Leadership / 03.18.20
16 Ticketing Industry Trends: What to Expect in 2020 as Coronavirus Dominates Headlines
As COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, dominates headlines and impacts live events of all sizes and types around the world, we asked industry and membership thought leaders what they see coming for the ticketing industry. Broadway, major league sports, concert tours, tournaments, attractions and more have been shut down in the near term, yet our experts are still looking beyond today and at trends for the long term.
Here are their predictions for the year’s biggest game changers.
1. The Coronavirus
There likely isn’t a single corner of our industry that hasn’t been affected. News has been coming in so quickly that it’s quite literally impossible to summarize all the announcements without missing something. There is, however, much agreement among our industry leaders when looking at the big picture.
“The COVID-19 virus will affect all of us, as we are all about public gatherings of all sizes. Our roles will change, and we will all be stretched over the next weeks, and perhaps months, as we seek to work between event producers and ticket buyers as events are postponed or canceled and attendees drop out,” says Lynne King Smith, General Manager for Etix and Chair-Elect of INTIX. “This will be a test of our industry, but it’s part of what we do, and by being calm, prepared and armed with solutions, we’ll get through it and come out on the other side all the better for it.”
“If we were discussing what’s coming in ticketing in the next year just a few months back, I would have said machine learning and its impact on event recommendation, new data standards and revolutionizing the transfer of tickets, or whether blockchain will have an impact. Now, we’re all thinking about the coronavirus and how it presents a new set of problems that we have to solve,” says Rob Williams, Chief Product Officer for AudienceView. “Consumers want to understand what is happening to their shows, how to minimize their risk of attending mass events and how they can still see their favorite play, artist or team if they miss them this time. Venues and event organizers are considering how to minimize the impact of any downturn and how to keep attendance high. And the industry as a whole is looking at how we can best weather this type of situation. There are some answers, and the next year may force changes in our behavior to maximize our ability to respond to these challenges.”
“There are legitimate concerns in our industry right now over the coronavirus that can’t be ignored,” says Kim Damron, President and Chief Executive Officer for Paciolan. “It will be interesting to see how things unfold as our industry prepares for the unknown impact on the live events business. To what degree remains to be seen, but it is certainly a force that live entertainment will need to prepare for.”
“We are facing an unprecedented challenge,” says Angela Higgins, Managing Director and Founder of Antix Management. “Our industry revolves around being present to participate in a shared experience. This is at odds with the current advice from health authorities, which aims to minimize potential exposure and contamination during a global pandemic. We have seen cancellation and postponement of major events, and there are, no doubt, more to come. In addition, travel and quarantine restrictions continue to wreak havoc on travel plans for performers and audiences alike. This is a truly unique challenge, which will continue to play out over the coming weeks and months.”
Higgins continues, “I am seeing our industry respond in many ways. This is a chance to review and evolve many aspects of our business, from the way we communicate with our customers, to health and safety standards and audience development. Some of the innovation created out of necessity in this moment will go on to become the benchmark for [ongoing] best practice.”
2. Ticket Refund Protection
In February, CNBC reported that “more people are buying ticket insurance in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and more venues are offering it.”
Today, refund protection providers are being clear in their communications, which is helping to clarify what is and isn’t covered in the wake of postponements and cancellations. Booking Protect, for example, has published coronavirus guidance, and SecureMyBooking clearly states that it will not cover any claims relating to the virus because the World Health Organization has announced that it is a global pandemic.
Ultimately, Anthony Esposito, VP of Ticket Operations for the Atlanta Braves and Chair of INTIX, sees this as an opportunity to improve the customer experience for the future.
“With coronavirus currently dominating the headlines, I think we will see an increased emphasis on venues finding out what ticket insurance is and how it can help them better serve their guests,” he says.
3. Flexibility and Fewer “Final” Sales
One of the first things that most ticketing professionals learned was, “No refunds, no exchanges, all sales are final!” Regardless of local, county and state laws, there are no standard rules for refunds and exchanges, but being flexible is good customer service. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, we were already seeing more flexibility, such as refunds for a fee or exchanges as an entitlement with a subscription. Now, even more flexibility is being introduced.
