific purchases, parking, etc.
We can perhaps say that VR came from video gaming and crossed over.

Many technologies cross over from various industries because the ticketing vendor makes use of them in a new way applicable to their industry. For example, AI for fraud detection during the ticket purchase, behavioral biometrics to determine if a person is making the purchase, and for later determining if there are additional events that the purchaser might be interested in.

I: Are we going to be seeing more in-venue activations? What are some technologies that we might see become more prevalent?

EG: Yes, we are going to see more in-venue brand activations. We have already seen technologies like Xperiel’s AR system for putting patrons in to the action.

We have also seen use of Intel’s Volumetric Imaging for creating 3D recordings at events, which creates real-time playback for both in-seat fans and those watching from home.

I: What areas of the live event space do you think will be noticeably different in a decade’s time?

EG: Venues and stadiums are adding more areas for interactions as they continue to evolve into total entertainment areas. This means more hangouts, more congregation areas; but in addition to that, more personalization and quality customer service.

A favorite table can be prepared and made ready upon the patron’s arrival, along with a favorite drink or meal. Merchandise can be delivered without having to actually go to the gift shop.

New stadiums are being constructed to provide a complete entertainment area around them.