Talking Tickets 23 October 2020: The AFL Grand Final! Ticket Revenue! Performances! And, More!

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Hey there! 

Did you get a chance to check out the Save Our Stages concert fundraiser last weekend? 

Miley Cirus did a great cover of The Cranberries and the Foo Fighters did an acousticset that was ace. 

If you can, make a donation to support the effort. 

Are you an American? 

Make sure you vote! Take a selfie of yourself and your mail-in ballot or at your local polling place and tweet it to #IVotedConcerts to have a chance to take part in a virtual election night concert with artists from all over the country. 

I’m doing a free panel on sales and marketing on LinkedIn on Wednesday the 28th at 1 PM Eastern. You can sign up here

I’ll have more information next week, but I’m going to be speaking at the National Sports Forum’s Holiday Event in December! I’ve built a new session about the Holy Trinity of marketing: segmentation, targeting, and positioning and how that will apply to your organization on the other side of the pandemic. 

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To the Tickets! 

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1. AFL and NRL are having championships this weekend. And will have some of the biggest crowds since the pandemic started:

This is exciting news! 

I’m bummed to not be in Australia for the AFL’s Grand Final, but it is great that there will be fans there. 

There will also be fans at the NRL’s Grand Final. 

70,000 fans between the two games. 

I want to highlight this because it is exciting to see the way that the AFL and the NRL have fought through the pandemic to host their finals with fans in attendance. 

While the business models of both leagues have come under intense pressure and getting to the finish line is really only the start of a long trip back to normalcy for both leagues…the site of fans in the stands at the signature events should be exciting for everyone. 

What all of us can learn is:

First, with proper precautions and security measures, we can get folks back into venues. 

We are seeing that with the NFL and the World Series as well. 

Limited capacity, sure. But still fans in the stands. 

Second, being creative is essential to our success and survival right now. 

Both leagues have had to adjust staff levels, rework contracts, and renegotiate financial deals. But they are making it through the pandemic. 

For me, it is nice to be able to share a positive story at the top! 

I just wish Melbourne FC was in the Grand Final! 

2. The CMA provisionally blocks the merger of Viagogo and StubHub in the UK:

I can’t say that I am surprised by this. 

I expected this decision from the start for a few reasons:

  • Viagogo’s reputation in the UK is bad.
  • The view of the secondary market in the UK is bad. 

Combining these didn’t make for a scenario where a deal was just going to be waved through. 

What was unusual to me was that the US government waved the deal through so quickly while the CMA was holding it up. 

This quick approval in the US rush is even more interesting this week as the US government filed an antitrust suit against Google while talking about looking at action against other businesses like Apple, Facebook, and Amazon, taking aim at large companies and market control in a way that hasn’t been on the table in a generation. 

The CMA laid out some options for Viagogo to get the merger approved including selling off StubHub in the UK. 

I don’t know which direction this will eventually take, but the closing of the merger is likely to continue to impact Viagogo and StubHub at a time when the ticket industry is in a dire spot. 

Watch out for:

  • What route Viagogo takes to get the deal approved. 
  • Whether or not the CMA drags its feet on the deal even after Viagogo takes mitigative action. 
  • The drag that this has on Viagogo and StubHub in markets around the world. As we’ve seen, ticket sellers and the secondary market in the US have been catching a lot of heat because of refunds and exchange policies. And, I’d be surprised if this ongoing situation didn’t add to the pressures that are being felt by the two businesses, even though the action is happening in the UK. 

3. University of Iowa drops more sports and has huge budget concerns:

I’m old fashioned. 

If a business doesn’t have revenue, it is a hobby. 

If a business is always losing money, something isn’t right with its business model. 

This story is becoming a regular one now. The school spent big, made big commitments, and is ROLLING IN IT! 

Then, we have a pandemic, and “Wait!? What?!” 

I’ll attribute this quote to Warren Buffett, “You don’t know who is naked until the tide goes out.” 

We’ve seen a lot of athletic departments getting fat on debt and telling us how smart and successful they are. 

It is the constant stream of these stories from colleges, leagues, and teams around the world that has me considering the idea that we haven’t seen the bottom yet. 