“I expect to see more organizations offering to convert refunds to donations. Even if only a small percentage of customers agree, it could be very valuable. Similarly, more venues will implement credit balances and offer to convert refunds to a credit that can be spent at another time. Airlines are doing this, and it’s another simple way to keep your revenue. Ensure that your ticketing system has this functionality, and then ask the question when customers reach out about a refund,” Williams says. “The number of exchanges will also increase. Having a robust exchange policy could be the difference between keeping or losing the value of a ticket — and mass exchanges are a lot more budget friendly than mass refunds. Ultimately, offering options is something that your customers will appreciate and remember, which encourages them to keep coming back.”
Jacquelyn Holowaty, Vice President of Client Experience and Ticketing for Spectra, believes we will see more flexibility over the next year.
“This could come in many different ways,” she says. “It could be more flexible payment options versus paying in full at time of purchase, or flexible subscription offerings similar to the model that Netflix has with a monthly fee for access to all their content. Fans will expect the flexibility to do what they want with the ticket after they purchase it, whether that is transfer it to a friend or sell it on the secondary market. Gone are the days of no refunds, no exchanges, no exceptions. With ticket insurance becoming more popular and fans becoming more educated on the ticketing industry, they have expectations that we have to be ready to deliver on.”
“The concept of ‘no exchanges, no refunds, all sales are final’ as a collective mandate on our events and customers is truly dead,” says Maureen Andersen, President and CEO of INTIX. “We have proven in the past few days that it is an outdated mandate, and the genie is out of the bottle. We have the ability and the technology to undo and move events as easily as we sold them in the first place. Customers will not accept this going forward in 2020 and beyond.”
4. Airline-Style Pricing Models
An exciting potential development that excites Matt Zarracina, Co-Founder and CEO of True Tickets, is applying pricing models from other industries, like airlines, to ticketing in unique ways.
“Imagine multiple pricing and licensing options for the same seat to a performance,” he says. “One option is a very low price that prohibits transfer and resell; a second option at a higher price point allows for one transfer but not resale; and a third option at the highest price where there are no transfer or resale restrictions. This future is possible soon in a digital, license-based world with effective management across distribution channels.”
5. Capitalizing on 5G and New Technologies
If you’ve used 5G, you know just how fast this new technology can be. It boasts speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second and is set to usher in new immersive technologies, experiences and revenue opportunities. Think instant replays from multiple angles on your smartphone, tapping your screen to see the view from the stage at a concert, virtual seating, mixed reality live shows where physical and digital objects coexist and interact, and faster self-service concessions kiosks.
“5G speed is literally 100 times faster than 4G, which opens up an exciting new world of customer engagement on mobile devices,” Damron says. “To put this in perspective, on a 3G device, it would take 26 hours to download a two-hour movie. On a 4G device, it takes six minutes to download that same movie; however, on a 5G device, it takes merely 3.6 seconds. The opportunities for the live entertainment industry will be limitless. From real-time interaction, to augmented and virtual reality, to streaming content on the go, this is going to be a game-changer. I believe the venues that can take advantage of these growing technologies and offer enhanced experiences in-venue will prevail and add value to the live entertainment experience.”
“What excites me most about our industry is the technology coming out to create guest experiences on a whole new level,” Holowaty says. “With 5G rolling out, the speed and capability we will have to deliver content is going be like nothing we have ever seen before.”
New technologies will impact the purchase process too, predict both Holowaty and King Smith.
“From AI technology to virtual reality, the ticket-buying experience and the event experience has the potential to deliver endless possibilities,” Holowaty says. “Imagine being able to purchase a ticket and pick your seat as if you are actually in the arena or theatre during a show. Our guests will have the opportunity to use all of their senses in a new and unique way, allowing them a full immersive sensory experience that will be unlike anything they have experienced in live entertainment.”
