Leadership / 08.03.21
Secondary Ticketing Strives to Be Among the First Out of the Gate Post-Pandemic
To thrive in a post-pandemic market, one must first survive the pandemic market. And some of the top players in the secondary ticketing market have done just that. Leadership was tested. New strategies were implemented. And some tough decisions had to be made along the way. But survive they did.
For some, it meant wheeling and dealing. DTI Management’s Jared Cutler says, “The key steps DTI took during the pandemic was merging with Ticket Evolution, acquiring Ticket Vision and partnering with Legends. The combination of all of our businesses now provide the most user-friendly and highly customizable solution for sellers of any shape and size.”
For others, it meant forging even stronger ties with their clientele. “We couldn’t have made it through the pandemic without communicating and continuously staying in touch with our clients, team members and vendors,” says Las Vegas Tickets President Ken Solky. “First and foremost, we assisted our clients with their postponed and canceled event tickets. In addition, we made certain that our team members and vendors were consistently aware of where we were as an organization. This open line of communication enabled us to make important key changes along the way so that we could make it through this difficult time.”
Still others relied on their industry experience. Such was the case with TicketCity. Chief Purchasing Officer Caroline Gibbs says, “Having been in business over 30 years, we were able to withstand a crisis. While no one was prepared fully for a pandemic, we did what was best for the business and prioritized taking care of people and our clients. We gave refunds for canceled events instead of store credit. Even though it was a bigger financial impact, it was important for us to maintain the trust of our clients. When events started happening again, we were very selective in how we invested our resources — not only financially, but the time it takes to manage events.”
Of course, for many, surviving the pandemic meant making hard choices and paring down operations. “When things shut down, we were quick to reevaluate everything we were doing and cut away at any expenses we deemed nonessential,” Don Vaccaro, CEO of TicketNetwork. The most difficult part of this process was having to resort to layoffs, including of some key employees. I also had to personally invest some additional money into the business. But making these hard decisions allowed us to keep open the option for full refunds to customers that needed them, which was big for customer loyalty. And we have thankfully been able to eventually recall a lot of the folks who had been laid off.”
While the delta variant continues to cast some doubts on live events in the coming weeks and possibly months, those who have been vaccinated are eagerly returning as spectators of concerts, sporting events and other in-person performances. And many are opening the wallet to get some of the best seats in the house.
Ticketing firms have been re-gearing as a result. Las Vegas Tickets has made event knowledge and information a top priority. “As events began their return,” Solky says, “we made every effort to keep our clients abreast of new rules and guidelines put in place for everyone’s safety. This included mask wearing requirements, social distancing, purchasing in quantity pods, proper ticket transfers, even vaccination and COVID testing necessities.”
Dave Wakeman of Wakeman Consulting Group says, “As more events begin to take place, the focus with our partners is on three things. One, make sure we give folks the best experience coming back to an event possible. Don’t take for granted that just coming back is the end. Make sure that people are wowed by the experience. Two, helping folks understand that reopening isn’t recovery, and that reopening is a great opportunity to build a better, stronger relationship with your customers — and that those relationships will help you thrive going forward.”
He continues, “Three, put strategy before tactics so you can build a better business than before. My big hope is that people can put in place all these new events, experiences and ideas so that their businesses and organizations can thrive. To do that, I like to remind folks that you have to know where you are going and be willing to tell people why they should be hanging out with you.”
DTI’s Cutler says he and his staff have been focused on “tech integrations” that help deliver better customer service all around. He states, “These integrations have allowed us to scale in-line with supply and demand, making the ticket life cycle — from listing a ticket to the customer receiving it — a seamless experience,” he says.
All who were interviewed for this article agreed that the COVID-19 era has been the biggest test of their leadership to date. Many challenges remain. For Vegas Tickets owner Roger Jones, one of the biggest is managing cash flow. He calls it the “toughest thing I’ve ever had to do in my nearly 25 years in ticketing. In actuality, though, it’s been trying to stay positive. We’ve had plenty of reason to give up, give in and get the hell out. Staying positive for my team, staying in touch with them and reminding them that we could get through this has been extremely hard.”