I saw a story that mentioned, maybe, MLB will get back to normal in 2022. An NHL owner mentioned that without fans in 2021, some teams might be in danger. 

Analysis of this deserves its own blog post or article, but these ongoing stories of athletic departments struggling, businesses being at risk, or folks jumping into debt to survive points me towards three things:

First, the business model of sports is precarious in a lot of places. 

We got a hint of this in two places this week with Manchester United reporting big losses. Along with the Cubs, laying off over 100 folks due to losses from the pandemic

Second, DAMN, the debt! 

I’ve written more about finance and debt than I have ever wanted to. 

I’m a quaint fellow. I grew up in a family that owned and operated a small business. Some years good, some bad, some great. 

What I learned is that a business that is overextended will get in trouble at some point. A business that doesn’t make a profit is a business that is in trouble. 

So all this debt and red ink! 

Lord have mercy! 

Third, the trend lines on where the businesses were and are going aren’t exactly great. 

The revenues have been growing for years. 

That’s usually the way that folks tell us how great things are going because the revenues are soaring. 

Revenue alone is only part of the story. 

Because you can have tremendous revenue and still have a business on the edge of trouble.

Look at Uber, they were everywhere and lost $8.5 B in 2019. WeWork was bringing in almost a billion dollars in revenue a year and was losing twice that much. 

Revenue alone means nothing. 

So as we’ve seen through the pandemic, people aren’t returning to watch sports the way they were before the pandemic. 

I can’t tell you if this trend will hold after, no one can. 

I can tell you that the trend for many sports was lower viewership for years with a hit up or down from year to year. 

I can also tell you that in far more places than people are letting on, real attendance is down. 

I can also tell you that growing revenue and a shrinking market aren’t good signs. 

Solutions ain’t easy here and I don’t think we’ve necessarily seen rock bottom either. That doesn’t mean we can’t do anything. 

One big thing folks can do right now is refocus on their customers. 

I’ve been hitting on the idea of market orientation for years. It simply means looking at your business through the eyes of your customers, outside in. 

Despite what folks are saying, for far too long the relationships with the fans has been largely transactional and focused on what can the customer do for us, not what we can do for the customer. 

It has to stop. 

Sports and events are powerful, but they aren’t essential. That’s what all these signs of wear and tear on the relationship should be teaching us…we can’t assume that folks are going to watch or come just because we are on or in town. 

Something that I’ve been preaching and folks try to pretend like they don’t understand is that your competition is often something or someone you don’t even imagine. 

On an average night in normal times in DC, if the Capitals are playing, I’m likely to consider going a few times a year. 

This is just me. What competes with me going to a Caps game: 

  • Several breweries and wineries in DC. 
  • Going out to eat.
  • Netflix, Disney+, or some other thing on TV.
  • My son’s school schedule and the fact he may not be able to go and I don’t want to go with anyone else. 
  • Not knowing there is a game on. 

I could continue and keep coming up with forms of competition for my attention. The thing is, your customers are going through this same process without you knowing it or without you know what the competition looks like. 

Without a good dose of market orientation, you are missing chances left and right…and, you don’t even realize it. 

I did a quick survey and some calculations this week and I figured that the way that tickets are marketed and sold in the American market before the pandemic is likely costing the average sports organization between 15-25% in tickets and other game-day revenues. 

Never mind profit.

And, I think I’m lowballing it. 

Right now, you have to take a look at your marketing and sales strategies. 

Again, this stuff is basic, but you have to throw out your old playbook because it wasn’t always working well, to begin with. 

Begin at the beginning with your market orientation. 

Do some research. The fact is that things have changed. Do you know how? 

Revisit or visit for the first time the Holy Trinity of marketing: Segmentation, Targeting, and Positioning. 

Then from there build a strategy for your business built off of these things that incorporates your communications, your sales, your sales funnels, etc. 

There is money to be made right now, but you are going to have to approach things with a different lens and a different value proposition. 

All of this stuff should be something you revisit annually anyway. 

The key here is that you have to reorient yourself. Focus on your customer, focus on the value they receive, and be fast and responsive. 

It isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore it and wait for a magic bullet. 

There is no magic bullet. 

