5 Things I Learned At The FTC’s Online Ticket Sales Workshop…

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Last night I jotted down a few ideas that came out of the FTC’s online ticket sales workshop yesterday.

After sleeping on the subject, I’ve come up with a few things that I think are important from what I saw and heard yesterday, but from the ongoing opportunities and challenges in the world of tickets.

Here are 5 things that I definitely learned yesterday:

Nothing is likely to change and that seems like the wrong response:

At the end of the day, I felt like the event was the FTC checking a box…not like there would be any sort of significant action taken after the event.

What I learned was that without some sort of enforcement of existing laws and standards, things aren’t likely to change…or, not for the better, at least.

A few times the idea of needing someone to call “balls and strikes” or be “judge and jury” for the way tickets are sold came up.

At a time when the stomach for antitrust enforcement seems to be creeping up on the big technology companies, the idea that Google is going to decide what is in the best interests of the market seems dangerous.

The idea that without some sort of penalties or enforcement that online platforms might all stop trying to give their companies advantages by discounting ticket prices while increasing fees seems a bit farfetched.

And, to hope that everyone will just play nice…seems like wishful thinking.

I’m not certain what the proper response to something like this is, but I think you start by looking at the laws that are already on the books and enforcing those.

Defining the situations you want to control for or improve and working to either use the rules that are on the books now or work towards other laws that will help eliminate undesired behaviors seems like a second step.

The wrong response seems to be to do nothing and hope things get better…of course, I live in Washington, DC so the idea that anyone will take proactive action is nothing more than a fantasy.

Consumers often felt like marks for many people on stage:

There was one point in the program where the idea of fees and fee calculations came up and the way fees are charged and calculated is important.

What was amazing to me was how it felt like the consumer was positioned as too stupid to understand anything…and it felt like it was coming from both sides.

I’m decidedly pro-consumer because I realize that if you don’t have customers, you don’t have anything.

And, I think one of the reasons that the ticketing marketplace is so broken is due to the fact that too often the customer is viewed as a mass or blob and not as a person.

In general, if you are asking me what you want to see happen for consumers, I’d say a few things…this isn’t complete:

  1. Require that full-price is disclosed up front. I get it that this isn’t always the case when you buy something because you buy a new iPhone and you see the list price, but not the price inclusive of tax. At the same time, the number of fees charged on all sides of the ticket business is crazy and confusing.
  2. Customers have the chance to buy refund protection, exchange tickets, or just get refunds as a course of business: Customers are having to make purchases earlier and earlier. In many cases, people can’t even rightly know what is going to happen so far in the future like a new job, a business trip, an illness and they have no recourse in their ticket purchase. That shouldn’t be the case. There are a number of options and the options should be automatic.
  3. What is for sale should be clear: A WTF?! moment was when transparency in what is for sale was framed as something that data has never proved is beneficial for consumers…seriously, WTF?! Part of the reason customers are so angry is that they have no clue what is for sale and when.

This is only 3 things, but it is a start.

David Marcus is incredibly quotable:

I appreciated the fact that David Marcus was very upfront about a lot of things. Because most of the time people go up on-stage in these things and don’t provide any context or useful insight.

I agreed with him that the term “Slow Ticketing” has been co-opted to mean market pricing.

It also seems like in far too many instances that this market pricing only works in one direction, up. Those are my words, not his.

I was amazed at the 10 billion BOT attacks figure for a couple of reasons:

  1. I was surprised by the size of the number because it is really hard to imagine what that number looks like. I did the math and that is over 27 million BOT attacks a day.
  2. I was also sort of surprised that the number wasn’t higher.
  3. I was also surprised how difficult it is to define a good BOT vs a bad BOT and control for things you hope to have occurred.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that he said he hasn’t seen data that it would be helpful to consumers that they know how many tickets are available in an on-sale.

Why?

Well, I mean that’s his job. That information wouldn’t be beneficial to his business because as Bob Roux mentioned, “most shows don’t sell out.”

This is where I do get the justification for David’s comments if people knew how many tickets were on-sale for shows that aren’t considered “hot” it might drive the demand down even further.

There was also the conversation around behavior and how one of the goals of some of Ticketmaster’s programs is to eliminate the advantage of speed. This was interesting in the context of my conversation with Richard Howle a few months back where we talked about the fact that tickets is the one business that really designs the selling of our products for our benefit and not the benefit of the consumer.

It was nice hear him admit that you’re likely never going to find a way to 100% solve the problem because in many cases the perfect is the enemy of the good, but from my research I’m not necessarily certain that the Verified Fan program is reducing the impact on the secondary market and concerts as much as aggressive pricing is, but that is a different topic.

While we live in America where everything is bigger and better, we need to look to other countries for ideas:

Parul Shah shared how the UK is dealing with the secondary market and I was impressed with the depth of their actions.

I also was embarrassed as an American when I thought about how seriously other countries take consumer protection compared to America.

For any host of issues, I think we have to look beyond our borders for solutions that are taking hold or being used in other large markets.

I mean, the UK shows that you can demand more transparency, more responsibility, and proactive measures to ensure that customers are protected.

Which was amusing in the context of the panels where almost everyone was trying to point the finger at someone else.

The big topic wasn’t on the table yesterday: demand generation:

Someone mentioned that over 30% of sports ticket inventory is available on the secondary market…that number felt low to me from my own research, but I’ll go with it for sake of argument.

When you realize that most of the issues and challenges being raised revolved solely around the hottest tickets, you realize a couple of things pretty quickly:

  1. There aren’t that many hot events in the course of a year.
  2. We have to work to protect consumers when these events are happening because the fraud and deceit that occurs aren’t just ticket seller issues, but are issues that pop up when you have any in-demand product that has a finite supply.
  3. Demand is broken in tickets across the board because right now everyone is waiting on “hot”!

It is interesting for me to sit in something like an FTC workshop on online ticket sales because I’m not a huge technologist.

I know the basics, but I’m a marketer.

I generate demand for products and services.

What I really came away with is that the entirety of the ticket industry is fighting over a small portion of the industry when the real opportunity is in filling some of the billions of dollars in unsold inventory. (I think Stephen Glicken pegged it at $26 Billion, but it could have been way more. I’ll go with the lower number here.)

I know that people are always thinking and working on demand generation, but I think this is one that needs a holistic effort and the reality is that the music industry hasn’t been investing in artist development the way they should for years now.

Without investing heavily in artist development, the engine that drives ticket sales never gets rolling the way it goes.

So you have this boom or bust cycle where if you are Pearl Jam, you can sell out a tour instantly. If you are Garth Brooks, you can sell out city after city, multiple dates. If you are Greta Van Fleek you catch fire and are forced into buildings arenas before you have fully developed a fan base and the chops needed to fill the arena because you are “hot”.

Demand generation wasn’t on the menu at yesterday’s FTC workshop, but it was like the shadow looming over the proceedings.

For me, it was interesting to be there and see what people were up to, talking about, and willing to share.

I learned a lot and this is just a little bit of it.

What did you learn? Or, what did you wish you had learned? Let me know.

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