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Ticketing Business Forum 2020 Takeaways: Data Sharing, Diversifying Content, and Payments

Insights from Ticketing Business Forum 2020’s all-virtual conference include unifying organizational processes inside and out, diversifying content for restrictions and new platforms, and offering an assortment of payment options to increase revenue

December 09, 2020

As we close out a year that left us with silent venues and stadiums, many are looking forward to 2021 with renewed hope for live events as successful vaccine trials make headlines. Still, the reality of the situation is that the events industry was the first to close and will likely be the last to re-open, since the very nature of the industry necessitates crowds that now cause unease among patrons. 

Many are viewing this time as an opportunity to explore new technologies, streamline processes, and open up their content to new audiences. Such were as the underlying themes of this year’s Ticketing Business Forum, which was held in an all-virtual environment for the first time. 

Whether diversifying content, unifying processes both internally and externally, or implementing new pricing and payment models to make the most of the new value culture we’re entering, a lot was talked about at this year’s conference. Here are our top takeaways.

Data Sharing

Data Sharing

Streamline Cross-Departmental Systems

The Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, celebrating its 25th anniversary, was planning a ticketing system migration when the pandemic struck. Their old system, a hybrid that combined ticketing and CRM, wasn’t configurable or customizable. Tim Parnin, Vice President of Digital Technology for the attraction, wanted the hybrid nature of their current system, but with more options and better support.

“We realized that ultimately it was a data project – originally we wanted to overhaul ticketing, but we really needed to get data set across the business,” Parnin said. “We needed to come up with a digital ecosystem where Salesforce was the hub and data could flow both ways in real time.”

Once they had decided on their choice of ticketing system, the pandemic turned out to be an opportunity in disguise. It allowed the attraction to make the system transition without interrupting their usual 800,000 annual visitors and hundreds of scheduled live events.

The result was a six-week overhaul of their ticketing system, as phase one of a bigger system overhaul. The second phase will incorporate Salesforce, and then look at updating other systems. 

“Disruption is hard,” Parnin said. “If you do things in a different way, people can get anxious. So we decided to do it piecemeal … don’t want to pull the rug out from everyone at once. Managing disruption is the way to do it.”

Parnin’s end goal is to create a system that allows the attraction to home in on the “perfect membership experience.” Before the ticketing migration, patrons were known more for purchasing onsite rather than online. Parnin reported that 99% of visitors now buy tickets before they arrive at the museum.

When asked what he might have done differently, Parnin said that he wished the pace was more under their control, but otherwise said the whole experience had been great. 

“Things are working so well, people are no longer talking about it,” he said. “They’re taking it for granted, which is what you want — that’s a success.”

Cultivate a Better Customer Experience

To handle major differences in income compared to other European teams, AFC Ajax wanted to aggressively pursue new revenue streams.

“To do this, we needed more information from across the company, as well as making sure others had access to that information,” said Max Reckers, Performance & Technology Advisor to AFC Ajax.

Their goal was to put the fan at the center of every exchange — Ajax wanted to be able to connect with fans in multiple ways, instead of forcing them into inflexible channels. Their digital system was created by funneling data from all departments into a Microsoft Azure data lake and connecting to a CRM system. The omnichannel aspect was solidified in 2019 when Ajax added single sign on. With this, they could tie data to a specific patron.

“We put the customer in charge of their own record,” Reckers said. “Saw huge payback there where patrons were giving us a lot more input, data points, letting us know their interests, where they wanted to communicate. Allowed us to build a better relationship with the fan, why they were interested in the club.”

The omnichannel experience allows Ajax to meet customers as they want, when they want. One issue they were able to resolve with this system migration was to give fans a clear channel to buy valid tickets for games. Before the migration, fans were deeply concerned about counterfeit tickets being sold on the secondary market.

With SecuTix’s TixNGo, they were able to provide a safe environment for fans to transfer tickets to others. TixNGo also enabled contact tracing

When asked about his thoughts on what to look for in a technology partner, Reckers said that having a platform that was flexible but supportive was important for him. 

“We wanted the ability to create processes and workflows in what we did know,” he said. “But also a platform that did the heavy lifting in other areas we were not experts in, like security. We wanted to create custom and beautiful customer journeys for fans.

 “Ticketing migrations are incredibly complex,” Reckers said. “You need someone who understands your needs, how things can change.”