“Voice-activated AI technology will make buying a ticket as easy as reordering the dog food,” King Smith says. “In the meantime, reserved seating will get easier to select and buy as the consolidation in the market makes technology providers continue to improve our interactive maps and buying process. And it all has to be easy from a 3”x5” screen!”
6. Social Media Steps Up Distribution
Fans are already buying tickets on social media. Facebook has integrations with AXS, Eventbrite, SeatGeek, Showpass and Ticketmaster. Musical artists can sell concert tickets on YouTube in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand via AXS, Eventbrite, Ticketmaster and SeeTickets. “Get Tickets” buttons can be added to Instagram, and even TikTok has expanded into live event ticketing, launching in Thailand.
“I see social media platforms taking a bigger and bigger place in ticketing distribution,” says Frederic Aouad, Head of Sales for Stay22, adding that they could become primary or secondary ticketing providers themselves. “They already collect such large amounts of data on the would-be patrons, their likes and tastes, that they would be best placed to offer the right tickets [to] the right person at the right time. It would also allow strong cross-selling and potentially drive more group sales.”
Social media cryptocurrencies, like Facebook Libra, could also pose a threat to classic distribution, Aouad says.
7. Experiential Ticketing
There are many things competing for consumer attention these days, so it’s getting harder to capture audience interest and the spending that comes along with it. The solution? Go bigger and bolder than ever before and immerse your customers in an experience. Get ready to shake up events so that audiences can join in, make memories and share great photos with their friends along the way.
“I believe that experiential ticketing will really take off in 2020,” Esposito says. “Teams and venues have been offering small-scale experiences for a few years, but I think we will see some unique ideas and once-in-a-lifetime experiences being made available, which will tie to the ticket purchase for the event.”
8. Even More Emphasis on Mobile
Jack Rubin, CEO and Co-Founder of Tessitura Network, believes we are going to see an increased reliance on consumer mobile.
“The first element of this will be an ever-growing percentage of transactions on mobile — not just ticket purchases but packages, donations, memberships and so on,” he says. “In addition, we will see mobile more at the venue, with a growing reliance on mobile tickets and mobile membership cards.”
“It’s hard not to bring blockchain back up, as very few have adopted this technology since you identified it as a trend in 2019 and [because of] the growing need to create a standard protocol in ticketing,” says Jason Asci, Strategic Account Manager of Live Events for Experient. “Our blockchain solution [enables] our clients [to] allow their audiences to enhance their digital experience and provides them with an original secured ticket. The primary and the secondary have become intertwined; however, the motivations of each are certainly different. Leveraging blockchain with mobile and access controls allows organizers [to see] who is in attendance and ensures tickets are resold at a fair price.”
Eric Rozenberg, CEO of SecuTix Americas, believes mobile tickets secured by blockchain are the best way to fight fraud and bots, engage with patrons and secure venues.
“Out of the 28 million fans registered in the lottery for Euro 2020, a top-five sporting event in the world with venues in 12 different countries, one million will be allowed to buy a ticket. Each ticket will be delivered through blockchain and will only be activated as you get close to the stadium. We are excited to be the first in the world to be able to implement this technology on such a large scale,” he says.
Editor’s Note: At the time of writing, Euro 2020 was scheduled to take place from June 12-July 12, 2020, at venues across Europe; however, UEFA has since postponed this flagship national team competition by 12 months.
10. Virtual Performances
With events being canceled around the globe due to the coronavirus, we are seeing livestreaming ramp up and/or offered free of charge. While the Berlin Philharmonic is closed, it is sending “much love and music” via free digital concerts in hopes of providing some respite to music lovers worldwide. Sir Simon Rattle, for example, conducted a planned concert on March 12, 2020, without patrons in attendance. The Seattle Symphony has canceled all performances and is instead offering free shows via YouTube, and Hong Kong Ballet has announced a free online interactive ballet program.
