Arguably the most dynamic sector in the business of live music, the UK’s crowded concert ticketing market is dominated by several major players. But innovative smaller operations are holding their own, thanks to emerging technology, and ambitious newcomers are always on the horizon. Christopher Barrett reports
Ticketing is a huge and saturated market in the UK with around 50 ticketing services vying for market share.
But there remains an array of other players, driven by new ideas, technology and expertise in their local markets.
Among the leading players are Live Nation Entertainment-owned Ticketmaster, Vivendi-owned See Tickets, Ticketline, AEG’s AXS, The Ticket Factory, Eventim UK, Skiddle and Gigantic.
Many of them belong to the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR) and/or work closely with artiste manager-funded anti-touting campaign group FanFair Alliance, to protect music fans from exploitation by nefarious secondary operators.
For all primary ticketing service providers, the way to win market share is to provide promoters, venue operators and event-goers a great end-to-end experience, from event discovery and ticket purchase though to venue access.
The rise of paperless ticketing and RFID (radio frequency ID) technology has benefited fans by streamlining the distribution of tickets and event entry.
For event organisers, the use of mobile and social media connectivity has enabled them to gather unprecedented levels of knowledge about the ticket buyers. The data enables event owners to make educated decisions and create highly targeted marketing campaigns that minimise wastage and boost ticket sales.
From print-at-home e-tickets to smart cards, wristbands and mobile, concert tickets have never taken more shapes or forms, but paper tickets are still cherished by many fans who want a souvenir.
Ticketmaster (TM) is the global leader in live event ticketing with 86 million customers. It is also the dominant player in the UK.
Among the biggest shows the company has ticketed this year are stadium dates by Jay Z & Beyoncé, Eminem, Ed Sheeran and Little Mix, as well as numerous festivals.
“It’s been a huge year already for us,” says TM UK MD Andrew Parsons. “This summer was one of the busiest we’ve ever had, with Ticketmaster employees manning 176 box offices at Reading & Leeds, Parklife, Download, Lovebox, Wireless, Isle of Wight, SW4, Latitude and Field Day to name just a few.”
Among major TM developments has been the announced closure of its secondary ticketing sites GetMeIn! and Seatwave across Europe, which are to be replaced by a new fan-to-fan ticket exchange.
Last year Ticketmaster introduced anti-ticket harvesting software (bots) programme Verified Fan in the UK, which has been used by acts including Paul McCartney, Tim Minchin, Four Tet, Twenty One Pilots, Elton John, Johnny Marr and Jack White in the UK this year.
The Verified Fan initiative sees buyers pre-register for tickets. Ticketmaster then examines the customer’s social media activity to identify if they are a genuine fan, before they are sent a code allowing them to purchase a ticket.
“Our Verified Fan product continues to gain momentum and is proving one of the best ways for artistes to get their tickets into the hands of genuine fans,” says Parsons.
With a market share of around 25 per cent, See Tickets is the second biggest agency in the UK and last year sold approximately 11 million tickets across Britain.
A recent priority for CEO Rob Wilmshurst has been the launch of its influencer marketing tool, Fan Share. The platform enables event organisers to tap into the promotional power of social influencers. In return for rewards such as merchandise or VIP upgrades the event advocates spread positive word-of-mouth about the concert or festival.
“It’s been well received,” says Wilmshurst. “It’s effective and free to our clients.”
See Tickets is currently beta testing a Facebook messenger tool, which Wilmshurst also expects clients to embrace.
Technological advances are not only helping See Tickets boost the number to tickets sold and create highly targeted marketing campaigns, it is also helping to fend off fraudsters and touts.
“Various expensive hardware, managed service, off-the-shelf and custom software solutions keep it all at bay — it’s a multi-layered and effective approach,” says Wilmshurst.
Established more than 30 years ago and the country’s third largest operator is Ticketline, which sell millions of tickets across a broad spectrum of events, including Bestival (35,000), Kendal Calling (25,000), Green Man (10,000), Bluedot (5,000) and Beat-Herder (5,000).
The company provides a full range of ticketing formats and is still seeing strong demand for physical tickets, says head of marketing James Lee.
Last year Ticketline launched a white label self-service ticketing solution Ticketlight, which enables event owners to gain full direct control of their inventory. It was recently enhanced with a real-time barcode scanning application on iOS devices.
Lee says the white label solution can be seamlessly integrated into a client’s website, with branded e-tickets created. It can also be embedded in an event or venue’s Facebook page to enable the purchase of tickets from the platform.