4. Lessons we can learn from the Weathervane’s success putting on a show in the pandemic:

Creativity is your killer app and it is available to everyone. 

That’s why I wanted to share this story with y’all today. 

I’ll highlight three things here that were interesting to me and should give you a bit of a lift:

First, there is a path forward to having events, even now. 

We saw it at the top and now I’m showing you again. 

While most of us don’t live in rural New Hampshire, bringing artists in and creating an environment for performances can happen. 

We’ve also seen Dave Chappelle do some comedy shows outdoors in Ohio. 

While a lot of the emphasis has been on finding things that utilize standing structures to produce shows, looking at the Weathervane and Chappelle might also highlight ways to think about using non-traditional measures. 

Put on shows in rural areas where it is a destination and social distancing is easier to maintain. Or, even, it is easier to keep folks safe. 

Use non-standard structures that can be adjusted to the situation like Dave’s gazebo. 

Second, get creative with your revenue models. 

As you’ll see below, assistance is needed, but the Weathervane is also working on finding new ways to fundraise and keep money coming in to survive the pandemic. 

There isn’t a magic bullet to be found. So you need to think about creative ways to do fundraisers like the SOS Fest did. 

I’ve shared ways to monetize your events in the past and everywhere we look we are likely going to see more people become creative like the restaurants in NYC that have turned the City’s streets into restaurants. 

Try new things and be creative. That’s my message. 

Utah State has been doing socially distanced bingo in their gym! 

Things are possible. 

Third, people still want and need the arts. 

I’m no Miley Cyrus fan, but I totally found joy in her cover of “Zombie” by the Cranberries. She also did a nice cover of Pearl Jam and she’s working on an album of Metallica covers. 

If you didn’t experience a sense of connection with Dave Grohl’s stories…what’s wrong with you? 

The Weathervane’s production of Little Shop of Horrors brought people together and the artists on stage could see it and feel it. Keep that in mind, always. 

Remember the Stockdale Paradox, we have to keep going and we don’t know when things are going to end. But while you keep pushing forward, you can’t forget your humanity and your connection to others. 

It is essential and it is magical. And, it is what will keep us going. 

Need more inspiration? 

The Festival Ballet in Providence put on a performance in a parking lot earlier this week! Check it out! 

5. In Germany, a 10-point plan has been put forward to save the German live entertainment industry:

At the start of this week’s newsletter, I ask y’all to give if you can to the Save Our Stages fundraiser. 

I mean, all of us have been impacted. So…that’s a little bit of a tough ask, but ask I will. 

I’ll be short with the analysis on this one. 

The ten steps the Germans have put forth make a lot of sense. 

The Australian government, the British government, and others have come forward with assistance for their arts and entertainment industries, but the impact on the industry has been severe and without some sort of support…it will be really difficult for folks to survive this. 

In the States, there were previously no concerted lobbying efforts for live entertainment. We are seeing folks pull together now. 

I know government and politics having worked on lobbying efforts for some environmental protections in Washington Heights, efforts in support of health care reform, and wrote ads for the re-election campaign of a president and several senators and congresspeople. 

If I can help in any of these efforts anywhere in the world, I’m here and happy to donate as much time and energy to the cause as I can to help folks survive and get into a position to recover. 

Again, vote if you are in America. But make sure you are voting for folks that are going to support the business of live entertainment. 

If you live in a state where you have congressional representation, call your representatives. 

The phone number for the Congressional switchboard is 202-224-3121. They will put you in touch with the person or people you are trying to reach. Ask your representatives to support crisis relief for the live entertainment industry. 

Again, if you are struggling right now, you know how to reach me. You can jump into the Slack Channel and meet up with folks. Just don’t try and get through this alone. 

P.S. As I was finishing this up, Tim Chambers shared a few things with me that fit into this area in the UK. 

So check out:

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What am I up to?

On Wednesday 28 October at 1 PM EST, I’m doing a LinkedIn Live event with a few really smart folks about marketing and selling using LinkedIn. I’m sure I’m going to get banned from LinkedIn after this one because I still don’t know how to get folks to stop spamming, but I’ll be there offering you some sales and marketing ideas that will get you through the pandemic and beyond. 

Get yourself some podcast episodes

Visit my slowly rebuilding website.

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