2 Thoughts On Sports Business, Tickets, and Live Entertainment Right Now

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Like a lot of folks, I’m curious about how long this shutdown in life is going to be and what the implications of this battle with the coronavirus is going to mean for our country going forward.

As a big Peter Drucker fan, I’m also not inclined to sit around and just wait for things to come my way, I’m keen to take action based on where I am today and the “future that has already happened.

So I want to share a two things with you today about what I think the future of the world of tickets and entertainment heads.

What does the new normal look like? 

A lot of the conversations I have had over the last 10-14 days have had a general direction of, “back to normal” or “live events will come roaring back.”

My thinking is: “what if that isn’t true?”

Out of any big change, a new reality is born.

One executive I spoke with highlighted the reality that since the 2008 financial crisis, the market for tickets and live events hasn’t ever recovered. Or, the recovery has been in fits and starts.

And, as we deal with a health crisis and a financial one, we are not doing our jobs if we don’t ask ourselves what the new normal will really look like.

There was a book that I read around 2010, I believe, called This Time Is Different

The book talked about, if I am remembering correctly, the folly of how each financial crisis looks incredibly similar and how prognosticators are always telling you that it is entirely unique.

Which, I guess, is a valid point even if I am missing the key takeaway from the book.

The point being that we are all likely trying to wrap our head around things in a way that is comforting, even if we were unhappy with the way things were going, with getting back to normal.

Why?

Because normal we can deal with, am I right?

The uncertainty is unsettling, absolutely.

But how can we be realistic in looking at this time of crisis and think through what the implications are going to be?

To create a complete thought around this likely requires an entire book, but I think it begins by questioning the assumptions that have held us up for the last decade or so and to question what we are dealing with, how it will change us, and what that means.

For the world of entertainment and tickets, I’ll point to three things I’m thinking about:

How is this virus and the economic impact of it changing us? 

First, it is obviously making us cautious about crowds in a lot of ways.

Second, being physically distant from others is strange.

Third, the financial repercussions are likely to be harmful to a lot of folks and we were already in an environment where people were being priced out of events and entertainment in a lot of ways.

1. Does this crisis change our business models?

One thing I know for sure is that most of the growth in the live entertainment business the last few years has been heavily weighted on the fact that certain events or sections were able to command much larger prices.

Why is that?

Consolidation, secondary market, corporate buyers, and more. But the financial impact of the crisis is likely to change that dynamic…how does that change our business models?

2. What are our non-customers doing? 

Let’s face it, using any metric you’d like, most folks aren’t our customer. In fact, I think it is safe to say that if you look at most events and entertainment options, the market share is incredibly small.

Why?

An incomplete list includes:

  • Value
  • Price
  • Marketing
  • Access

The reality is that before this crisis, 90%+ of folks in America likely weren’t paying attention to Major League Baseball at all. For that matter, the NBA, the NHL, MLS, or, minus the Super Bowl, the NFL.

Why?

This question and answer becomes much more important going forward because no matter what a crisis, economic or health, changes us. It changes how we engage with the world and it changes what we value, at least in the short term.

Does this mean folks will rush back to ballparks, arenas, and stadiums? Or, does rushing back into the community and finding ways to come together and be around people mean that folks are going to rush into parks, community gatherings, or other places?

Community has always counted: 

I’ve been preaching about the need to make our events and our buildings community gatherings for years.

I always felt like this was important because it brought out the best in folks and it elevated our shows, theatre, and sports to a point where they were visceral and positive expressions of the human condition.

Over the years, for a lot of reasons, this sense of community has been eroding.

It still exists in certain places like a Pearl Jam concert, a baseball stadium when your team is on a playoff run, or, even in the way that folks will stand online in Central Park to get tickets to see the annual summer Shakespeare in the Park shows.

When the entertainment world comes back, and it will, I think we have to rethink the value proposition of what we are doing and selling.

Last year, several Major League Baseball teams ran promotions for ultra-discount tickets that sold out the stadiums and brought a sense of connection and joy to the in-stadium experience that was needed.

Going forward, as the shadow of this crisis fades, this joyful expression of community is going to be more important than ever before.

So going back to the drawing board of managing by spreadsheet and pricing in a way that is meant to squeeze every nickel out of a customer because you’ve got them trapped might not be a great idea.

In fact, the old story of Billy Graham, the concert producer, when he said something along the lines of “he could charge more for this ticket tonight, but what if the person didn’t have any money to come next Tuesday” is likely something we should all be thinking about more often.

Because our connections and our communities are likely to become a lot more important.

I want to share these two ideas with you now because they have helped me start to open up my thinking around pricing, selling, marketing, and other aspects of the live entertainment experience.

If you are looking for someplace to connect with folks in the industry, I’ve put together a Slack Channel with all kinds of different discussion areas and people you can bounce ideas off of. You can also get my weekly ticket newsletter, ‘Talking Tickets’ where I share 5 top stories and quick analysis and some action items.

 

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