Larry Martin, Executive Vice President of Business Development for Gametime United Inc., says, “The biggest challenge was around driving continued high performance with decreased resources, while managing the uncertainty with little to no answers surrounding the future … all while being fully remote.”
Cutler lists “keeping staff morale high” as his biggest leadership challenge, while Gibbs says “shifting to work from home and being in constant communication with the team via phone, Slack and email” was hers. Solky echoed her sentiments. But he also acknowledges that shifting to a remote workplace “enabled us to keep our team working safely at home while looking out for the health, safety and welfare of their families.”
Vaccaro called on his experience surviving other major down times. He remembers being in business through both the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the 2008 global financial crisis. “The biggest challenge was convincing folks who hadn’t been through a crisis like this that we would come out of it on the other side,” he says. “I may have been wrong in my initial thoughts about how quickly this would be overcome, but I was always confident that the industry would pick back up as soon as restrictions were relaxed.”
And business is indeed picking back up. Optimism among the interviewees is high, as well. “There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic for the end of 2021 and beyond,” Wakeman says. “First, we’ve seen lots of events take place with big crowds. I was at two sold-out events in the last month that raised my spirits. I went to Game 7 of the 76ers and Hawks series. The experience of stepping into a sold-out arena took my breath away. Then, I went to see a sold-out Yankees/Red Sox game at Fenway. When the Sox had a home run to put the Yankees away, it was electrifying.”
Some have been surprised at the speed and intensity of the rebound. “The demand for events is much greater than I would have ever expected,” Gibbs says. “I think so many people are choosing to go to events because they missed out or had an event canceled, and they are craving those experiences and not taking them for granted. Instead of putting it off another year, they are planning to check things off their bucket list. When talking to clients, they are so excited to go to games, concerts, etc. It makes me feel very confident for a successful second half of the year.”
Cutler concurs, adding, “The single best reason for positivity in the second half of 2021 and beyond is the data. The record sales numbers recorded since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted are encouraging for the remainder of the year, as long as we keep the pandemic under control. Bad Bunny, Lollapalooza, the NBA Finals and NHL Stanley Cup ticket sales are some examples of reasons to be optimistic for both concerts and sports.”
For his part, Vaccaro was practical in his assessment. “Frankly,” he says, “I’m optimistic because I think the folks in charge realize that the country can’t afford to shut down again the way it did last year. Government officials are increasingly concluding that if certain people don’t get the vaccine, they have to be responsible for that personal choice.”
But, of course, the world can’t go through a crisis like the coronavirus and not be permanently changed in some ways. As it pertains to ticket sales and live events, that’s not necessarily a negative.
Jones of Vegas Tickets says, “The expansion of ‘touchless’ everything will be accelerated. The ecosystem had seen some movement on cashless payments for food and beverage and merchandise, and it was gaining traction. Now, I think cash will be a thing of the past. You may even see venues remove ATMs as part of the movement. You will see further implementation of ‘tap and go,’ as well as continued rollout of cash-to-card kiosks.”
“The biggest permanent change is mobile ticketing,” Gibbs says. “One of our main focuses is helping to educate clients on how to use mobile tickets. We have also taken steps internally to help automate the delivery of mobile tickets as much as possible.”
Martin says it’s possible the industry will continue to see more mobile, last-minute ticket purchasing. “Fans have everything at their fingertips,” he says, “[and many] might have felt some rub from the way postponed or canceled shows were handled by the primary and/or secondary [markets]. So, they are now electing to wait to buy closer to the event.”
Wakeman was perhaps the most philosophical on the path forward. He concludes, “I hope that people appreciate the beauty of live events more. I know that modern technology distracts us, and I think we burnt out on it a bit. So, I am hopeful we will see people just be in the moment a lot more when they are at games, concerts, plays and musicals. By the same token, live events have the power to change us for the better by bringing us together, allowing us to share an experience that will never happen again, and put us in a position to see what is good about life and people.”
You May Also Like
Want news like this delivered to your inbox weekly? Subscribe to the Access Weekly newsletter, your ticket to industry excellence.
Tags: Secondary Ticketing , Leadership , COVID-19 , Coronavirus