Wakeman: 3 Ideas About the Future of the Business of Tickets, Sports, and Entertainment Wakeman: 3 Ideas About the Future of the Business of Tickets, Sports, and Entertainment
By: Dave Wakeman Like all of you, I’ve been keeping an eye on the world while I’ve been physically distancing. 3 lessons from being... Wakeman: 3 Ideas About the Future of the Business of Tickets, Sports, and Entertainment

By: Dave Wakeman

Like all of you, I’ve been keeping an eye on the world while I’ve been physically distancing.

3 lessons from being social distanced with my family:

  1. I’m an incredibly below average 4th-grade teacher. Give those folks a raise.
  2. Having grown up in the very rural south, I’ve been practicing for this since I was a kid…so #winning.
  3. If you can do stuff, good for you. But if you are struggling to keep it together, don’t let anyone shame you into needing to “crush it.”

I’ve been lucky to get to talk with folks around the entertainment industry over the last few weeks and I’ve connected with a lot of new folks through a Slack Channel I set up and my ‘Talking Tickets‘ newsletter.

If I could boil down all of our feelings and thinking into 3 big points, here they are:

  1. When will events come back?
  2. What will business look like?
  3. How will things be different?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot and started a few blog posts that I never completed because they didn’t seem exactly right. But I’m going to give it another go this morning and share 3 ideas I’m going through as I wait out the coronavirus.

1. It isn’t just about what will be different at the end of this, but what will remain the same: 

I think this is a lesson or an idea that Jeff Bezos is reported to talk about at Amazon. I don’t know if that is true. Can you really trust the internet? But as a thought exercise, it is pretty valuable to think through this idea.

We know that things are going to be different after events come back and the world comes out of isolation due to the coronavirus. What I’m concerned about is that we will rush to catch up with the new, shiny object at the expense of focusing on the basics and the things that have been and should always been core to many of our businesses.

  1. Value
  2. Customer
  3. Marketing

As I look at the landscape now, I’m thinking about what will be the same and I’ve been a few big ones that are on the top of my mind:

  • Eventually, people are going to want to gather in groups and have shared experiences. To not do this would be to change something that has been true for thousands of years.
  • Arts, sports, and entertainment will be a way for us to collectively gather and share stories. I gave a talk in 2017 in England that was built around the idea of community as the biggest factor needed to ensure the long-term success of organizations that sell tickets. This is still true…and we will have to work hard to tell the stories that bring us together.
  • Some of the challenges that we will face coming out of the pandemic crisis will be trends and things that were already evident if you were looking at the right things. I think some of the challenges we are going to see were trends that we were likely ignoring along the way, but the shutdown due to the coronavirus is likely to make these trends prominent in a way they wouldn’t be before like poor attendance, pricing, demand creation, and more.

All of this means, what does this mean for all of us?

It means that as much as we are in a rush to find out where the “new normal” is, we need to think through our core processes, our core value, and what things are likely to be the same or to have been things that have often been the core value drivers of our business like:

  • Community
  • Connection with others
  • Experiences

What do you think?

2. I do think the canceling/postponing/rescheduling mess with companies like StubHub is going to leave a mark:

One of the big challenges with the “open up the economy right now” crowd is a misunderstanding of psychology and consumer psychology. How do I mean? Well, in theory, we are all going to say we are ready to open up the economy and get back to things ASAP.

At the same time, we are all likely to underestimate how cautious many of us will be and how scared we will collectively be if a second wave of the virus comes through right after we open business back up again.

In Martin Lindstrom’s book, Buy-OlogyMartin talks about people saying and thinking one thing and subconsciously acting differently. This applies to StubHub, Ticketmaster, and all of the organizations that sell tickets. Of course, customers are pissed at StubHub and making complaints right now. And, they may not even realize it now, but in all likelihood, the blowback from StubHub is going to touch all of us. Why?In a lot of ways, a company like StubHub bringing ticketing to the masses so successfully in the early stages of “Web 2.0” gave consumers confidence that buying things online was the way to go and safe.

Now, in a crisis, StubHub breaking their promises to their customers could have the same dampening effect on buying tickets, spending money on experiences, or just buying things that aren’t the essentials that you hold in your hand.

