Empty Seats Aren’t All About Price!

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

I came across an article on CNBC this morning about teams using “dynamic pricing” to help bring fans back into the stadiums.

The idea behind dynamic pricing is awesome.

It is the idea that a ticket isn’t some static thing and that some games or events have more perceived value to their buyers than other.

The thing is that this is true.

But where the article loses me is that it feels like the newest form of conventional wisdom that is going to weigh down sports is that variable pricing is going to solve all of our ills.

Simply put, “People only buy on price.”

Which if you are versed in any bit of marketing, you know that is simply not true.

Price is an easy excuse when you aren’t offering giving your customers enough value.

Jesse Lawrence from TicketIQ mentions that tickets are a “commodity.”

Which is actually true, especially in the way that tickets and events are often sold in today’s market.

When you visit the website of any organization and the emphasis is placed on things like:

  • Free Parking
  • Spacious Seating
  • First-Class Catering

Then, yeah, you have a commodity on your hands.

Compare that to organizations that are selling based upon the value of the experience and the emphasis is on much different things. Instead of features, you’ll get vivid language that focuses on things like:

  • Imagination
  • Creativity
  • Excitement

There’s a whole different world of expression that isn’t being used by the modern sports and entertainment marketer to maximize attendance and revenue and price alone isn’t going to fix it.

Why?

Because price is often a convenient excuse when the buyer doesn’t see the value in what you are offering.

If price isn’t the solution, what is?

First, price alone isn’t the solution. That’s correct. But that doesn’t mean that pricing isn’t a problem.

For the past several years, we’ve seen teams and leagues work to undercut the secondary by trying to price in a manner that captures all of the perceived revenue that the secondary market is making from the inventory that they sell.

It is very short sighted for a number of reasons like:

  • The prices listed on the Internet are almost never the real selling prices and I don’t care what kind of data you think you have, the only people that really know what something sold for are the people doing the buying and selling.
  • From a psychological standpoint it is harmful to the team’s brand. There’s an unfair psychological barrier that exists between the primary and secondary. Which means that a fan is willing to spend a lot more for a ticket to a hot event on the secondary than they are from the primary in a lot of cases. If you charge $500 on the primary side, a lot of consumers are going to think you are gouging them. If you are on the secondary side, the same price and situation makes the buyer feel like a winner! Unfair, but that’s psychology. People are just wired that way and the thing is, they don’t even know it.
  • By cutting out channels that have incentives to maximize pricing and revenue, this often leads to a downward spiral of having to find partners and channels that have an incentive to create the best “bargains” or “deals” for their consumers, causing a cycling downward of ticket pricing and perceived value of the ticket.

In doing research for an upcoming report on challenges and opportunities in the ticket market in 2018, I found that pricing is one of the top concerns of everyone involved in the ticket industry because they feel like even when tickets are selling well that the pricing mechanisms in place aren’t working well for everyone involved in the industry. Specifically because the people I have surveyed recognize that an empty seat has a negative multiplying impact on everything about a fan’s experience which can lead to lower attendance and less revenue going forward.

The solution for pricing isn’t simple, but it is a necessity.

First, we need to stop the fighting between the primary and the secondary market.

Right now, the consumer doesn’t care where the ticket comes from. They just want to know that when they buy a ticket that it is valid.

In many instances, consumers go to sites like StubHub or Vivid Seats from the jump. They may not even know that your team has a website.

And, more than likely, they don’t care.

This means that the back and forth over who is right to sell tickets or who is wrong to sell tickets is inside baseball. No one cares.

While the industry is arguing about something that doesn’t seem meaningful to consumers, consumers are being harmed by less than faithful actors like people that are creating tickets to sell multiple times, scams to sell tickets that don’t exist, etc. Or, even worse, this wasted energy misses an opportunity to drive demand for games, concerts, and other events.

The best way forward is for the primary and secondary to work together to just sell tickets. There are billions of dollars in the live entertainment industry and that’s without people maximizing their marketing and selling efforts.

Trust me there is more money to be made by growing the industry further than trying to hoard all the current pennies for yourself.

A rising tide, or something.

Which is why I have been active in industry efforts to bridge the gap between primary and secondary market to create an opportunity to achieve higher attendance and higher revenues.

Instead of fighting like toddlers, we would be better served to work together on some smarter pricing policies.

Those might require that the primary and secondary share revenues or profits on ticket sales.

It might mean that the way sales teams are structured changes.

It likely means that change is going to have to happen.

Guess what?

Change is already happening anyway.

You can’t stop it, but you can embrace it to make it work for you.

That will mean that you can’t just offer up one-size-fits none pricing and that you likely won’t be able to “set it and forget it.”

You’re going to have to work to constantly update and adjust your pricing to fit your market.

That’s just a fact.

Second, emphasize the customer experience.

You’d think that after a new building boom in the States that the customer experience problem would be solved.

And, if you look at experience as only being driven by rooms, facilities, and offerings…maybe you would have a point.

But the thing is that experience is everything.

In digital marketing, they use the term customer path or customer journey to talk about the steps and moments in a person’s buying experience with your brand.

In sports and entertainment, the path never really ends.

If you are a New York Mets’ fan, you likely are going to be a fan or customer for life. That means that your journey never ends.

With the advent of social media, it should be easier than ever to have an ongoing, long-term conversation with your fans and customers.

That isn’t the case.

In most instances, social media is a hit and run endeavor. Content is created and dropped onto a social media platform like Twitter, Facebook, or whatever.

If you see it, great!

If you don’t, great!

The thing is that just posting stuff on the Internet on social channels isn’t a great tool to ensure that your customer is always connected to your brand.

What happens if Twitter changes something in their timeline?

Or, Facebook changes their algorithm?

Screwed.

While I just talked about the experience of the digital customer experience extremely briefly, the same eye needs to be applied to every aspect of the customer relationship.

How is the ticket buying process?

Is it convoluted?

Is it smooth?

How is the in-game experience?

Are there huge lines at the gates?

Bottlenecks at certain stands?

Are your ushers and customer service reps strong on the service?

In today’s world, where reviews are only a few taps away, the need to generate a better experience and a more compassionate and considerate experience is more important than ever before.

Because we’ve all seen the scenario play out where one bad review or one bad experience sours a relationship for good.

Don’t do that.

Get everyone’s head into the practice of asking:

“How can we add value to…?”

Then have them answer the question and try to come up with actionable items that will enhance the experience of buying a ticket, being a fan, and being a customer.

Finally, after pricing and experience are looked at, spend a little bit of time on visiting what’s next.

In too many ways, the industry of sports and entertainment can often feel stuck because we get complacent and think that things are always going to be the way that they are today.

Even worse, not just thinking that things are going to stay the way that they are today is thinking that things haven’t really changed at all.

You see this in the reluctance of teams changing the way that they sell to the business community.

You see this in examples that I have heard of inside sales managers telling salespeople that using a personally curated email list to sell last minute tickets “isn’t really selling.”

These are just two examples of a larger need for the industry to always ask themselves the famous Peter Drucker question, “What is the future that has already occurred?”

Then answering that question so that they can take advantage of the opportunities that change creates.

This is likely to help you get in front of customers’ changing wants and needs.

If when you ask this question you don’t allow your focus to stay only in sports and entertainment, it also allows you to capitalize on new technologies and new ideas that are already gaining traction in other industries.

The fact is that it is very easy to get stuck in what works today and to end up surprised when the entire theory of your business changes around you. The aim for any business, not just a sports business, should be to disrupt yourself by always asking what is working, what isn’t working, and what is coming or has already arrived that I am not paying attention to.

This introspection will lead to much wiser decision making and likely put you in a better position to not have to fall back on the idea that the only thing that matters is price.

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To apply, answer the questions below and email them to me

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1. What stage are you at with your business or career? Can you tell me a little bit about what is going on with you?

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