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Volume 27 No. 30

Sports Facilities and Franchises

AXS CEO Bryan Perez and Ticketmaster President & COO Amy Howe kicked off the first day of the AXS Sports Facilities & Franchises and Ticketing Symposium yesterday, detailing how they have adapted to changes brought on by the pandemic. Howe said within the first weeks of the pandemic, they “had more event changes than we had seen within the last decade.” One of their first tasks was to create a work-from-home system and from there, the tasks included building out new products and automating refund policies. Howe: “One of the most encouraging stats as we work through this, as we all look for some hope and optimism right now, is that at least globally, for us, 86% of the fans are keeping their tickets. Even if that event is not going to play off until well into 2021.” Perez said coordination was the “most challenging impact” he faced initially. Perez: “Preparing ... for an unprecedented amount of refunds, whether they were automated for cancellations or requested for rescheduling, that was not going to be able to take place under the way we used to do it. ... It’s a very manual process. We really had to spin up a lot of automated processes.” He added, “Some of the concepts and ideas from that came from conversations I was having with some of our peers at Ticketmaster. ... But it did take a while just to prepare ourselves to be able to do this.”

Below are some of the highlights from the rest of the conversation with Perez on Howe:

*Howe, on working with venues on new capacity limits: “We’re working ... to reset those manifests. So, depending on what your local jurisdiction allows, if they allow 20,000 or 5,000 ... we give you the ability to reset those manifests."

*Howe, on venue experiences changing: “All of that data that we’ve been collecting and aggregating over the years becomes even more important.” 

*Perez, on the importance of ticketing data: “All of the things that we’ve been trying to do in terms of personalized experiences, and dynamic pricing, and really understanding the customer, this is going to dramatically accelerate that because we’re going to be forced to unify all those touch points. And the benefit of that is we’re going to be able to see the data and really understand the consumer better.”

*Perez, on how the pandemic has impacted the technology of ticketing: “This is going to accelerate that transition away from the hard ticket or the paper printed out PDF. … The public policy and the business policies are aligning toward this objective.”

*Howe on contactless payments and tickets: “Contactless is this year. It’s no longer the future. ... Teams that traditionally had been resisting it because they didn’t want to take away that hard stock for the season-ticket member, the commemorative tickets, they’re going all in, and they’re going in for the right reasons -- for safety and for bringing those fans back.”

*Perez, on the older demographics who fought against ticketing modernization being vulnerable amid the pandemic: “Those are exactly the ones that are going to make the transition the quickest.” 

*Perez, on the level of optimism among sports consumers: “When you get to things like hockey or basketball, where the in-stadium experience and arena experience is a little more intense … we’ll start to see those people come back pretty quickly once we get the all clear.”

*Howe, on the excitement among fans for to see live sports: “That demand is there, and we’ve all been away from it far too long."

Eventellect co-Founder Patrick Ryan believes a key long-term legacy of the pandemic on ticketing will be the “repurposing of seating as well as venues in general.” Ryan, speaking during the first day of the AXS Sports Facilities & Franchises and Ticketing Symposium yesterday, said being away from live games for so long likely will prompt fans to “look with a more critical eye” toward return on their ticketing investment. He explained: "There's going to be a lot of people that are just saying, 'Why am I sitting in the upper deck? It's not a viable product for me.'" To fill that void, Ryan said that sponsors could purchase chunks of ticket inventory and distribute them to their customers. He pointed to sportsbooks as likely first movers: “Could we see the upper decks become basically owned by sportsbooks? If you place a bet on the game, you get a free ticket, and that's so easy to execute digitally now."

WHEN WILL FANS RETURN? Gametime Founder & CEO Brad Griffith is confident sports will reach a “new normal of a lot of fans back in the stadium” sometime in Q2 of '21, based on his company’s current projections, which see a vaccine being approved by the end of this year and distributed early next year. Ryan also indicated that current industry consensus favors a Q2 return of fans en masse to sporting events and concerts.  In any case, Griffith said teams, venues and ticket partners will all have to innovate to ensure fans “have a better time at the event” and “feel like they’re part of the action.”

