I’m really not surprised.
There’s a lot to unpack in this story and several lessons that we can learn on the upside and downside of trying to control the entire ticket market and squeeze fans at every turn.
The truth here is that this story was bound to make its way into the mainstream press at some point because people were already pissed about the way that the Verified Fan ticketing process seemed to be defeating the “real fans” as much, if not more, than the system that was already in place.
If you don’t believe me, you can just look at the response to the way people talked about trying to buy tickets to U2 or Bruce Springsteen.
Taylor Swift having the highest profile of any musician today was just the accelerant that brought the story into the mainstream.
What all of these instances show and the news about Taylor Swift reinforces is that the way that tickets are sold in the United States is convoluted, confusing, and often, un-friendly to almost everyone involved in the process.
Let’s look at a few big challenges here.
“Slow Ticketing” is BS:
I’ve seen that this is the new term du jour rolled out by people around the industry.
In most cases it is pushed as an answer to “BOTS” or “brokers” or “scalpers.”
This is all mostly PR fluff to distract you from some of the real issues.
First, BOTS. BOTS are often a red herring for a bunch of the larger problems that are happening in the industry.
I know that even if you use BOTS, there are laws that can be enforced. There are technology tools that can be deployed to counteract BOTS, and if the tickets were sold in a more transparent manner, BOTS wouldn’t be useful.
Second, brokers and scalpers. The dirty secret for so many in the industry is that the secondary market is most teams, venues, and acts partner in their events, tours, and concerts.
In many cases, brokers provide risk mitigation for promoters, venues, etc. Much like has been the case on Broadway going back as long as I am aware.
An example that I would point to was “Wicked” and the way that brokers invested a lot of money early and allowed it to find its audience. Because it wasn’t an instant hit and by the time it became a runaway sensation, many shows would have had to close because they couldn’t afford to keep waiting to find an audience.
Same goes for concerts, sports, and other forms of entertainment.
That’s what makes this idea of “Slow Ticketing” so amusing.
The truth is that any new program that is rolled out by Ticketmaster, AXS, or anyone else likely doesn’t have as its first concern being “fan friendly.”
The first thought in almost every instance looks to be how can we maintain more control.
That shouldn’t be a shock, that’s life.
That’s what businesses always do.
I have a market and a customer base.
How can I expand it?
Second, if “Slow Ticketing” is meant as a way to control the secondary market there are a couple of problems with that:
- Brokers are making deals before tickets are even being put on sale.
- Verified Fan is still a boon for brokers because they are still getting codes and they are also buying codes from people that don’t want them.
Pile on top of that, the “boosts” and some of the other shenanigans that were involved in Taylor Swift’s ticketing and you get a whole lot of mess.
Despite protestations that Ticketmaster is happy selling the last ticket right as Taylor goes on sale, that doesn’t fly in the face of reality which is that money in hand is better than possible money in the future. And, that if you could sell all of the tickets through a flexible or variable or dynamic pricing system that allowed you to sell out quickly and maximize revenue…you’d do it in a heartbeat because as a publicly traded company, Ticketmaster isn’t rewarded for next year’s results, they are rewarded for today’s results.
Everyone cares about the fans, until they don’t:
If I had a generic fan doll voodoo doll that I could beat every time I heard someone use some form of the term “fan friendly” or “caring about the fan” to justify their actions, that poor doll would be nothing but string and scattered stuffing…if I wasn’t on my 10th one.
The truth is that every company in American, if not the world, talks about how much they care about customers, but more and more surveys talk about how poor service is.
A colleague of mine, Peter Shankman, wrote a great book on customer service called Nice Companies Finish First, that talked about how bad service is and that just being not totally crap can win you customers.
I’ve probably spent the last year ranting and raving that one of the big gaps between perception and reality lies in the way that those of us involved in entertainment perceive the drivers of our customers’ purchases and what we think they are.
This same challenge is at play in the context of the customer experience.
I applaud teams for offering better food and drink options.
I still remember pretty fondly the way that the garlic fries smelled at Safeco Field when I was just getting started in Seattle.
I also love the fact that I have a really great selection of beers available to me at Camden Yards.
The thing about this Taylor Swift ticket fiasco is that in no way shape or form is anything about it “fan friendly” and to try and term it as such is really insulting to her fans.
Though my guess is that no one in her management team really realizes that or maybe even cares.
When you are charging people $40-$50 for a t-shirt or a ridiculous amount for some kind of mass produced knick-knack, you might get away with it once or twice, but when you tie buying that crap into whether or not you are going to be able to buy tickets, you are going to be able to buy good tickets, or anything else.
That’s not fan-friendly, that’s abusive.
And, as we have seen in any number of industries, consumers today know what is going down, they can smell a scam a mile away and they will have no problem telling the world that they feel like they are being mistreated.
In reality, all of these acts that supposedly have dedicated followings could cut out a lot of this crap that goes on under their names if they went the route of bands like the Grateful Dead or Pearl Jam, who have maintained the ability to sell out shows over decades and have better connections to their fans allowing them to offer things that are really meaningful to their customers.
That would take more work and building and keeping a connection with your audience, but if you are serious about it…it can be done.
The next wave in ticketing and entertainment is going to have to be about people:
It was a little less than a year ago that I went to speak to some of the biggest and most influential ticketing people in Europe at the Ticketing Professionals Conference about the need to put humanity back into the business of entertainment.
As an industry, we’ve seen too many people fall in love with technology and distance from the customer.
But keep in mind that the first rule of business is that you need to create and keep customers.
Data may be the term of the day, but data isn’t meaningful without the person that that data is attached to.
We might feel like we can compartmentalize everything into big sectors of information, demographics, or whatever measure you’d like…but it really reaches a point of diminishing returns pretty quickly.
Think about the 2016 presidential election.
Despite any other excuse or issue, the Clinton campaign was run on a basis of data and demographics. These are the big things that we all think are going to save us.
If you talk to people in sports, data is what we need to sell better.
If you are talking with people in concerts, there is talk of markets and demographics.
If you speak with theatre folk, its a lot of demographics shifting.
What is missing in all those conversations is the simplest thing, humanity.
I’m not someone that is a luddite. Not by any stretch.
But I believe that if you are taking the data from the macro and working towards the micro, you are going to pretty quickly hit a point of diminishing returns.
The same way that I feel like if you don’t know your customer, you are going to find it very difficult to not get sailed down a river towards being a commodity item or a nice to do item, as opposed to a must have.
Again, I’ll hold up Pearl Jam as a great example that pretty much everyone has the potential to look to as a model.
Jeff Ament did a podcast the other day that talked about the fan club and how when the band started out, they were DYI and small time.
It gave him a chance to stay connected to the fans.
After awhile, they scaled up. But I’m pretty sure that somewhere deep down, the band still remembers the time when they were starting out and mailing out their own newsletters and going to the post office to get packages out.
This experience is invaluable because it enables you to remember that you are dealing with people.
In this case, from the opposite side of the room, I am reminded of a story that Alan Weiss conveyed in one of his books about an airline executive that was “shopping” his airlines by letting everyone know he was coming and getting special treatment in first class.
That’s not the way to learn anything.
Even if you are operating at a huge scale, you have to be close to your customer.
Even if your business allows you to operate at a distance.
In the future, we are going to have to get back to that mentality or we are going to continue to hear stories like the Taylor Swift ticket travails, see more and more empty seats, and struggle more and more to get people to pay attention to what we offer.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.
BTW, I write a weekly email about value that focuses on impact, marketing, strategy, and opportunity creation. If you’d like it, send me an email at dave @ davewakeman.com