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Far more than just the ticket

Festival Features
17 March 2018
Andrew Parsons
Ticketing for festivals is an ever-shifting landscape which requires increasingly sophisticated systems to satisfy both the needs of event organisers and the expectations of festival-goers. Then add the competition between events and ticketing suppliers, not to mention the arrival of GDPR in May.  Mike Gartside reports 

 

The range of options that festival organisers have to sell tickets has mushroomed over the last 10 years, and with that comes ever more complex decisions for the promoter.

Some businesses now report 100 per cent online sales, leaving traditional methods of selling via phone or box office seeming quaintly antiquated, while others say there’s an enduring affection – and a commercial opportunity – for the printed item.

Whether an exclusive deal with one ticketing company or the use of multiple outlets, other thigs to consider include white label platforms, ambassadorial sale and Facebook reservations.

Challenges facing the sector include the advent this May of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), which requires businesses to ensure customers “opt in” to any data sharing arrangements; the requirement to ensure festivals are fully accessible to people with disabilities from the booking procedure onwards; and the sector-wide fight against industrial-scale touting, which is now attracting the attention of the legislators and the competition watchdog.

The dominant player in the market, Ticketmaster, says it sold 20 tickets per minute in 2017. Owned by Live Nation Entertainment, and a sister subsidiary to Festival Republic, Ticketmaster UK (TM) had its biggest outdoor season ever according to MD Andrew Parsons, who oversaw 142 box offices across the country and more than 3,000,000 tickets scanned.

“August Bank Holiday was the biggest weekend of the year with Big Feastival [20,000], Reading [90,000], Leeds [80,000], Creamfields [30,000] and SW4 [20,000],” he says. “We expect an even bigger summer in 2018.”

Like all agencies, TM uses customer data with ever-growing sophistication to enhance their marketing and improve their service.

“One development, predictive intelligence [PI], is a recommendation engine that delivers relevant one-to-one communications to fans,” says Parsons. “It aims to understand the preferences of every customer – the artistes they like, the genres they prefer, and the venues they’re interested in.

“We then provide fans with a personalised alert with events that they’ll want to purchase tickets to.”

The company now has its own dedicated festival platform, Front Gate Tickets. “Optimised for both desktop and mobile,” he explains, “This white label solution includes essential functions such as quick check-out options, VIP experience upsells, group bookings, payment plans, rich data analytics, access control and cashless payments.”

 

Rob Wilmshurst

Total safety

Festivals are a growing sector for See Tickets, which handles all sales for Glastonbury (140,000) and a raft of niche festivals including Love Saves the Day (20,000), Arcadia (20,000) and Nocturne Live (9,300).

According to See Tickets CEO Rob Wilmshurst, “It’s a very competitive landscape. There are more festivals than ever, but we have the capacity, the systems and, with no debt, the financial strength to give promoters, large or small, total safety.”

See’s new Fan Share service for promoters uses a “rep” or ambassador system to engage the public in marketing the event, in return for incentives including free tickets and VIP upgrades.

“Unlike similar systems in the market, Fan Share is free to promoters and integrates totally with the ticketing platform and its reporting tools, meaning the cost of management is zero,” says Wilmshurst.

“Data has always been important for festivals. The challenge is how you augment it, analyse it, cross-reference it and use it in a timely and measurable manner while respecting the increasing regulations and attitudes of consumers,” he says.

“We’re focusing on this area in our business and we can see it paying off. If it benefits the promoter then it improves our service.”

 

James Lee

Driven by data

Ticketline’s James Lee emphasises, “We focus on the customer journey from purchase to event entry.

“Customers won’t buy if this is not a high standard. We build new features into our ticketing platforms and event entry technology, as requested by promoters.”

Working with Victorious (80,000), Bestival (40,000), Common People (25,000), and Green Man (20,000), Ticketline has launched a new sales channel, The Ticket Network, which allows organisers to recruit loyal fans with “money-can’t-buy” experiences to sell tickets on their behalf.

Beat-Herder (5,000) is the first event to use the system.

Meanwhile, the company’s Ticketlight product, a self-service ticketing system for promoters, allows management and control of events including real time reporting, a three-step event creation tool and real time scanning.

