The Billboard Touring Conference launched its seventh annual event earlier today, November 3, to a strong audience at the Sheraton Hotel in New York, NY. The two-day event draws a cross-section of touring industry professionals, from agents and artists, to venue managers, promoters and ticketing companies.
Early in the day, Billboard presented its recurring panel on live entertainment ticketing — one that has gained a reputation for being a lively “must-see” since its debut at the conference several years ago. But unlike past ticketing panels, which were often marked by heated debates, this year’s “Ticketing: Managing the Keys to the Kingdom” revealed a greater attitude of agreement between its participants — a fact pointed out by returning moderator Carla Varriale of Havkins Rosenfeld Ritzert & Varriale, LLP.
The 2010 ticketing panel consisted of Paciolan president David Butler, ShowClix president Lynsie Camuso, independent consultant David Goldberg, Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard, Front Gate Tickets vice president of marketing Jeff Kreinik, and StubHub president Chris Tsakalakis.
While the panel’s opening discussion centered on social media’s changing role in ticket sales — a topic that has proved pervasive at this year’s Touring Conference — the conversation quickly turned to more weighty matters of pricing structures and fees.
Hubbard pointed to Ticketmaster’s recent initiative to present ticket fees up front. Hubbard described the move in fee disclosure as being “from page four to page one” in terms of its visibility.
“Our belief at Ticketmaster is that the fan experience in how you buy tickets is not what it should be,” Hubbard said, adding that the company hoped its updated fee initiative would improve that experience. “We should stop pretending that we’re asking the fan to pay $25 when we’re [actually] asking the fan to pay $40.”
Hubbard went on to note that conversion rates on Ticketmaster.com either remained flat or increased after the fee initiative was introduced. However, he said that some venues and artists opt out of the front-page fee break-down to preserve the appearance of a low face value.
The only secondary market representative on this year’s panel, Tsakalakis said that StubHub is in a slightly different situation when it comes to offering fee-inclusive prices on its consumer marketplace. “We don’t have relationships directly with the venues,” he pointed out. “As a result, it’s up to us when [in the checkout process] we show the fees.”
Tsakalakis did note that StubHub has also moved up where fees first appear on its Web site. Although the earlier appearance resulted in decreased conversion rates, he said, the company kept the new fee positioning because customer satisfaction had improved as a result.
Goldberg, who joked that his status as an independent consultant allows him to “say anything he wants,” suggested that revealing fees up front or early in the transaction is a positive first step. But, he noted, the next step for transparency in ticket sales may require an even more detailed breakdown and explanation of those fees.
“Ultimately, giving fans more data is better than giving them less,” Goldberg reasoned, noting that customers want to feel respected. “Rather than showing [the buyer] a fee that they don’t understand…explain why there is that fee and what it goes to.”
Paciolan’s Butler agreed: “The more transparent we are with the fan, the better the [ticket buying] experience.”
Tsakalakis took that argument a step further when he noted that ticketing fees are counter-intuitive for most contemporary consumers savvy in the ways of e-commerce.
As the StubHub head pointed out, no other line of e-commerce charges fees on top of the offered product’s price. He explained that most on-line consumers won’t want to read explanations of the fee process during their check-out. Instead, he said, “They just expect it to work like any other e-commerce site.”
The discussion of additional fees in check-out was particularly timely. A September court ruling gave class action status to a Ticketmaster case involving allegedly misleading delivery fees on the site.
But the ticketing company, now under the larger Live Nation Entertainment umbrella, has been working to improve its consumer relations on the fee-front, among others. Over the summer, Ticketmaster launched its Ticketology blog, featuring explanatory updates for consumers as posted by Hubbard.
While the ticketing panelists at the Billboard Touring Conference offered different ideas for resolving disputes over fee and general pricing structures, they all agreed that more consumer-conscious initiatives are needed in the industry.
As Hubbard noted, “It’s not as attractive an option [for fans] to go out of the house to attend a live event as it used to be.” It will ultimately be up to the ticket companies and sellers to build a better buying experience to ensure that ticket transactions continue at a steady clip.
The 2010 Billboard Touring Conference continues tomorrow, November 4, with another full day of panels, including a keynote case study of country stars Sugarland. As always, the event will end with the presentation of this year’s Billboard Touring Awards during a special evening ceremony at the Sheraton.
Read more TicketNews coverage of previous Billboard Touring Conferences: