SBJ/October 31 - November 6, 2005/SBJ In Depth

Tickets.com, under MLBAM, keeps focus on primary ticketing, improved delivery

Amid the ticket industry’s headlong rush into secondary markets, Tickets.com is pursuing a slower, more cautious approach.

Now under the control of MLB Advanced Media, the company operates “Replay” exchange programs for six of its 11 baseball team accounts, and holds a partnership with RazorGator in which users of Tickets.com’s “Premier” window are routed to RazorGator’s online inventories.

For the moment, MLBAM is more interested in building the Tickets.com brand.
But Bob Bowman, MLBAM president, said the company’s other opportunities in the secondary ticket markets would likely remain “limited,” with primary event ticketing remaining the company’s main business.

“[The secondary market] is an interesting space, but there’s a fine line to it all, I think,” Bowman said. “Once it all gets so big, I think you have the content providers assuming more and more control.”

Despite the muted outlook on secondary ticketing, Bowman and the rest of MLB management continues to revel in its $66.5 million purchase of the California company earlier this year. Bowman in June installed Larry Witherspoon and Andrew Donkin as co-presidents of Tickets.com, has a new base ticketing system in the works and said the formerly public company is profitable.

Before the MLBAM purchase, the one-time amalgamation of many small ticket companies consistently lost money and saw its stock lose nearly all of its value in the 2000 dot-com crash.

“Before the MLBAM purchase, there was quite a bit of concern about the financial viability of Tickets.com,” Witherspoon said. “This deal alleviates a lot of those questions.”

“We think this has been great,” Bowman said. “This is doing exactly what we need it to, which is get right to the fans who still provide most of the revenue in baseball, and also get into other business. We think this company’s future is very bright.”

Despite the optimism, Tickets.com remains locked in a vicious marketplace battle with Ticketmaster, as well as a smaller player, Paciolan Systems Inc. Ticketmaster holds primary ticketing deals with a dozen MLB clubs, not to mention a vast advantage in brand-name awareness.

Moreover, Tickets.com holds no inherent advantage in getting additional primary ticketing accounts among MLB clubs, even though team owners switching over would be boosting their existing investment in MLBAM.

“Tickets.com is a formidable competitor, but we haven’t seen any changes in our baseball accounts since the purchase, and I’m not operating under the assumption that all the teams will eventually migrate over to Tickets.com,” said David Goldberg, Ticketmaster executive vice president.

Bowman said Tickets.com, like its competitors, is putting a strong emphasis on advancing its methods of ticket delivery to match current and forthcoming technology. Under consideration are such methods as bar codes being sent to cell phones, where they would be scanned at the stadium gates. Wireless ticket distribution has been floating around the industry for several years, but no company has delivered yet on the promise on a mass scale or been able to mollify security concerns.

But as Bowman, Donkin and Witherspoon continue to revamp Tickets.com, they will do it with the brand name very much in the background.

“A lot of what we’re doing now, the new system we’re rolling out next year, a redesign of the Web site that we’re working on, we’re really not doing it with brand foremost in mind,” Bowman said. “Some of our competitors are pursuing a different path, but for us, the clients come first. When you’re buying a ticket to a baseball game or whatever, you’re buying because of a connection to that brand, not Tickets.com.”

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