“Festival promoters are becoming more and more reliant on data, particularly with the influx of new events,” says Lee. “Data is essential to determine gaps in the market, and whether their profile is working to fit the demand from customers.”

 

Joel Crouch

Increasing catchment

Eventbrite is among the largest of the purely web-based operations, selling tickets for events such as We Are FSTVL (30,000), Looe Music Festival (12,500), Wickham Festival (7,000) and Wood Festival (2,000).

A new technology, distributed ticket sales, will grow in the next 18 months, says Eventbrite’s UK general manager Joel Crouch. This allows customers to book tickets directly on any widely-used application, instead of just the official website.

“Rather than pulling potential ticket-buyers into an event website, our integration with the likes of Spotify, Facebook or BandsinTown make it possible to bring Eventbrite tickets to consumers on these platforms, making buying on the spot as seamless as possible,” says Crouch.

Additionally, he says, “More festivals are interested in next generation RFID [radio frequency ID] technologies. It offers near instant check-in and shorter queues, plus the virtual elimination of fraud and access control of VIP zones.

“Crucially, it can be extended with a cashless payment option, proven to significantly increase on-site sales of drinks and merchandise. RFID is now cheaper and easier to integrate into the ticketing process.”

The company has also joined anti-industrial-scale ticket touting campaign group FanFair Alliance, initially set up by the managers of acts such as One Direction, Arctic Monkeys and Mumford & Sons.

 

Mark Gasson

On the rise

With a turnover of £21.3 million in 2017 and a 38 per cent increase in ticket sales compared to 2016, Gigantic works with festivals including Download (105,000), Reading and Leeds, All Points East (40,000), and Tramlines (40,000).

The company sells 100 per cent of its tickets online, with 55 per cent of those sales now through mobile devices.

“It is vital for a Festival organiser to partner with an experienced ticketing partner such as Gigantic,” says founder Mark Gasson. “Our input goes beyond just selling the ticket. We offer advice on matters such as logistics, marketing and ticketing incentives.”

He believes recent government initiatives to crack down on secondary ticketing, including a Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation into the sector, will benefit the market, “But there is still lots to be done on consumer education.”

Gigantic has upgraded a dashboard area on its website which, says Gasson, “Offers organisers a responsive login where they can view sales, postcode reports and run sales comparisons on previous years’ events.

“They can also request customised reports tailored to their needs. We offer our onsite scanning which allows the festival organiser to view numbers on site in real time, operating across multiple entrances.”

Although festivals only make up about 10 per cent of Eventim UK’s ticketing operation, with its core business in touring, the company sells allocations for several major festivals including Reading, Leeds and Wireless (45,000), while operating a full ticket management service for Cornbury (15,000), including access control.

“For a couple of years the festival market was too saturated,” says Eventim director of development Dale Ballentine. “But it helps that Glastonbury is taking one of its periodic breaks and other festivals are getting a look in.”

Whether just selling an allocation to an event, or providing the full box office service, Eventim always helps a promoter with marketing, Ballentine explains. “We include our festival clients in our weekly newsletter and always add Google Adword Marketing for any event of a reasonable size.

“For the full box office service, we’ll print all tickets, manage access control, build a partner website with full festival branding, plus sales on the day on behalf of the client.”

“It’s a very competitive landscape. There are more festivals than ever”

 

Rob Wilmshurst

Ben Sebborn

Catch them early

Online portal Skiddle believes it has an “event discovery” purpose rather than simply a ticket-selling function.

Skiddle technical director Ben Sebborn says the company has grown up to 40 per cent annually over the last five years and now employs 37 staff, and works with Reading, Leeds, Creamfields and Belladrum (17,000).

“We focus on getting in with the customer at an early stage,” says Sebborn. “We get huge traffic from people visiting us before they know what they want to buy and we’re in the top 200 UK websites. So, it’s not just up to the promoter to market their event. We can offer that marketing and exposure.”

Festival organisers can list events on Skiddle even if they’re not using it to sell tickets, he explains. Alternatively, they can use it as a “self-service” platform or work with the website in an account-managed way.

“For Belladrum, we networked the whole site making it impossible for someone to come in with a ticket at one entrance and use it again [fraudulently] at another,” he says. “We’ve helped them remove barriers to growth and over the years they’ve added extra days and arenas.”

