Last week news broke that morning radio host Craig Carton was arrested for a Ponzi Scheme involving tickets and resale of tickets on the secondary market.
While surprising coming on the heels of so many other negative ticket related stories of late like:
The list could go on and on and on.
This is a very short list, but one that only a quick Google search will show you is part of a larger, concerning trend that is causing great damage to the live entertainment industry.
That challenge is one of transparency in the buying process.
This is nothing new because confusion around buying tickets is as old as ticket buying itself.
But in the internet age where transparency is brought into an industry, desired or not, tickets is one of the last bastions of muddied, old school, backroom deals. And a disruption of that system is on the horizon, ready or not.
The issue lies in just about every corner of the industry.
There’s, of course, the always easy punching bag of brokers and the secondary market. Which is an industry that has gained a lot more of a main stream awareness and acceptance, but still remains a punching bag despite being a primary driver of ticket sales in the modern US ticket market due to their superior digital distribution, digital marketing, and hedge as a buyer of tickets from the primary side in deals that help the primary side to relieve themselves of some of the risk inherent in selling shows and events with long lead times.
There’s also promotors, artists, teams, leagues, and others involved in the primary side. Who often roll in on their white horse saying that they want to “protect” the fans, or root out scalpers, or some other knight in shining armor type message that typically amounts to complete and utter crap.
I mean right now everywhere you go there is any number of stories about Bruce Springsteen is going to kill scalpers with his use of “Verified Fan” because he wants to get tickets into the hands of real fans, but in truth he has been as guilty as anyone in holding back tickets and distributing them to wherever he wants to.
I think there isn’t anyone that is really completely clean in all of this, minus Pearl Jam, and when you talk to most of the people in the industry…they’ll tell you that dealing with them is a pain in the ass because they maintain such tight control of their ticketing.
When you mix all of this together with the internet tools and tactics that allow anyone to be a scalper, a broker, a seller. You create an environment that is entirely constructed to create trouble and have consumers confused, frustrated, and turned off.
The end result being that people are going to be less and less likely to buy.
Don’t we already see this happening?
The NFL kicked off this week and both the Rams and 49ers had stadiums filled with fans dressed up as empty seats.
The Mayweather vs. McGregor fight was the fight of the year and went off to about a third of the seats empty.
Visit any MLB stadium most of the time and if the stadium is half full, they are lucky.
The NHL has a number of teams struggling to sell tickets and looking either for quick fixes to their empty seat problem, or new stadiums to use the allure of a new stadium to resolve the short term demand challenge.
These aren’t outliers, this is the norm.
U2 is reported to have had to drop their prices on the primary market because no one was buying.
All of these things are cuts that slowly erode consumer confidence in the product, the service, and the experience.
It is this consistent undercutting of the industry that is at the heart of many of the issues that are beginning to bubble up.
Which leads to the big question: If we all know that tickets and ticketing is screwed up, what do we do to go forward?
First, I don’t think you renew trust, demand, or caring in one day, one action, or one moment. The big issue is that we are going to need an industry wide initiative to push for a more transparent market for tickets or the transparency that the internet generates will churn the entire industry under.
That said, here’s a few of the actions that we need to take to begin to build a sustainable business model going forward:
Be Open About What’s Going On Sale:
This cloak of mystery is only hurting the industry.
While I love the idea of a fan being super excited when they get a ticket, the fact is that a fan’s delight in getting a ticket is often overwhelmed by a storm of negative stories about instant sellouts, spinning web browsers, and other parts of the buying process that are easy to poke fun at and that fuel a negative perception of the industry.
Before my inbox fills up with all the “you don’t understand” type emails, let me be clear here.
I know how and why it works the way it works.
The thing is the future of tickets has already occurred and people aren’t willing to accept that any longer and they are voting with their wallets to spend their money somewhere else.
So we have to find a way to be more open about the number of tickets that are going on sale.
This may mean that in instances where its a super hot show like anytime Pearl Jam plays Madison Square Garden, there is one on-sale date.
For less popular shows, maybe it means that there are multiple on-sale dates with different availabilities, different prices, and potentially different add-ons.
Again, because if transparency is one issue…demand is the other big issue.
Just shrouding the process in mystery isn’t going to resolve either.
A System That Enables People To Know Who To Buy From:
I know you are going to say, just buy from Ticketmaster or the Box Office and you will be fine.
That’s true, maybe.
Because as Ticketmaster dabbles in the secondary market, has server crashes, and keeps expanding their footprint…who is to say that you won’t be lost in some way?
Either way just saying something along those lines is a dodge to avoid the fact that people buy tickets differently now.
They may go to StubHub, SeatGeek, or the box office.
With all the people that have access to tickets and sell tickets, we need some sort of system that reflects the way that people buy tickets today.
This means that we need to create a coalition of authorized sales points that ensures if you buy a ticket in the network, you get into the event you bought from.
So unless we are going to go back to the old days of standing online to buy tickets at a Ticketmaster location, we need a system that reflects reality.
Which means that some sort of “authorized” sales partner program would benefit the entire industry.
Stop Acting Like Schemers and Start Acting Like Humans:
One of the big concerns in modern marketing and selling is that we sell like schemers, automatons, or something else and humanity never runs into our marketing and selling plans.
To quote the Joker from The Dark Knight
One of the most relevant things that has come out of our modern consumer environment is that today, more than ever before, people are buying experiences.
So when we think and act like we can hide, scheme, or pull fast ones on our buyers…they notice and they turn away from us.
This feeds all of these negative stories like Craig Carton because in an environment where consumers are turned off because of the feeling that the game is rigged against them and they are unsure about what, where, why, or how to buy tickets…shady dealings can happen.
That’s why a combination of all these things are important: openness, security, and humanity.
But I’m not holding my breath because: