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Volume 21 No. 6

In Depth

Nearly half of the tickets for the 25,500 seats in Orlando City SC’s stadium changed hands at least once for the team’s July 21 match against Atlanta United FC, according to Ticketmaster data.
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Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.

The ticketing data report came back from Orlando City SC’s recent home match against rival club Atlanta United FC, and for Chief Revenue Officer Chris Gallagher, the numbers immediately “jumped off the page.”

The report, fueled by a newly installed digital ticketing system from Ticketmaster called Presence, showed nearly half of the tickets at the 25,500-seat capacity Orlando City Stadium were resold at least once. More than a third of the stadium’s tickets, amounting to 8,700 seats, were resold twice. And 3,700 seats generated at least three transfers. Some seats changed hands as many as seven times prior to the July 21 match. And the club had a log of nearly every individual ticket transaction and when it occurred.

“It was pretty amazing to see,” said Gallagher, an industry veteran who has prior stints with the Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns, New York Yankees, and Florida Panthers. “The data is coming in so fast now, and not every match is necessarily going to be quite as active as that one. But we can now really hone in and see what the particular patterns and trends are, and it was definitely eye-opening.”

Digital and mobile-based ticketing is fueling the growth of ticket data and chain-of-custody tracking.
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The data promises both short-term and long-term business impacts to the 3-year-old Major League Soccer club. Immediately, the data gave another batch of prospects for its 2018 season-ticket waiting list, and among initial Presence users such as Orlando City SC, there has been a 20 percent increase in the number of identified fans in the system. But the additional information also will guide the franchise as it makes future ticket pricing decisions and scheduling requests to the league.

“We’re in a sold-out situation, and have very few walkup sales to speak of. So resale has basically turned into the primary market for us,” Gallagher continued. “We’re getting a really good day-to-day look now at those trends, and can see better what’s working or not working for our fans.”

Fully tracking the life cycle of a ticket, particularly through the secondary market, and connecting it to individual fans has long been a goal of ticketing executives. And some elements of that have been possible for years, particularly as ticketing systems are linked with customer relationship management platforms.

But Gallagher’s experience in Orlando is now echoing around the industry, as the speed, sophistication, depth, and detail of data emerging from current ticketing systems continue to accelerate. Products such as Ticketmaster’s Presence, the alliance between primary ticketer Paciolan and resale marketplace StubHub, AXS’s Flash Seats, and Tickets.com’s ProVenue are now able to connect the dots in a more robust way and provide a more complete picture of everywhere a ticket has been before a fan shows up at the turnstile.

“Being able to track the ticket holder, and not just the initial ticket buyer, and follow that path of ticket through its entire life cycle is a really big thing,” said AXS Chief Executive Officer Bryan Perez. The company’s Flash Seats platform has shown an average transfer rate of 1.9 times per ticket across all of its events.

Data from Paciolan and StubHub helps West Virginia market to repeat buyers of secondary tickets.
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“Knowing who’s actually in your building and how they got to that point are still the biggest questions we’re all asking in the industry. We’re not necessarily going to get to 100 percent, but we’re definitely getting a lot closer, and this kind of data helps gets us there,” Perez said.

Adds Matt Wells, West Virginia University senior associate athletic director for external affairs: “There’s no doubt the data we have now, even compared to three, five, seven years ago, is much better and gives us a much deeper understanding of the market.”

Working Paciolan and StubHub, Wells and West Virginia, like many others, have been able to isolate the chain-of-custody trends within their ticket activity and use it for primary sales efforts, such as offering partial or full-season plans to repeat buyers of resale inventory, or identifying potential season ticket cancellation risks by fan resale activity.

“This has helped a lot with our retargeting and giving our sales team much more qualified leads,” Wells said.
Another result of the detailed ticket sales tracking, of course, is getting a deeper read on pricing trends, which influences future decisions on primary ticket pricing.

“There’s a real hunger out there to really get at pricing and understand what’s truly happening in the market and act accordingly,” said Kim Damron, Paciolan president and chief executive. “That’s definitely been a huge thing.”


These types of data and lessons are now often available in close to real time, and in cases like Orlando City SC, they’re additionally looking to incorporate artificial intelligence to have certain ticket buying and selling patterns automatically trigger a particular offer or outreach from the club.

“We think we can really personalize the experience for an individual fan through this automation and do it efficiently,” Gallagher said.

Fueling much of the ticket data growth and enhanced chain-of-custody tracking is the rise in digital and mobile-based ticketing. Many of the historical issues around tracking ticket activity stemmed from the paper ticket and the difficulty siphoning meaningful and timely data around the trading of a paper ticket.

But Ticketmaster’s Presence, installed in the soon-to-open Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and several dozen music venues in additional to Orlando City Stadium, and many other competing systems are increasingly operating on a digital model in which a smartphone, smart card or other technology is the means of entry. Stadiums such as Orlando City Stadium are increasingly going to all-paperless forms of ticketing in which mobile applications are the preferred format.

That large-scale digitization, in turn, has opened up detailed tracking of sales activity from person to person, creating millions of new data points. Ticketmaster’s 20 percent bump in the number of identified fans at the 40 participating Presence venues compared to the prior system that mixed paper and paperless tickets has come in just a few months of implementation. And company executives expect the percentage to grow further with more time in use and adoption by additional venues. Similarly, Flash Seats has seen a 16 percent improvement in the show rate for its digitally based product compared to paper tickets, in turn yielding more data and revenue for its clients.