“Virtual performances have been waiting in the wings for years — maybe 2020 will be the year they take to the stage,” Williams says. “Some sports [were] already playing in empty venues because of the coronavirus. A theatre could be empty, too, and organizations could stream the show live for patrons to enjoy at a discounted price. Live events are already competing with ‘entertainment from the couch’ and, in both the short and long term, organizations may even generate more revenue from virtual performances. Taking advantage of this trend may not be about streaming with your own equipment. Instead, it may be about talking to TV stations or networks and selling the rights to broadcast your events. Perhaps in the future tuning in to a live theatre performance will be something we do?”
Williams adds, “Virtual plays and musicals could be incredibly exciting. If a performance has 1,000 physical seats available, it could sell 1,000,000 virtual tickets and be watched worldwide, just like sporting events. However we get there, we’d love to see this grow.”
Aouad feels there is excitement in ticketing and screen entertainment coming together.
“Think major sports truly embracing a ‘pay-per-view’ approach where you could buy tickets to watch a single game [using] streaming, virtual reality or augmented reality,” he says. “[There could be] different price points for different levels of context. [For] example, the ability to replay, different camera angles, etc.”
11. Better Access Control
There’s nothing more frustrating than waiting in a long line, so easy access to venues will remain critical in creating an enjoyable event day experience. In the coming year, King Smith predicts more progress.
“We will continue to get better and more innovative with access. It’s taken too long, I believe, to get to solutions that give our venues and promoters the real attendance data we need, while keeping the focus on what’s easy for our attendees. Think about the paperless solutions we tried with cumbersome affects and difficulties for the fans,” she says. “Mobile was challenging early on, but we’re there in the U.S. Easy transfer of tickets and the high adoption rates make it the method of choice for over 80% of our fans. The NFL has done a great job at teaching large crowds how to get in with the all-digital entry a couple of years ago. Thanks to better technology, we can get a win now for fans and venues on access control that makes sense. That is, after all, what we do at the end of the day: sell entry, track entry and get the fan in the door.”
“The proliferation of NFC (near field communication) coupled with advanced mobile ticketing features provide customers flexibility and easy access to venues,” Damron says. “This technology also helps venues to identify the anonymous patron and better understand who is in attendance, not just who purchased tickets.”
12. Greater Push to Know All Attendees
As in 2019, industry experts believe that being able to identify everyone entering a venue is critical to the future of ticketing — for marketing, security and health. The importance of capturing and understanding more information — and analyzing that data — will only grow, Rubin says.
“Venues will want to capture every attendee, not just the purchaser, in order to be able to understand and build their audiences,” Rubin says. “At the same time, consumers will continue to raise their expectations for privacy and security. In other words, we will see a corresponding demand for more information about our customers along with airtight data security for that information. In order to respond to that, it will become increasingly important for arts and cultural organizations to have a high-performing approach to CRM.”
“The current situation with the coronavirus has highlighted how important it is for venues to better understand who is attending their events and how they gained access,” Zarracina says. “The industry has always recognized the importance of that knowledge for marketing purposes, and more recently for security reasons, but now with health as the force majeure.”
Zarracina continues, “Imagine you went to a show or a live event and it turns out someone at that same event was diagnosed with a contagious illness. Wouldn’t you want to be notified? Wouldn’t you want the venue to be able to notify you? This capability needs to be balanced against personal privacy and data protection concerns, as well. Venues and event organizers will be exploring services and solutions that can answer the question of who actually attended an event without unduly infringing upon personal privacy and data protection rights.”
13. Biometrics for Loyalty Incentives
Scanning fingerprints for entry at major ballparks and sports arenas is not new. In fact, it’s been five years since the San Francisco Giants franchise was first to implement technology from CLEAR, a New York-based biometric identification company, so that fans can get into the ballpark with just the touch of a finger. Yet the promise of biometrics goes beyond security.
