With far fewer events over the past year, ticketing companies have had time to explore new and innovative ways of driving the sector forward. Access examines the progress made by leading services.

The mass cancellation of events during the past 15 months has caused havoc but with the return of major events looking ever closer, the using of digital ticketing technology such as mobile and contactless systems are set to be more important than ever.

Ticketmaster UK’s managing director Andrew Parsons says his company saw an immediate 600% spike in traffic on its website once prime minister Boris Johnson announced the path to reopening. The Live Nation Entertainment-owned company’s sister operation Festival Republic shortly after sold out its main festivals Wilderness (cap. 10,000) Reading (90,000), Leeds (80,000) and Creamfields (30,000).

That is not the only statistic that Parsons proudly cites, and even amid the “huge demands” of the fan experience over this period, he adds that the company is seeing 83% of customers holding onto their tickets for rescheduled shows – “a clear sign that the power of live entertainment will endure,” he says. “We will of course follow the guidelines as set out – but just like the fans hitting our site, we are confident and optimistic for a great summer of live.”

Even before the pandemic,  the sector saw a stronger focus on digital ticketing, something Parsons says has “changed the game”. But over the past year ticketing services have of course had to take this to the next level.

“We’ve facilitated countless festivals, sporting events and gigs going 100% digital over the last couple of years and its clear the fans and clients love them – speeding up queues, providing more insights for clients, improving security and delivering on the all-important sustainability factor too,” he says. “The advantages of digital will really come into their own in a post-Covid world.”

“The advantages of digital will really come into their own in a post-Covid world.”

Losing contact

Event Genius and Festicket CEO Zack Sabban says just under 90% of its ticket sales were digital e-tickets before the pandemic, which has since risen to 100%.

“Anything we can do as ticketing providers to reduce fan to staff contact at events can go a long way to helping events run in a more Covid-secure manner,” he says. “We have always championed digital ticketing and since the pandemic have attributed even more resources to make our solutions mobile friendly.”

Sabban adds that the London-based company, which this year expanded into Australia, will soon be releasing a customer app to make it easier for event-goers to access tickets offline from mobile devices – in order to speed up entry, reduce overcrowding at gates and improve audience flow.

Among its thousands of events each year, Festicket’s main partners include Tomorrowland (70,000), Time Warp (20,000), and British Summer Time (BST) Hyde Park (65,000). It is also the exclusive UK and European ticket partner for Coachella (125,000), the exclusive travel package and payment plan partner for All Points East (40,000) and it has an exclusive ticketing deal with the Wales Rally GB.

The uncertainty of the last year has in fact led to some significant developments for Festicket, which according to Sabban did not suffer as much as some of its competitors with a 10-12% decrease in sales.

“We made a concerted effort to use any downtime the past year has created to focus our resources on evolving our offering. We wanted to make sure we were still able to offer our partners the most complete end-to-end event offering despite the added challenges presented by Covid-19,” he says.

Festicket’s Event Genius introduced its cashless service egPay, which offers a Radio-frequency identification (RFID) cashless solution, accepting payments via card, Apple and Google Pay. It also launched its contactless, unmanned top-up stations for event-goers using RFID wristbands, in order to make the process even more “Covid secure”.

“We also adapted our ticketing functionality and access control to allow promoters to be fully track and trace compliant, while further limiting contact between staff and event-goers via contactless ticket scanning terminals,” says Sabban.

Shifting away from the physical side, the company recently announced a partnership with music and lifestyle channel Clubbing TV – an end-to-end live streaming service that Sabban says is available for everything from a conference panel to a DJ set or festival-style production.

A Sporting Chance

A company with strong links to the sporting sector is The Ticket Factory, which is the official ticketing partner for British Athletics and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), along with the Royal Horticultural Society flower shows and major festivals including BST Hyde Park, Leeds Festival and Latitude (35,000).

The Ticket Factory, which launched in 2017 and is based at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre, is working with the LTA to deliver mobile ticketing for the first time at socially-distanced June events including the Birmingham Classic, cinch Championships at Queens, Eastbourne International and Nottingham Open.

“The pandemic has seen a move towards digital ticketing, with a decline in more traditional hard ticketing. Though, the wheels have very much been in motion on this for some time,” says The Ticket Factory director of ticketing Richard Howle.

“Most of our conversations with clients at the moment revolve around e-ticketing and delivering the best product on mobile platforms. By no means are the days of hard ticketing over, our research suggests older audiences tend to lean towards them, but the pandemic has certainly accelerated the switch towards digital,” says Howle. “The most important thing is to have a tailored approach, working alongside our clients to decide what works best for their customers. That being said, the trend towards exclusively mobile ticketing is growing and the pandemic has only sped up the process.”

On how the pandemic has altered the company’s focus, Howle says it has honed its project with Expoware – its collection of registration services designed for the industry. “Over the past year we have added a lot of new features and functionality, including the ability to meet the requirements of track and trace, should it be necessary,” he says.

“The pandemic has naturally been a terrible time for everyone in the ticketing industry and while we have had to navigate the challenges that have been presented, we’ve also been fortunate to be able to keep moving forwards and develop and enhance our solutions.”

AEG subsidiary AXS UK will be working with The O2 Arena on this year’s Brit Awards, the first major indoor live music event to welcome back an audience (4,500) without social distancing.

The company’s director of ticketing Paul Newman says in order to help support both The O2 and the SSE Arena, Wembley’s commitment to digital marketing, AXS has opened up its mobile ID technology to other ticket agents.

“Once customers have transacted on the agents’ platforms, they simply need to download the venue app to gain entry on the event night,” says Newman. “Taking notice of the feedback from the customer sentiment surveys we have undertaken; we have introduced venue iconography and other features into our purchase flow to give returning customers the information and reassurances they seek to return to live events.”

Newman, who joined AXS in 2014 following eight years overseeing ticketing operations at The O2, says the company’s several customer surveys over the past year revealed that a contactless venue experience was high on the list of requirements for a safe return to live.

Newman says AXS mobile ID has been in operation at the two venues since early 2019, and its commitment to digital ticketing “has been evident for some time”.

Providing protection

The past year’s flood of cancellations has meant that ticket insurance provider Ticketplan’s activity has been more significant and widespread than ever before.

The company, which works with ticket sellers to provide refund insurance and protection facilities, recently conducted market research that found 74% of people surveyed would be more likely to purchase tickets from a ticket seller that offers ticket protection than from a vendor that does not offer such protection.

“I believe that ticket protection is now genuinely a customer expectation, we have seen increasing demand for ticket protection as events have gone on sale,” says TicketPlan development director Ben Bray.

“The pandemic has naturally been a terrible time for everyone in the ticketing industry and while we have had to navigate the challenges that have been presented, we’ve also been fortunate to be able to keep moving forwards and develop and enhance our solutions and launch with a number of new clients including the Rugby League World Cup 2021,” says Bray.

Working with partner Ticket Sellers, Bray says the company will continue to provide its ticket buyers with “as much confidence as possible” to book tickets through 2021 and beyond.

He says, “The uncertain times in which we are currently living have really emphasised the value of our services to both ticket buyers and sellers.”

This article was published in the May edition of Access All Areas. Read it here, and/or subscribe for free here