Broader Market Insights

“This session came to be after last year’s conference when Ian Nuttell got onstage and said, wouldn’t it be great if we all shared data?” Steve Jacobsen, Founder and CEO at JCA, said during his presentation. “And I thought to myself, that’s interesting, because we’re in the midst of doing just that.” With seven years’ worth of data between 11 organizations, JCA used advanced algorithms to match up patrons throughout.

The impetus for the new study was yet another study conducted in 2016, which revealed that arts and theaters groups only spent 0.6% of their marketing budget on research into who their audience really was. It wasn’t for lack of wanting, though – JCA found that resource constraints held organizations back.

“The thought was, maybe we can use this new technology, new methods to get at ticketing data to understand the behavioral aspect of how an audience buys tickets,” Jacobsen said.

The ARC, or Audience Research Center, provided a shared data warehouse and audience behavior analysis dashboards. JCA also performed primary and customized market research, along with providing learning platforms for organizations to share insights and thoughts. Through studying the compiled data, JCA was able to reveal interesting takeaways and also either debunk or solidify existing myths.

One insight was that “we found that audiences did travel for opera,” Jacobsen said. “There was always a myth, but now we had hard data to back that up.” Other insights revealed the impact that different payment models have on consumers, whether or not a theater company should raise their prices, and identify new audience types.

“You might think there would be significant crossover between the symphony and the opera, for example, but instead it was a lot smaller than we anticipated,” Jacobsen said. “What was interesting was that there tended to be, I wouldn’t say it was significant crossover, between organizations with totally different art forms. So it was like there were cultural omnivores in the market that wanted to sample different types of art.

“And one of the other things we were looking at is what we called the shared cultural wallet. How much of an art patron’s spend are you getting, versus how much are they spending in the market?”

Jacobsen said organizations were more than willing to collaborate and share data, often more so than expected. Throughout the study, a research-to-action process was developed to help organizations make the most of those insights. 

“Another thing we found was that you can’t just show somebody a graph, they need people to help interpret,” he said. “Having an expert in these learning sessions, where you talk through the issues and help interpret the data, whether it’s visualized or in tables or whatever. 

“The key was operationalizing the data and they needed help with that. They often didn’t have the staff or expertise to go from the data to what you need to do with it.”

Diversifying Content

Diversifying Content

Work Within Restrictions

With traditional methods for event planning stymied due to the pandemic, event organizers scrambled to figure out how to work within government regulations and public fears. Digital had been creeping up on the events industry slowly, but it was suddenly the only channel for some. 

“We did look at live streaming,” said Laurence Miller, Commercial Director of Nimax Theatres. “Our focus has always been on the live event. We did a live stream last week, but we didn’t have enough downloads to be commercially viable. Our focus has always been on the live room.”

During the beginning of the pandemic, Nimax made it a business objective to return to live events as soon as possible. They had staff members who had been with the business for years, who they didn’t want to lose. To do so, they needed to start putting on shows again. Nimax approached the stringent government regulations for social distancing by evaluating what kind of shows would still be commercially viable within social distancing requirements.

“Comedy, entertainment, concerts,” Miller said. “Programming has been geared around working in a socially distant environment.” 

A lot of the content focused around younger demographics, those Nimax believed would be willing to attend the theater during the pandemic.

Along with one-way systems, contactless ticketing, hand sanitizer, and masks, they developed 100-page manuals for how to operate each of their six theaters in a post-COVID world.

Customers would need to confirm they were healthy before they could receive their tickets and go to the entry point assigned.

“And it worked,” said Miller. “People were obliged to follow directions. They felt safe and secure.”

Unfortunately, the second UK lockdown shut down Nimax’s planned shows; they plan to reopen Dec. 5.

“I believe the market is there for socially distant programming at the moment,” Miller said. “I believe there is a journey that the industry must go on before we can get back to full capacity again.”

Focus on Engagement

While crowds are away, another worry for many is that attention will wander. The British Museum is working hard to ensure their audience doesn’t just remember the museum but is looking forward to returning to it.

Through a curated weekly email newsletter and diverse digital offerings, the museum is entertaining a global audience. Responses indicate that viewers really enjoy the research-focused and behind-the-scenes content they’re getting access to.

“Everything we’re offering now will be paid when we are out of lockdown,” Claire Byfield, Membership Engagement Manager of the British Museum, said. “Right now this allows us to test if there is an appetite.”

About 80% of the museum’s 6.5 million annual visitors are international tourists. Their digital content strategy, consisting of content emails, streamed events, a digital magazine, and a video archive, is an attempt to keep that audience engaged.

Because of the virtual nature of these offerings, the museum isn’t limited to hosting local speakers.

“We have been able to get speakers from across the world since there isn’t an in-person aspect,” Byfield said. “Those speakers have an international base where they’re from. Allows everyone to tap into one place and creates special interest groups for us.”

The museum has also been trying new initiatives to attract younger demographics, though this will be put into full-force next year.

“Lockdown has fast-forwarded our plans, expanded our audience, and shown us that they are engaged with content-driven emails, that aspect of the membership,” Byfield said.

Explore New Channels

Livestreaming has grown massively amid the pandemic. It’s a channel that has kept many event businesses alive, from ticketing to promoter to artist. But does it have longevity past current events?

During the Pivot to Streaming panel, Carl-Erik Moberg of TicketCo and Phil Middleton of Driift contended that the channel has real viability beyond meeting the needs of businesses held back by social distancing requirements and lockdowns.

“Livestreaming can never replace the live experience,” Middleton said. “Even now, it’s only a substitute, not a replacement. But we firmly believe it’s a valuable tool for artists and others across the creative industry who have been struggling for work to bring something to fans who can’t see their favorite artists onstage.”

Middleton said livestreaming has huge potential for promoters, as well as artists who don’t enjoy touring or can’t for health reasons. It also has applications for shows or organizations looking to target wider regions without the cost or rigor of a tour.

“It’s a whole new lane that won’t go away,” Middleton said. “If nurtured correctly, it will have a very long shelf life.”

According to the panel, the livestreaming of live events is expected to be 17% of internet traffic by 2022. Moberg cited a Goldman Sachs survey that reported 84% of respondents being interested in attending a livestreamed live event from their home. However, only half said they would pay for the experience.

To get the most financially out of streaming a live event, both panelists stressed the need for high production values. To combat the idea that online equals free, both Moberg and Middleton said they wanted to create something viewers valued enough to pay for. They have since sold 35,000 tickets for Nick Cave at the Alexandra Palace and 30,000 tickets for Dermot Kennedy at the London Natural History Museum, both livestreams available worldwide.

“We have focused on creating amazing looking shows that people will want to pay for,” Middleton said. “Because of the current events, with no people in the room, that gives us incredible capability. Creative becomes everything.”

They also don’t make the shows available on VOD, recreating the once-in-a lifetime experience of an in-person event. Middleton said that they also monitor social media channels to see how attendees are responding and how they can capitalize on the fan engagement an event generates.

New Payment Models

Tapping into New Payment Models

Dynamic Pricing

While dynamic pricing is nothing new, the presentation by Jose Sanchez, Senior External Advisor of Revenue and Commercial Strategy at Deloitte, highlighted why it has yet to become widely adopted in the ticketing industry.

Between misinterpretation of the customer-centric approach, lack of optimization strategy, and lack of pricing technology, he explained that the ticketing industry was missing out on a huge revenue opportunity.

Pricing optimization is key for the ticketing industry, he said, because almost a third of transactions for live events are carried out in the secondary market. The secondary market has a constant higher growth rate than the primary market. In addition, all live-event generators have experienced a massive loss of income because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it will be years before the industry is back to the growth levels it was previously.

He advised that ticketing companies should pay closer attention to the human aspect of fans’ willingness to pay, since they are currently paying between two to four times the amount of the ticket’s face value on the secondary market. Forty-two percent of activity on primary ticketing platforms is performed by bots.

He also encouraged embracing optimization strategies. Two concrete ways to do so were incorporating pricing experts into business strategies and getting support from specialized consulting firms to make the execution of an advanced pricing strategy more effective.

Lastly, he noted that advanced technology has typically been in major distributor or secondary marketing’s hands instead of live event generators. Technology platforms that are slowly appearing in the market are rate shopping, demand forecasting, and dynamic pricing.

“It is a change of perspective as we move from the product and cost as a starting point, to value as our starting point,” Sanchez said. “We should begin with the question ‘what is the greatest value that we can offer our customers?’”

Subscriptions

Subscriptions as a potential payment model in the ticketing industry was discussed at several intervals throughout the conference. Already made widespread by services like Netflix, subscriptions have been creeping into the world of ticketing for a few years now. Much like how contactless ticketing was slowly being adopted, it’s possible that the pandemic will see a larger adoption of a subscription payment model.

Through his presentation, Mikkel Skou, Director of NewC, discussed how subscriptions could also be used to lower the amount of resources spent on getting season ticket renewals, since the onus to cancel would be on the buyer instead of the need to sell on the employee. An online payment and ticketing system could handle it all, freeing staff up to focus on other needs.

NewC saw great results come from subscription payments, as their clubs in Brazil and Denmark saw a 13% increase in the number of season ticket holders year over year. 

The subscription model has also proven helpful in dire circumstances – Skou recounted how when one of their clubs asked season ticket holders on subscription if they would continue to support the club during a difficult time, or if they preferred the club stopped the payment withdrawals.

An impressive 95% of supporters on subscription chose to allow payment withdrawals to continue, despite being unable to attend games in person. Skou credited the response to subscriptions communicating a lower price, which was negligible in consumer’s eyes.

Skou outlined the many benefits of subscription payment models for football clubs:

  • Increasing the number of season ticket holders due to a lower price point, spread out over a longer payment period
  • Encouraging retention since season ticket holders have to make an active choice to cancel
  • Getting more fans inside a physical location because of lower advertised prices and marketing possibilities
  • Appealing to a younger fanbase that prefers to pay on subscription

Pay What You Want

The pivot to digital during the pandemic has left many wondering how to make livestreaming commercially viable in the long term. Kahlil Ashanti, founder and CEO of weshowup.io, discussed how the value of a performance was not being adequately communicated to patrons.

He recounted his time in the U.S. Air Force, traveling with a touring performance ensemble named Tops In Blue. From Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to Omaha, Nebraska, and everywhere in between, the troupe shook the hands of all audience members after each show. One thing Ashanti said he heard consistently from audiences was, ‘I would have paid more for that.’

Even after finishing his Air Force career and focusing on acting, he continued to meet with audiences after performances and heard the same sentiment.

“Throughout this journey, I kept tracking this ‘I would have paid more for that,” he said. “As an actor and performer who thrives on live entertainment, I just couldn’t understand how the value was being equated. Of course there are hard costs that promoters need to make, but for ticketing, why isn’t anyone asking the audience what they think it's worth?”

As an experiment, after a show in Vancouver he waited by the exit with a bucket and asked patrons to contribute what they felt the show was worth. Ashanti said he earned more this way than he would have by just charging $20 a person. The issue then was connecting the cash donations with the contact information of those who had attended. After he discovered that no one had made an app version of ‘pass the hat,’ he made one himself.

The first app I made was very ugly, but very functional,” he said. “And I ended up making 82% more than I did performing off Broadway.”

His company, weshowup.io, allows patrons to reserve a spot for a few dollars, ensuring some financial commitment. After they see the show, patrons receive a text or an email asking how much they would like to contribute.

"Not how much they would like to tip, not how much they would like to donate," Ashanti said. "How much they would like to contribute. Because what we've found is that there's a lot more success with this model when people feel like they're part of it and it's more of a communal thing."

By understanding how audiences put value on a performance, Ashanti believes that businesses can price better, especially as many organizations are under the strain presented by COVID-19. Having a better understanding of valuation also allows entertainment and ticketing organizations to compete online. Ashanti believes that valuation pricing will have a huge impact on the future of live events.

"These consumers are going to have a different thought process about leaving their house than they did before," he said. "We're faced with a whole society that might be out of jobs, probably aren't going to pay full price for anything because they've never had to, and are open to connection in new ways."

What Can Ticketing Platforms Do Now?

While we wait for some return to normalcy, what that normal will look like is anyone’s guess. A mix of in-person, hybrid, and all virtual is entirely possible, though how it will break down has yet to be seen. It’s clear that technology ‘nice-to-haves’ have become ‘must-haves’ — not differentiators, but basics. 

Ticketing platforms and event organizations can hedge their bets by understanding their customer as much as possible. Digital gives them the tools to do this, whether it’s communicating by mobile app, online, or over the phone. CRMs, social media integrations, patron communication, and much more are all available in any number of forms, which means different combinations can be made to meet every ticketing and event need.

The more information gleaned from a target audience, the better organizations can position themselves to make the best possible comeback they can when in-person events re-open.

 

Partnership & Recognition

Top 100
Intix
Microsoft Gold Partner
Xamarin
Monax
Inc 5000

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