Quick Hits:

*Griffith, on the shift to all-digital ticketing helping to rebuild trust between sellers and consumers: “I think that we're going to get to a much more healthy ecosystem of everyone being more aligned around what those terms and conditions of a ticket and the rebate and refund policy should be.”

*Griffith, on Gametime’s new Ticket Coverage policies, which allow fans to obtain a full refund in certain cases: “If we can make fans more confident in buying, they'll buy more tickets.”

 

AEG CRO Todd Goldstein said he has a “pretty good level of optimism that '21 will be a pretty special year, especially the back half of that year,” for both the sports and music industry. Goldstein, speaking during the first day of the AXS Sports Facilities & Franchises and Ticketing Symposium yesterday, said it has been “great to see how these leagues have been able to put on sports and been (a) great TV product.” Goldstein made it clear he has “every confidence that we as an industry will be able to (see sports return) in the safest way possible.” Goldstein said AEG amid the pandemic has been able to extend some of their brand partners and add new ones as well, which has given the company a “level of optimism” that brands know sports properties are “one of the best return on investments that you can make.” He also noted the pause has offered property owners and rights owners the ability to “tweak some of their offerings and do a better job preparing inventory so that when we all do come back, we even have the ability to deliver a little better for brands.”

Quick Hits:

*Goldstein, on promising numbers in returning season-ticket holders and sponsorship deals sold: “That gives us a little bit of confidence or maybe more confidence that '21 can be special and certainly '22 and beyond is a time that I think our industry will really prosper.”

*Goldstein, on keeping his team engaged while working remotely: "It’s really important to try to talk to your team as much as you can. You want to arm your sales teams and service teams with as much information that is fact and reality."

*Goldstein, on being realistic moving forward: “You can't pretend that we're going to host an event with fans on October 1st because unfortunately, that's just not going to happen. But we can talk about the events that we've booked in the back half of '21, talk about the kind of success we have and sell toward '21. That's something that's really important and relevant. If you're being honest and you really have some of those results, I think you want your team to share that, you want them to have that.”

Developing and selling premium ticketing options in a post-pandemic world will be a big challenge for all teams, and during the first day of the AXS Sports Facilities & Franchises and Ticketing Symposium yesterday, two MLB execs discussed the uncertainty in that marketplace. Cubs Exec VP/Sales & Marketing and Chief Commercial Officer Colin Faulkner explained, “The premium experience that we're used to is with full fans and high touch. But what does that look like in a world that we're only part-way there?” Rangers Senior VP/Ticket Sales & Service Paige Farragut agreed, saying the focus is on the future, but it will take “baby steps to get the consumer back on board” when it comes to purchasing and participating in premium options. She said companies are "fearful that if they do (commit) and something bad happens, or somebody gets sick, would that make them look responsible as far as the company's side of the business?”  Most teams have sent out invoices or are in the process of sending out invoices for season tickets next season, and Faulkner stressed there “has to be an expectation that you're going to play next year with full buildings, with full fans."

Quick Hits:

*Farragut, on companies who have furloughed employees potentially buying tickets: "Will they turn around and spend entertainment dollars on anything premium?”

*Farragut, on consumer confidence: “We've had very few people ask for money back because they do want to be out here in 2021, but we are going to have to pivot when it comes to new sales.”

*Farragut, on Globe Life Field hosting the World Series: “It'll keep our metroplex connected to baseball. ... (It is) going to be a way where everyone's watching. ... The Rangers' ratings aren't that great, but you bring in two World Series teams ... hopefully that's a draw all over the world. ... We look at this as a huge opportunity for people to see our ballpark on all TVs across the country and across the world, because it really is special. It's the newest, cleanest, most up-to-date ballpark there is to host an event like that.”