The Ticket Factory, part of Birmingham’s arena-owning NEC Group, holds a database of 6.8 million “opted in” customers which it can segment according to musical tastes, age groups and location to create marketing campaigns for festivals aimed at fans most likely to respond.

The company has a contract with Barclaycard, sponsor of London’s 65,000-capacity British Summer Time in Hyde Park, providing a pre-booking service which has seen “terrific numbers” according to NEC Group’s director of ticketing Richard Howle.

Reshad Hossenally

The company also holds ticket allocations for events such as Download, Wireless, BST and Kew The Music (9,000), while also hosting the Midlands leg of Slam Dunk (20,000) and, this year, signing a full service ticketing contract with Cropredy Festival (17,000).

“Accessible ticketing is huge issue for festival organisers,” says Howle. “We’re in a good position working with Nimbus Disability, whose Access Card allows people with disabilities to easily book online.”

 

Smart operator

“Once you simply put an event on sale at several ticket prices,” Reshad Hossenally, MD of Event Genius.

“Now, you have to consider venue presales, artiste presales, past bookers’ presales, fan-club presales, credit-card presales, album upsells, merchandise add-ons, hospitality upgrades and VIP packages. It gets more complex each year.”

Event Genius, which boasts £50m sales from 1.5 million customers in the last 12 months, offers ticketing solutions to festivals through the Ticket Arena platform, working with events including Park Life (65,000).

“Data is at the heart of all the new products, and improvements we’re planning to bring to market,” says Hossenally. “Our new cashless payment reporting suite includes over 40 separate measurements, showing organisers great detail about the performance of every customer, product, location, device and more, at their festival.”

Of RFID, he says, “Customers queue less and spend more, so organisers owe it to themselves to see what the technology has to offer. Our festivals solution can handle offline and online transactions including contactless, Apple and Android Pay.”

Accreditation bonus

The TicketSellers works with festivals such as Boomtown Fair (60,000), Shambala (15,000), Port Elliott (7,000) and Nozstock (5,000), providing online tickets and managing artiste and crew accreditation through its Eventree site.

“We’re independent and flexible,” says co-founder Mo Jones. “We pioneered a way of organising the accreditation system at Shambala, which has about 4,000 crew and set up a system for 1,400 volunteers at Boomtown, where they paid for a ticket upfront and were refunded after the festival.”

The company works with a system to use the blockchain, the technology behind crypto-currency Bitcoin, in an effort to fight ticket fraud. Working with blockchain-based business BitTicket, the company offers tickets whose authenticity, it say, is verifiable and bypasses secondary ticketing operations, without customers having to interact directly with the technology.

Wayne Munday

Meanwhile, the core business of ticketing and box office service provider Ticket Zone, based in Barnstaple, is airshows and family entertainment such as Disney on Ice, using phone sales and traditional printed tickets.

Chief operating officer Wayne Munday believes there is still a role for the human touch, especially for when things don’t go smoothly.

“Ticketing should be part of crisis management,” he says. “If you subscribe to a superficial ticketing system, what happens if things go wrong?” he says.

“How do you provide the level of support that families need, including the refund? We still print millions of tickets every year and we have a substantial process which a paperless operation can’t fulfil.”

Providing an all-encompassing package for the festival-goer, Festicket also helps event organisers sell the extra elements such as VIP experiences.

It also arranges coach travel, as well as flights and hotels for overseas visitors.

“The ticket is just one element of the festival experience,” says Festicket’s Yonas Blay. “We help with all parts of the itinerary and curate complete packages.”

Working with Isle of Wight (45,000), TRNSMT (50,000) and Latitude, Festicket’s platform dovetails with an event’s official booking website, often via a link to its travel options.

“Our input goes beyond just selling the ticket. We offer advice on … logistics, marketing and ticketing incentives”

 

Mark Gasson

Mo Jones

“You can browse possibilities without leaving the festival website, which means the customer can trust the service as there’s no linking away from the site,” says Blay.

As technology and data continue to shape the festival ticket sales market, it’s clear the promoter is in more control than ever in the way he or she delivers event tickets to the customer.

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