“What CLEAR is doing in stadiums and venues is very interesting. Similar to RFID, this protocol is providing fans with a frictionless and improved guest experience, whether that is ingress/egress, cashless opportunities or, even more specific, alcohol kiosks for example,” Asci says. “To take it one step further, we see it as a loyalty program. From a psychology perspective, we see biometrics/CLEAR as a way to establish loyalty because you are essentially creating a new behavior with greater amenities, such as exclusive gate for entry or easier way to order food and beverage or even merch. I know a few stadiums and teams have been early adopters to this technology and I am curious where biometrics establishes its place in 2020.”
14. Industry Regulation and Transparency
In late February, executives from Ticketmaster, AXS, StubHub and more testified before Congress on topics including hidden fees, ticket transfer restrictions, transparency surrounding the availability of tickets and speculative selling. The hearing, called “In the Dark: Lack of Transparency in the Live Event Ticketing Industry,” is a springboard that will influence future recommendations to regulate ticket sales.
“[Going forward], I see a larger investment in the transparency of the ticketing process for consumer protection,” says Anwar Nasir, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the Omaha Symphony. “As sales through online and social media only increase, opportunities for deception are more accessible than ever. Fans want to be able to know that the ticketing practices are fair, consistent and safe.”
Nasir continues, “I believe that future legislation helps keep all of the players honest and moving in the right direction. Also, I think it will improve the fan experience.”
Asci agrees and states, “One topic we are all keeping a close eye on is with Congress putting the ticketing industry and the major players under a microscope; it is clear regulation and/or standardization may be coming soon.”
15. Better Personalized Experiences
“We have greater potential than ever to get the basics right,” Rubin says. “Of course secure, efficient ticketing across platforms will always be important. But what’s more important today is what leads up to the transaction: targeting effectively and personalizing every communication. In order to do that, arts and cultural organizations need to understand exactly who each patron is. This, of course, requires a seamless, cross-company view of every customer, every interaction, every transaction — and the ability to use them. Just having a ticketing system will not be enough. When we have the right tools, we can make customers feel that their entire relationship with your organization is easy, intuitive, inviting and 100% frictionless. You can communicate with them about what events and performances they really might want to know about, and click-through and purchase rates will go up. The days of shotgun marketing are over.”
“I believe we will see more and more organizations embrace data and set it as a cornerstone of their business model,” says Sean Kelly, Founder of Vatic.
“The industry is leaning into data more than ever before to better understand trends and take actionable steps to create value,” Damron says. “This includes creating dynamic, personalized interactions with each patron throughout their buying journey to elevate their experience and sell more tickets. It also means better understanding of customer buying patterns, pricing, yield management and other trends that can help to drive revenue.”
“For years, it seemed developments in technology were taking us further away from the customer, as the migration to online channels meant we were having fewer direct conversations with our audiences. We are now seeing innovative technology, which can help us to better understand and engage with our customers,” Higgins says. “Understanding the values of our customers themselves, rather than just the value of their transactions, helps us to engage in more meaningful dialogue and build lasting, successful relationships. Customers attend events to have a personal experience, and this should start with the sales and communication process. It’s developments in this area that have the most exciting potential for our industry.”
16. A Renaissance
In today’s uncertain era, there is also incredible potential to move our industry forward.
“A unique and amazing opportunity is lurking in this period of isolation and social distancing,” Andersen says. “When have technologists had this kind of extended, quiet, isolated time? Time to code, invent and create. Imagine what will be created, what problems will be solved, what issues will be resolved when we actually have the time to put in the work to do it. In some ways, it will be an entire renaissance of an industry, our technologies and our way of doing business. How exciting is that gift from 2020?”
Regardless of what’s happening now and what’s to come in the weeks and months ahead, there’s no doubt that ticketing professionals will be there — for each other, their organizations and their customers.
“I think we are likely to see some volatility in the industry,” Kelly says. “Hopefully this will just end up being short-term disruption, but the critical task right now is to start building contingency plans so that organizations are ready with a response to whatever comes their way.”
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Tags: Social Media , Theater , Regulations , Venues , COVID-19 , Coronavirus