“You can market your events easily, manage your event data to target your customers and list your event on our Ticketline platform,” he says.
This year has seen Tickeline launch its own motivated fan sales service, The Ticket Network.
“It is a sales reward system built for our clients to enable engaged customers, known as reps, to sell tickets to festivals, concerts and venues in exchange for rewards,” says Lee.
Launched in 2001, Skiddle is a combined what’s on guide and primary ticket agency, enabling consumers to peruse shows and purchase tickets on a single site.
Last year it sold three million tickets for 38,000 events, among them Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival (cap. 16,500) and the Chase & Status tour.
“We have built this business up from a side project in a student bedroom, and nearly two decades later we’re constantly looking to make a positive difference to the industry we love,” says Skiddle co-founder and director Ben Sebborn.
Recent developments include the launch of an initiative that sees fans rewarded for helping to generate ticket sales, and a new app enabling mobile ticketing that was designed to act as a one-stop shop for people wanting to discover new gigs, club nights and festivals, as well as book tickets.
“The app experience is entirely personalised to each person’s musical preferences,“ says Sebborn. ”We have developed features including bookmarking and saving events, Facebook and Google Map integration, and suggestions for special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries.”
Since its launch in August 2011, AEG-owned AXS has been adopted at AEG owned or operated venues worldwide, including London’s The O2 (cap, 21,000) and The SSE Arena, Wembley (12,500).
“Our growth continues apace,” says AXS director of ticketing Paul Newman.
Among the biggest UK events the company has ticketed this year were the Barclaycard presents British Summer Time (65,000) series of concerts in London’s Hyde Park and All Point East (40,000) in the city’s Victoria Park.
AXS provides a wide range of ticket formats, including paper, but Newman says a major focus next year will be the launch of Flash mobile ticket delivery, which enables concert-goers to gain entry by showing tickets on their phone using the AXS app.
The European debut of AXS Marketplace at The O2 and The SSE Arena, Wembley, will also be a major landmark for the company.
Face-value ticket re-sale platform AXS Marketplace enables tickets to be sold for no more than 10 per cent above the price originally paid, while built-in controls allow artistes and promoters to manage restrictions on the resale of tickets.
As well as suppling tickets, AXS is focused on building its relationships with customers via the delivery of content about the acts they are interested in.
“From exclusive live footage from the AXS Patio Sessions to interviews, we understand that fans want more than just the hard sell,” says Newman.
Eventim UK, the British arm of pan-Europe ticketing giant CTS Eventim, is overseen by chairman Nick Blackburn and chief operating officer Dale Ballentine.
The company sells around two million tickets a year, with recent major on-sales including Take That’s arena and stadium tour next year, which includes eight nights at London’s The O2 (21,000) and seven at Arena Birmingham (15,892).
“We have invested heavily on our website to make it more responsive and the the ticket-buying process is now significantly quicker,” says Ballentine. “For Take That, the average time from ticket selection to purchase is just over two minutes, which is incredibly fast, and was hugely beneficial to us as there was very high demand.”
While new technology is a key focus for Eventim, he says the company has been careful not to let go of more traditional aspects of the business.
Eventim’s FanTicket, bespoke paper tickets adorned with artiste and event imagery, remain in high demand.
“We generally have an older audience, our demographic has fallen that way, and anyone over 30 still wants a paper ticket as a souvenir,” says Ballentine. “Print-at-home is a big thing but we still see high demand for physical tickets, especially FanTicket.”
Taking the challenge
The Ticket Factory (TFF) was set up in 2007 to service the box office needs of its owner NEC Group, which runs the Arena Birmingham (15,892) and Genting Arena (15,685).
Since then the operation has grown substantially and last year it sold 2.3 million tickets across more than 1,500 events, among them were concerts by Justin Timberlake, Arctic Monkeys and Paul Simon.
Richard Howle was appointed director of ticketing last December and describes the company as a challenger brand that likes to do things differently from its competitors.
“Our ExpoWare product, designed in 2017, is a result of that,” he says. “Prior to it, The Ticket Factory had the expertise, database, in-house data and insight team, and post-event and on-site reporting capabilities, but not the technology.
“We can now provide the best experience possible for both clients and customers.”
TFF is also busy battling industrial-scale ticket touting and attempts to use bots to harvest tickets for resale accounts for a considerable percentage of traffic to its website, but 90 per cent of them are blocked, he says.
“We’re fighting a war with ticket touts on a daily basis and have invested significant resource into educating our customers about the importance of buying from STAR-approved sellers,” Howle explains. “We were the first ticket agent to partner with face-value or less, resale platform Twickets.”
