Justin Atkins, Ticketmaster
Jason Comfort, Red Light Management
Charlie Goldstone, Frank Productions
Fielding Logan, Q Prime South
Moderated by Pam Matthews, IEBA
Market pricing, loyalty programs and fan engagement, the artist’s POV, a gigantic distributive marketplace, and facing the fact that there’s no such thing as a sold-out show anymore – Matthews’s panel of experts discussed these topics and more in this hour-long session.
Matthews began by reading the copy on the disclaimer on an actual ticket, “’A ticket is a revocable license. This ticket is not transferrable. Unauthorized and unlawful resale or attempted resale is grounds for seizure and cancellation without compensation.’ Tell me what that means in the real world. We can enforce some of this with federal laws?”
Logan replied, “In the real world, I think most people ignore all of that stuff. We can go paperless to try to enforce some of these tenets. But I think if we work on getting our ticket prices right, instead of always having them grossly underpriced, then we won’t really care about arcane laws and we won’t really care if someone wants to buy a ticket for market value and resell it. We may lose track of who that person is, but we won’t have to marshal time and resources trying to convince the Virginia State Legislature that paperless should be allowed. It should become a non-issue with market pricing.”
The Problems with Pricing
Logan: “I heard [Michael] Rapino say on a podcast ‘after a show is sold out, we basically close our doors. For six months, other people control the market. That’s insane.’ Why would he, as the ticketing company, shut down his business after the tickets are sold once?
Our campaigns are so long, especially for superstars who are 8 or 10 months out with on-sales. [A fan] can get lucky and buy this underpriced ticket. Maybe [they] can use it when the time comes. But we have a liquid marketplace where it was easy to give away or transfer or resell a ticket. If you paid $199 for an Eric Church ticket, you should be able to do with it what you want. If you paid $59 for that ticket, it should have strings attached. Many of us are more interested in getting to the point where we get $199 instead of $59.”
Logan referenced Kid Rock’s $20 Best Night Ever tour: “$20 tickets and every other row into platinum. Personally, I think if you’re going to sell something that’s worth $100 for $20, you should have strings attached – meaning non-transferrable. I also think that Eric Church is somebody who doesn’t just want to have rich people around the stage and in the pit. I think there has to be some sort of hybrid.”
Comfort concurred, “Absolutely, artists are sensitive. I think having a discussion like this is helpful. Ticketing has become a very popular part of the overall live music conversation. It’s the first interaction a fan has when they want to go to a show. People are very keyed into that. As fans’ attitudes on this change, I think artists need to understand that they can participate in some of this revenue by pricing more correctly. Then less money will go out to people who don’t have any skin in the game.”
Logan: “It’s kind of counter-intuitive that we keep prices lower than they should be. You think about sitting courtside at the Golden State Warriors to see superstars play. You’ll pay any amount of money. Fans pay whatever they pay on whatever secondary market option. Why are we embarrassed?”
Addressing Goldstone, Matthews asked: “Many buyers back into ticket prices trying to get to the guarantee. I’ve done it a thousand times. Here’s my guarantee. I’m going to play with ticket prices and tweak expenses ‘til I get ticket prices that get me to the guarantee. That’s probably the wrong way to price a show, huh?”
Goldstone agreed, “It is but it certainly happens all the time. When we deal with national touring clients, that’s not the pricing strategy we use. It’s much easier to sit down with an artist and find a bigger picture goal – where do they want to price and what do they think the market can bear? If the money is then acceptable to everybody, that’s what you do. That’s really the best way to go about it. Use as much data and information as you can to price the ticket. Having relationships with some of these resources and saying ‘Hey, you bought all of these tickets and resold them. What did they actually sell for?’ Sometimes, StubHub or whatever will have all of these tickets on sale and they’ll be only $10 more than what we’re selling them for. If we just raise the tickets $10, it could eliminate a lot of that reselling. Getting information like that is truly valuable. And it’s important to be transparent with the artist and share with them as partners.”
Logan posed a question for his fellow panelists: “Do you have good sources for completed secondary sales on your shows? That’s something we struggle with. We look at what our artist did in the market last time. We look at comparable shows. But historically, we’ve only really looked at the primary prices. There hasn’t been a great way to see that more complete picture of what happened on the secondary market.”
Secondary Market Data
Logan posed a question for his fellow panelists: “Do you have good sources for completed secondary sales on your shows? That’s something we struggle with. We look at what our artist did in the market last time. We look at comparable shows. But historically, we’ve only really looked at the primary prices.”
“Part of that is because we’ve demonized the resellers,” Goldstone answered. “If we treat them as enemies, instead of partners, they’re not going to share information with us. If, at some point, we treat them as partners that information could be available … and it’s valuable.”
Comfort added, “The secondary data is complicated though. Do you get an average ticket price? How many tickets were sold? Maybe we can get that, at best. It’s not a complete picture because they don’t know and they don’t share granular information. I think we’re also overlooking that a lot of people go to the secondary market and only pay a few dollars more than primary and maybe there are still tickets available on primary. A lot of fans don’t bother to look because it’s ingrained in them by marketing and habit to go to a site like StubHub.