Someone sent me a note about a trend that was definitely going to emerge going forward is the “move to all-digital” and what if the opposite happens with tickets…folks get burned by ticketing companies in the face of the pandemic not being able to get refunds and they decide that digital tickets are scary because if you don’t have a hard stock ticket, what do you have?

This matters because just like the economy at large, everything is built on trust. And, when you break the trust…how do you recover it? Far too often, you can’t.

3. There will be a reset with customers. 

For a lot of folks, inside and outside of entertainment, I think that it was surprising how close to the edge so many businesses are. People were shocked to find out that Live Nation is carrying over $3B in debt. Eventbrite laying off a lot of staff seemed to come as a shock to folks.

In the UK, Premier League and football clubs have to open their books to the public. And, even when a lot of money was being made, teams and organizations were cash poor. These examples and others being laid bare was likely eye-opening to a lot of folks that don’t regularly pleasure read Live Nation’s public disclosures and read the notes of football team’s trustee meetings.

What all of this tells me is that as an industry, we’ve kind of messed up our business models…a lot. I had a conversation with a friend at a major team, global brand, and he said, “If we are being honest, our attendance never came back after the financial crisis.” It is true. Despite the numbers that teams in the States show, real attendance has fallen at an ugly and rapid clip. Why is that the case?

From my conversations with fans, let’s go with their top 3:

  • Pricing
  • Competition
  • Discoverability

Pricing should be obvious. There are many fan indexes and stories that point out that the price to attend a game is outpacing inflation and reaching the point of just being a luxury. I’ve written and spoken a lot over the years that if everything is premium, nothing is premium.

The premium we are putting on the live event experience runs right into the idea of competition. There are more things for folks to spend their money on than ever before. So the value that we offer has got to meet what our customers feel is reasonable for the money we are charging.

Again, I’ve complained about the $17 Bud Lights at Nats Park a lot over the years and I will continue to do this because, honestly, it is offensive to most reasonable folks. But when you compare that $17 Bud Light with average tickets around $30+ in a stadium that can get quite hot and has long lines, no crowds, and $50 parking…

Pretty soon that adds up to maybe meeting friends at Bluejacket down the street if I want to atmosphere or just staying home, going to a sports bar, or doing something else entirely.

The final point here is one that I got in close touch with while working on a start-up a few years back, folks just can’t even keep up with all the things that are going on in their towns. This hit home when Tom Petty played the 9:30 Club and I had no idea until the day after the show. You’d think I’d know, but you’d be wrong. This happens over and over again.

We had research that showed how often folks missed events that they would love to attend and didn’t know they were coming until the day of or after the show had happened. This may be anecdotal but when I had my friend, Stephen Glicken, on my podcast…he talked about the number of unsold tickets around the world being something like $56B. Maureen Andersen has talked about the need for marketing and ticket sales to have a stronger working relationship on many occasions. And, I’m a walking, talking billboard to the need to do a better job marketing. All of this means that we need to recreate our contract with our fans.

In Australia in November, I did a workshop where I focused on working with some folks from the AFL, the Melbourne Racing Club, the Victoria Racing Club, Activity Stream, and a few other organizations to think through the process of putting their fans first.

I called the outcome “The Fans Bill of Rights” and a few of the idea at the core of the workshop were:

  • We need to let our fans know we care about them.
  • We want fans to feel like a part of our journey, win or lose.
  • We must reward fans for their attention and caring about our teams, games, events, bands, or performances.

Going forward we need to rethink our relationship with our fans and customers. How will we do that? We need to put the customer first by having the customer/fan be at the center of all the decisions we make. Think through the value we offer from their point of view. Give them a value that is commiserate with what we are charging them to attend.

I know this is going to be tough. But looking at how much revenue is coming in and how close to the edge businesses are running, just trying to get more money out of the folks that still come to live events isn’t likely to be a winning strategy…especially since we have no idea what the economic challenges from the pandemic induced financial crisis is likely to look like.

In general, this is where my head is.

What are you thinking through right now?

Let me know. You can connect with me in all the social media areas or send me an email [email protected]

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This post originated on DavidWakeman.com. It has been republished here with permission.

Dave Wakeman is a branding and strategy expert who often opines about the ticketing world on his website and twitter. If you like this stuff and the stuff he usually posts, he does a Sunday email that talks all about value, connection, and humans. You can get that for free by sending him an email at [email protected]