Established in 2007, Nottingham-based Gigantic is among the country’s biggest agencies by inventory. Last year it worked with 20,000 events and sold around 1.5 million tickets, 50,000 more than the previous year.
Among tours it has worked on this year are Ed Sheeran and Little Mix, along with festivals such as Tramlines (30,000).
The company works with all ticketing formats but has found e-tickets to be an increasingly popular option as it saves promoters money.
“To support this we recently launched GigScan, an iOS app that allows venues and promoters to scan customers into their event and keep events on sale online after doors have opened, using the phone to scan tickets,” says Gigantic MD Mark Gasson.
The app gives promoters the option to ticket their events with mobile and/or print at home tickets. It automatically checks the ticket against a live database of orders to validate entry.
The paperless option effectively means the card used to make the purchase becomes the ticket for the event, which prevents resale on secondary platforms.
In a further move to discourage secondary profiteering, Gigantic is poised to launch a “fair fan” face-value ticket resale platform.
Working primarily with grassroots and small-to-medium sized promoters and venues, Oxford-based WeGotTickets says it worked with approximately 50,000 events last year with around one million tickets sold.
It is the main ticketing outlet for venues including London’s 100 Club (350) and Green Note (65).
“We also worked with Willy Mason on a tour of intimate venues and have ticketed rare UK tours by some of Asia’s best bands, such as Shonen Knife, Otoboke Beaver, and Say Sue Me, when they came over this year,” says chief operating ofice Laura Kramer.
“It’s those kinds of things that get us most excited.”
The company was a pioneer of paperless when it launched in 2000 and has not sold a physical ticket since.
“We provide a great end-to-end purchase experience and intuitive, self-service, after purchase facilities,” says Kramer. “They include our ticket resend and ticket reallocation functions.
“For more than a decade WeGotTickets customers have been able to reallocate e-tickets quickly and easily to friends and family members, a function one of the world’s biggest ticket agents is only now planning to launch.”
One of the more innovative companies giving touts headaches and making event owners and attendees’s lives simpler is Dice.
Set up by artiste managers in 2014, the mobile ticketing app ties tickets to the mobile device that was used to make the purchase. The animated tickets move on screen, preventing anyone from screen grabbing the ticket and making unauthorised resale impossible.
“Our tickets are mobile-only and locked into the app,” says Dice MD Russ Tannen. “The ticket activates an hour before doors open and we have a secure, dynamic, animated QR Code.”
The array of events Dice has been used for range from Kanye West’s Ye album release parties in North America to The Charlatans’ residency in Northwich, which was sold exclusively via Dice. The company has also forged partnerships with venues including London’s Troxy (3,100) and Scala (1,145).
Tannen says the iOS and Android compatible app can act as a substitute to social media promotional activity.
“Dice is an extremely powerful platform that dynamically targets and re-targets fans, on behalf of the promoters and venues, to help them sell tickets without pouring money into social media ad campaigns,” he says.
Leeds-based Ticket Arena is consumer-facing while its sister brand, Event Genius, offers white label online ticketing technologies to event organisers and provides them with data analysis.
The company worked on around 5,500 events last year, including 35 festivals such as Lost & Found (6,000) in Malta and Hide Out Festival (10,000) in Croatia.
Ticket Arena MD Reshad Hossenally says the company is moving away from physical tickets in favour of mobile and RFID wristbands.
“We offer an end-to-end service covering ticketing, access control and payments,” he says. “By moving everything to mobile and RFID we are able cut down on resale activity.”
The recent launch of its Event Genius Pay cashless technology saw the company collect the Product Innovation Award at the Ticketing Business Awards.
“We are now the UK’s leading provider of cashless payments at festivals and we have seen a huge uplift in spend of between 20 – 40 per cent at events when it is used. It also reduces operational overheads around cash handling and security,” he says.
Hitting the zone
Working behind the scenes with event organisers, promoters and venues on hundreds of events per year, Devon-based Ticket Zone is a specialist box office and ticketing service provider with more than 35 years experience.
Among Ticket Zone’s clients are Disney on Ice producer Feld Entertainment and Strictly Come Dancing Live. It supplies all formats including souvenir tickets, soft tickets, print-at-home e-tickets, smart cards and wristbands.
Ticket Zone’s range of box office services includes a PCI compliant call centre, and a web sales service that can be white labelled to suit client requirements.
“Nearly one million physical tickets were sent out last year across our client base, and it’s growing,” says MD Domingo Tjornelund.