“The number of tickets that were grabbed the last time may be just as important as the prices. If you can find that information, it can help gauge interest. There are a lot of factors that are different one year to another, and looking at data like this is not a complete picture either. Knowing your secondary was commanding $200 for your P1s at venue XYZ last year, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get that this year.”
Matthews added that secondary creates a false demand and Logan agreed, “That crushing extra demand from resellers that crowd out actual fans at the time of the on-sale is a real problem. But again, if we price our tickets correctly, it’s much less of a problem. Angela from Ticketmaster is around here somewhere. I love Angela’s idea that we should do away with face value. Let’s dump all of the tickets into some gigantic distributive marketplace – Amazon, Costco, StubHub, Ticketmaster, whatever. Just put them out there – with some dynamic tool that recognizes the value of the second row over the sixteenth row – and the ticket sells for whatever it sells for and it can resell for whatever it resells for.”
Goldstone was quick to respond, “We have to talk about where the artist stands on all of this, which is a huge issue. You can have all the technology in the world but, if the artist doesn’t want to use it, it’s not worth anything.”
Matthews volleyed the question to Comfort, “Artist management, what does your camp say?” Comfort replied, “It depends on the artist. There are artists who do not want whatever-the-market-will bear as part of their image. Some would like to take some of their premium inventory and lawn seats and figure out a way to democratize them and have a less-expensive option so casual fans or mega fans can get into the show. That’s important.”
The Slow Ticketing Movement
Comfort continued, “Something we don’t want to overlook – if we’re pricing really effectively, we slow the pace of sales down tremendously and we start a slow ticketing movement. We’ve heard about the slow food movement and maybe we’re talking about a slow ticketing movement, which is great. I’ve experienced slow ticketing. But that could scare a promoter who’s got skin in the game. Promoters like selling tickets.”
Atkins pointed to the industry’s sellout mentality and asked, “How do you feel when the show sells out right away … and … how do you feel when that last ticket is sold as the artist is walking on stage? It’s two different mentalities. Pricing, in general, is not just a financial or a monetary decision. In a lot of ways, it’s a brand decision.”
Goldstone concurred, “If prices are higher and we’re at market value, in theory we’re going to see a slower on-sale. We’re not going to blow out, and that’s okay. Personally, I don’t care if it takes three months or one week. But, if you have an artist who wants to tell a story and blow out a show, then that’s what we want to do. The artist is #1. Accomplishing their goals and vision is important.”
Logan responded, “To Charlie’s point, we raised ticket prices this time around with Eric. We used a great Ticketmaster dynamic pricing tool and we ended up raising prices throughout the campaign. But we specifically addressed the idea of going clean. Eric is embracing new technology and models, and he was okay not having the sold-out sign in front of the show. For any of you who saw it, you know that it was a 360 show. Once you get back here, sales slow down. By doing that setup, we had very few shows that went totally clean ahead of time. The tour was hugely successful though.”
A Distributive Marketplace
Logan continued, “Adam Voith said something great the other day. We were talking about this very subject. His girlfriend, who is a millennial, said she wanted to go to a certain show. He said ‘We can’t. It’s sold out.’ She said ‘What do you mean it’s sold out? There are tickets right here.’ She wasn’t confused or sucked into a secondary site thinking it was a primary site. That’s just where she goes to buy tickets. The show is not sold out because there are tickets for sale. We really can move away from the idea that shows are sold out.
“There’s other thing I want to say – instead of Ticketmaster giving me the ability turn off TM+, I wish they’d just figure out this distributive marketplace where tickets can be sold anywhere. So when two seats are sold on StubHub or whatever, they come down on every platform. I wish they would just figure that out and say ‘This is how ticketing works now’ and move us all forward. Mandate it.” When Matthews asked who has the scale to create and institute a shared inventory distributive system, Logan was quick with his answer: “The only people on stage right now with the scale are Justin [with Ticketmaster] and Jason [with Coran Capshaw and Red Light Management].”
Atkins offered, “We’ve created an environment where it’s easier to go to StubHub to buy a ticket. Fans don’t even think about it. They just go see what’s on StubHub and see [what they can afford]. That’s a really easy experience for them, and I think that experience is valuable. I think artists should be participating in that revenue, and information on that fan should make its way to the artist and to the promoter. I think we are at a tipping point. The problem is, sometimes fans buy a ticket that’s not legit. And they won’t learn. That’s why it’s up to us to figure out a better way. Part of the solution is realizing the secondary market is not going away. We need a system for verifying all tickets so you can’t sell on spec — perhaps with a token (or whatever technical term we’ll use) that has the information tied to it and that proves you have a right to resell. I don’t know what it looks like but it has to be up to a company like a Ticketmaster to figure that out. The problem is, what happens when we come to a non-TM room?”
