#IEBA2017 Recap: Award Winners Power Panel


Panelists:

Renee Alexander, Minnesota State Fair

David Kells, Bridgestone Arena

Darin Lashinsky, NS2

Jeff Nickler, BOK Center

 

Moderated by Ali Harnell, AEG Presents

 

Four of IEBA’s 2016 Industry Award winners kicked off IEBA 2017 by sharing their thoughts on the state of the industry and spotlighting issues to watch. Moderator Ali Harnell opened by asking, “What were some of the major themes for your business this past year? What did you try that worked?”

 

What’s Working

For Jeff Nickler, fan engagement and fan loyalty topped the list. While working with Ticketmaster to weed out scalpers, the BOK Center identified their top 100 fans – loyal patrons who’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars in the venue in the last five years. “By acknowledging and honoring these guests (and occasionally offering them free tickets),” Nickler said, “We created 100 advocates who can’t stop saying nice things about our venue.”

 

At Bridgestone, David Kells and company rolled out Predators season tickets on mobile only and, after the first game, identified 1,000 new patrons – fans who may have been in the building for years but management never knew before. “Now we know who you’ve transferred your tickets to, who’s coming in the gate,” he said. “Those are leads for future shows or games. These are folks we had no idea were coming into the building.”

 

Alexander, Nickler, and Kells all noted their success with arena-level comedy.  Kells said, “In past years, Bridgestone would host comedy events in a cut down 5,000-capacity setup. But in each of the past couple of years, we’ve hosted 3-5 big comedy shows. Kevin Hart did a double in one night – something that didn’t exist a couple of years ago.” Minnesota State Fair drew 10,000 fans for Jim Gaffigan this year.  Nickler cited over 10,000 with Amy Schumer and Rodney Carrington and said, “The comedy shows are doing big business, even in middle America.” Alexander added, “Your production costs are next to nothing. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s certainly something we’re going to expand.”

 

Lashinsky mentioned that he began pushing prices in venues where NS2 has exclusive booking agreements and needs to deliver more content. And it worked. In 1,000-seat PACs, they increased $59 tickets to $95 and these shows are selling front to back. As a result, Lashinsky noted, “It opens up lots of doors for other shows and artists we can pursue for a small theater.” Minnesota State Fair takes an opposite approach, said Alexander. “We really work hard to keep ticket prices low for our demographic and hope patrons will spend money in other places at the Fair also. We have a 13,000-seat grandstand – we want to drive volume.”

 

Security

Harnell asked, “How is everyone feeling overall – about going to events, about how your business has changed? How are your audiences responding? I know, right after Vegas, some ticket counts plummeted for outdoor festivals. What are your feelings post-Vegas?” Lashinsky began, “We promote in theaters and arenas, primarily. Security is obviously a topic of conversation. It’s come up in staff meetings and with productions managers and promoters reps. We’re going back and really taking a good look at the security measures that are in place in the venues where we do business. And the conversation for us started with ‘it’s our responsibility yet it’s not in our control.’ We’re part of the conversation with the facilities, but we can only push so much. These aren’t our budgets.”

 

Kells followed with, “I think the fans are open to anything. We’ve been using walk-thru metal detectors even before Paris happened and no one blinks. People will accept any security measures because they want to be safe. They don’t look at it as an inconvenience. They understand that, sadly, this is where we’re at today. Personally, I think unless real laws change, people are going to get hurt again and again and again.”

 

Minnesota State Fair instituted bag checks in 2016 and received no pushback from guests. Alexander: “But when you look at a family of four coming to the Fair with strollers and diaper bags and everything that goes with kids – it’s challenging.” Kell agrees, “You must communicate earlier with the tours. It takes longer than 60 minutes to get people through the doors.”

 

Nickler noted that the perimeter for BOK Center has expanded to a block around the venue. Harnell acknowledged that and asked, “Do you feel the vibe has changed? Do you feel more under threat? Do you feel like we’ve done everything we can? It feels palpable to me.” Nickler responded, “Is it palpable? I’d say absolutely. We had the honor of welcoming Jason Aldean for his first show back and, I’ll tell you, you could feel it in the building. Not just with the fans but with everyone working the show. You hate to say it but, if anything positive could come out of this, perhaps it’s that venue operators have the leverage to talk with cities, municipalities, and/or owners about making those capital upgrades in security, if you haven’t done so already.”

 

Kells shared his experience that cities, municipalities, and state bureaus are “so open and willing to talk to you anytime – at least in Tennessee. They will conduct training sessions with your staff. Also, they have to train themselves and I want them doing drills in [our] arena. I want the fire department repelling from our roof. I want them to be familiar with us and us with them. I want that relationship, and not just for our Director of Public Safety. I want my front of house staff and event coordinators to know them.” Bridgestone Arena staff has gone through active shooter training. They have also worked with the local police department to increase the number of dog sweeps.

