SBJ/April 28-May 4/In Depth

Digital drives the discussion for Live Nation

Live Nation Entertainment, the world’s largest ticket provider and event promoter, has enjoyed a front-row seat as the market shifts toward digital ticketing.

Last year, Live Nation Entertainment, a company that includes Ticketmaster, a provider to dozens of major league facilities, sold 21 million tickets through mobile devices. That means that 14 percent of the 149 million tickets sold for all Live Nation Entertainment events, including sports and concerts, were sold on smartphones and tablets, almost double 2012’s numbers, Ticketmaster officials said.

Those figures provide a snapshot for where digital ticketing stands at the moment, but the data does not tell the whole story for how extensive the movement wraps itself around the live event experience, said Cole Gahagan, Ticketmaster’s executive vice president of client revenue.

“The trend is not just solely about mobile,” Gahagan said. “The industry has myopically viewed mobile as the central and sole theme of digital. To us, we’re realizing digital is more of a platform than one single product. Digital is much more wide sweeping.”

As mobile ticketing continues to gain traction among sports fans and concertgoers, Ticketmaster is taking a holistic approach to the technology revolving around how fans discover, manage and experience live events, Gahagan said.
Those three pillars of its digital platform have changed dramatically over the past two years to reshape the fan experience.

The process of discovery has long since moved past the “traditional analog world” of billboards, newspapers and radio advertisements, Gahagan said. Last year, Ticketmaster alone saw 11 million installations of its mobile application on fans’ smartphones and tablets, a strong indication that the mobile device now sits squarely at the center of a consumer’s search for information on live events.

To meet the growing demand for tickets delivered to those devices, Live Nation Entertainment undertook a massive rollout in 2013 to accommodate the technology, upgrading venues with equipment to scan mobile bar codes and print seat locators for up to 50 million tickets.

“It was a big push for us last year and it is only going to grow significantly as the chosen method of delivery this year and next,” Gahagan said.

As mobile becomes a preferred method for buying tickets for many consumers, Ticketmaster has seen the management piece grow substantially in the transfer and resale of tickets. More than half of its mobile traffic involves moving tickets to a third party, Gahagan said.

The third piece, the event experience itself, is starting to explode as vendors such as Atlanta-based Experience enable fans to upgrade their seats through mobile transactions after they have entered the facility.

Last October, Live Nation Entertainment signed a deal with Experience to be its preferred partner for seat upgrades that extend to exclusive perks for fans such as a visit from the team mascot and meet-and-greets with recording artists.

It’s part of the next “tectonic” shift in mobile ticketing as teams, facilities and vendors move to customize the fan experience, Gahagan said.

Where is it all headed for mobile? Teams and other industry observers believe that eventually sports and entertainment will go completely paperless and bar-coded tickets on smartphones will be the only way to access
arenas and stadiums.

Gahagan points to NBA and NHL clubs such as the Orlando Magic, Charlotte Bobcats, Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Coyotes using smart cards as season tickets, some loaded with food credits, as an interim step toward going exclusively mobile at arenas and stadiums.

The Miami Heat has gone one step further, skipping smart cards altogether. Instead, Heat season-ticket holders manage their ticket inventory through their individual Ticketmaster accounts and print PDFs to be scanned at the arena gates.

Starting next season, their options will be restricted to putting their tickets on a mobile device or a credit card for access to the building.

“We don’t yet have what the right path is down that evolutionary road but we’re learning a lot,” he said. “It’s fast paced.”

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