Logan responded, “Has anyone noticed that you can go on Ticketmaster.com and buy tickets for the Staples Center in Los Angeles? When they told me that was coming, I could not believe it. Ticketmaster Marketplace has seat maps for every arena in the country, and you can buy tickets there even if Ticketmaster is not the primary ticket outlet. You can read the fine print and see that it says ‘this is resale.’ But – if you’ll follow me here – right now, we could take all of the inventory, hand it to one of our broker partners that’s way more sophisticated than we are, and put it everywhere. I can solve the problem next week in a building that has no ticketing system.”
“Here is a hypothetical,” Logan continued. “I’ve thought about this a lot. Here’s the idea: I have an imaginary band. I take 500 of the best tickets, hand them off to a broker, and put them straight into the secondary. I have imagined I would I do this without my artist knowing, since it’s happening anyway. If it came out, I would just fall on the sword. It’s a real struggle. But, if that was how the ticketing marketplace just worked, no one would have to fall on a sword. It took us 15 years to understand and embrace Spotify. Hopefully, it’s not going to take us 15 years to get to the future ticketing marketplace.”
Atkins agreed with Logan, “For the onsale, you go here. If tickets show up on the secondary platform, you go there. It’s ridiculous. Why can’t we take the entire inventory and share it across all channels – even channels that don’t exist yet like social channels, music streaming, and wherever people go to consume music. Whether it’s resale or primary, all of it is verified. We could eliminate the rampant fraud we see now in secondary. There has to be some sort of technology, maybe it’s block chain or whatever, where everyone is tracked through the transaction and, no matter where you bought the ticket, the promoter and venue know who you are. And fans are able to purchase tickets any place they want, at a price they were willing to pay.”
“… And let the live experience do what it’s supposed to do – bring fans closer to artists,” added Matthews. “We need to facilitate the relationship between fan and artist. That’s our job.”
“Yes, it’s incumbent on us to really cultivate the fan-artist relationship,” responded Atkins. “When you think about going to a show, it’s something that’s incredible – not just for the fans but for the artist as well. We’ve talked a lot about pricing and what that means to the artist. Ticketmaster has really been focused on making sure artists are getting their tickets into the hands of their fans – and at the price they’re willing to sell it at. It’s not just a financial or business decision. In many ways, it’s a creative or brand decision. We developed Verified Fan. It’s a pretty straightforward registration process. Fans create a profile and an account and, essentially, they’re done. It’s been beneficial from a lot of different standpoints. We can take that data, analyze it, and remove the bots and bad actors. Back to the point about on-sales and changing what that looks like, we are making sure we have an invitation-based on-sale to bring fans in. Verified Fan also shows demand, and in a lot of different markets.”
For Goldstone, identity offers venues and promoters the opportunity to better serve loyal patrons. “We need to reward fans for going to shows. We need help from the ticketing companies to make that easier. Ticketmaster has all of this information, and we’re using it to find out who wants to go the show and how to sell to them. But we also need to think bigger than that. I think it’s really important to do a better job of being in the hospitality business – not just for the artists but for the patrons too. We need to use this information to reward the people who are coming to shows, to get them to come back and also to get them to take chances on things that they wouldn’t normally do. Hotels and airlines are doing this. It’s so easy.
“A lot of venues will go to Ticketmaster and ask who are their best customers. When they have a show that’s not selling tickets, they’ll reach out to them and give them tickets. A lot of people probably like that. But if I’m that person and I’ve spent $1,000 on tickets in that arena and you’re offering me tickets to a show I don’t want to go to – well? We need to do better. I want to be able to offer incentives and upgrades. There are so many times when I’m at [a sold-out show] and the tour manager gives me a stack of tickets two hours before doors. And what do we do? We reward procrastinators who walk up or we give tickets to an usher who goes to the upper bowl to upgrade people who may or may not deserve it. We need to figure out how to upgrade people that deserve it. We need to put them in a queue, just like airlines, and make it automatic. If we start doing things that way, and treating our consumers better, we’re all going to be much better off.”
Vision for the Future
When Matthews asked the other panelists about their vision for the future, Goldstone answered, “To what Fielding is saying – we can have all the tech we want but, if we’re selling tickets at a price far below market, the technology will always catch up. There’s so much money behind selling tickets. The conversation needs to shift to fixing the systemic problems.”
Atkins: “Fans are constantly consuming the art they like in many different ways. If we could look at ways of rewarding that, and tie that to the artist-fan relationship and the ticketing environment, there’s a lot of good there. One of the common things you’ve heard is identity: being able to know who that fan is and being able to reach them before, during, and after the show. Ticketing is one of the few businesses where there can be such a large supply-demand imbalance, and a lot of times it can be a place of disappointment for fans. How do we continue to engage with those fans before they buy a ticket, while they buy a ticket, during and after the show?
Comfort: “I would say bringing artists closer to the fans. I think there is real value in identifying and rewarding your fans. I echo the things that Charlie said. It’s a loyalty program. Maybe you look back at people’s history and see that they’ve seen a band in a club, then a theater, and now they’re playing in an arena. We need to give them a deal so that they feel like a part of the ride. All you need is a good customer relationship engine that has all the data, not just the ticketing data. Maybe whatever merch data you have, Spotify streams, whatever it is. If you have a really good understanding of your fans, the power you can harness is quite profound.”