 

Security is also top of mind for the Minnesota State Fair, a 320-acre campus with 14 entrance gates. They have a mutual aid agreement with St. Paul police departments and work very closely with them. The departments conduct their canine training at the fairgrounds. “They understand the campus, the grounds, and the buildings – that’s very helpful,” said Alexander. “We are also focused on training our frontline staff but that’s very challenging. We are a 12-day event. We have such a short time to train new staff. Another challenge in our market is t-shirt security. Our vendor is declining work. How do we find staff willing to work the frontline for $10-12 per hour?” Kells remarked on Target’s new $15/hour policy and how that affects part-time staffing, “They don’t need our overnight job if they can go work someplace else for $15. We’re adjusting our rates and paying people more.”

 

Ticketing and the Secondary Market

Harnell moved to another spotlight issue she’s particularly interested in: “We’ve been talking about this for years. It’s complicated. Darin touched on how people are willing to pay that higher ticket price and, when you charge the higher price, you can squeeze the scalper or reseller’s ability to capitalize on the market. What trends are you seeing? Are you addressing the resale market? Are you jumping in? Are you resisting? Is the secondary market an issue for you?”

 

Alexander began, “It’s definitely an issue for us. We’re still looking to prevent reselling. We have an on-site box office and we’ve gone to random lottery distribution for our box office on-sales. We are also more diligent in scrubbing orders, looking for scalpers over the ticket limit and out-of-area. We try to drive messaging to our guests: we are the primary ticketer and ‘buyer, beware’ when looking at other sites.”

 

Nickler continued, “We’ve had some significant issues lately with scalpers and resellers. We put a major concert up a couple of weeks ago. Capacity was about 19,000. 68% of the tickets went to scalpers and resellers. 12% of our purchasers were from Los Angeles. 11% from New York. 11% from Boston. I can tell you, people are not driving from Boston to Tulsa to watch George Strait. We took some significant backlash in our local media. We all have our talking points. We’re adding a second show that will go on sale next week. We’ll take the ticket limit down and we’re working with Ticketmaster to geo-limit ticket purchasers to Oklahoma and the states that touch Oklahoma – even with the fan club and American Express pre-sales, where most of the scalpers hang out. These efforts probably won’t be enough. As venue mangers, we’re torn – we have a sold-out show, which is awesome, but I have local fans who could not get tickets and are paying 4x face value.” Harnell asked, “Would raising the ticket prices from the beginning have changed the outcome?” Nicker: “No, the first seats the scalpers bought were the platinum VIP. Plus, the average ticket price was $199.” Harnell: “Okay, yeah. It just seems to be snowballing. People are still paying these ticket prices. I’m dumbfounded by it.”

 

Kells chimed in, “On the team side, it’s the secret no one talks about, but we just stopped selling team tickets to brokers. And we put our in-house sales force to work. Some teams want to have the money in the bank early because it’s hard to sell Calgary on a Tuesday in February but that’s also lazy. We have a sales staff for a reason. They should be able to sell better than the brokers.”

 

Lashinsky added, “We’re pushing ticket prices and also adding Ticketmaster Platinum. We’re seeing 3x face value on TM Platinum. I would agree that with a date like George Strait, where it’s lightning in a bottle, brokers are buying on spec that they can sell a $1500 ticket for 5x face value. But in general, we’re seeing that by pushing the prices and pushing some tickets to Platinum we can control the inventory better. In non-Ticketmaster venues, I’m discovering (through my marketing team) that there are ‘affiliates’ that sell the same tickets live on the ticketing system but they aren’t selling them at face value. It’s very complicated. It looks like primary but it’s not. And it creates a customer service nightmare. Staff at these theaters are on the phone for half the day, dealing with customers who are completely confused.”

 

Harnell sympathized, adding that she desires to see more transparency from ticketing vendors with disclosures stating whether they are a primary or secondary marketplace for a given event. Harnell found a few weeks ago that the web traffic for one of her dates in a non-Ticketmaster building was being directed to Ticketmaster’s resale affiliate channel. “It’s literally representing that it’s the primary site to buy the ticket. When you search for it, it doesn’t redirect you to the venue or to the other ticketing platform. Transparency to the ticket buyer would be the better way to go.” A similar situation was experienced by Alexander this year as she found that her Fair tickets were showing up on the same resale platform. “It’s such an issue – trying to educate the consumer. They’ll see the tickets listed and think ‘why is the Fair selling tickets for $500?’ Well, we’re not.”

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