Digital drives tracking

“The basic idea is to move beyond the basic notion of ticketing, in a traditional sense, and to the broader notion of building a digital relationship with the fan that includes entry to an event,” said Justin Burleigh, Ticketmaster North America executive vice president of product.

The growth of paperless ticketing systems has created fan backlash in some markets, with complaints centered around a perceived restriction of choice. Without electronic integration with nonsanctioned outlets, it is more cumbersome for a fan to buy or sell a digital ticket outside of a team-chosen platform. And there remain some notable limitations around the data, as sales from competing resale outlets such as StubHub and Ticketmaster’s TicketExchange are often not merged.

But as many teams have sought to take greater control of their overall ticket market and consolidate the number of brokers and resellers with whom they work, data remains at the center of that effort.

“It’s a bit of a mixed bag with teams and how they approach resale,” Perez said. “Some teams want a single, preferred partner, others are working with multiple partners. But 100 percent of them want access to and control of the data of who they are working with.”

Many teams have found that ticket resale activity on their chosen platform, and the corresponding data, increases significantly if they can definitively show ease of use, and more critically, a way for the initial ticket holder to gain their intended price when selling. Orlando City SC’s ticket resale revenue has jumped nearly 200 percent through its official resale market since adopting Presence as fan adoption has grown.

With the torrent of new ticket sales data, many industry executives also said it remains critical to stay focused on key goals such as improving fan experience.

“It is easy with a lot of data to get lost in abstraction,” said Perkins Miller, StubHub general manager of North America. “The ability to transact so easily on the phone has obviously opened up this whole new realm of information, and we’re obviously able to deliver a wide range of data to our partners. But it’s still a means to an end. And that end goal is still to help people go to more events, discover new opportunities, and fundamentally have a better experience.”

Tennis was among the Olympic sports that had many open seats during the 2012 London Games, and served as inspiration for Seaters.
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For many sports industry executives, an empty seat is an annoyance, perhaps a public relations problem, and certainly a missed revenue opportunity. For Belgian entrepreneur Jean-Sébastien Gosuin, an empty seat is essentially intolerable. And he has sought to create a fix to the long-standing issue.

Gosuin, a former corporate marketer and sports hospitality executive, is the co-founder and chief executive of Seaters, a software platform that seeks to connect ordinary fans with ticket inventory typically provided to corporate sponsors as part of their team and league contracts.

He first found inspiration to build Seaters following the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, which suffered from thousands of empty seats, particularly those held by corporate sponsors, and corresponding negative publicity. A half decade later, Seaters counts large European companies such as banking giant BNP Paribas, temporary staffing outfit Adecco, Swiss watchmaker Tissot and Dutch telecom company KPN as clients.

Photo: GETTY IMAGES
You have all these empty seats, particularly in prime locations, and thousands of fans dreaming of sitting there. The basic idea for us is to put them together, but in a way that protects the property and the event and their ticket pricing integrity, and elevates the brand.”

JEAN-SÉBASTIEN GOSUIN

CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, SEATERS
And it is now beginning to make a push into North America, buttressed in part by the establishment of a new headquarters in New York and the recent hire of veteran sports marketer Scott MacLeod to lead business development. Five of Seaters’ 25 total employees, including Gosuin, are in New York, and the company is working with three as-yet-undisclosed American companies on domestic test deployments of the platform.

“You have all these empty seats, particularly in prime locations, and thousands of fans dreaming of sitting there,” Gosuin said. “The basic idea for us is to put them together, but in a way that protects the property and the event and their ticket pricing integrity, and elevates the brand.”

The Seaters platform works on a “wish list”-based system. Instead of dumping a block of sponsor-held tickets on the resale market or leaving it to department heads to redistribute internally, the company instead creates a wish list of fans who would be interested in those seats. The fans invited to join a wish list are often culled from lists of clients that a sponsor wants to target and reward.

There is no upfront guarantee a registrant to a wish list will get a ticket; rather they are simply signing up for a potential opportunity. And when seats become available, a mobile notification is sent alerting the fan to the available inventory and how long they have to claim it, with those seats often provided for free to the fan. If a fee is involved, it does not exceed face value price.

“It’s classic underpromise and overdeliver,” Gosuin said. “But the brand is able to further engage its customer base or its employees and build greater loyalty. With all these names coming into the system and engaging with you digitally, it also creates a significant data opportunity.”

By grouping a theoretically unlimited pool of registrants for finite ticket opportunities, the system also veers intentionally away from the traditional model of seeking to connect a single user with a single seat. BNP Paribas, for example, generated more than 60,000 registrations for about 2,000 available seats it held for this year’s French Open.
  
Seaters says among its client base of corporate sponsors, the amount of unused ticket inventory has fallen from more than 20 percent to less than 2 percent. The platform also is designed to work alongside existing corporate ticket management programs such as InviteManager, but improve the efficiency of managing the inventory.

“In a lot of sponsorship events, there are many tickets involved, and it is very tough for companies to get rid of them because it is a lot of work,” said Mark Versteegen, KPN head of sponsorships. “Seaters takes a lot of the hassle away from the staff people in charge of our tickets.”

Seaters works on a common software-as-a-service model, with costs ranging from $5,000 to $150,000 per month depending on the size of the intended projects. The company also has raised $8 million in venture capital funding, and counts veteran minor league team owner Dave Elmore and former Anheuser-Busch InBev Chief Marketing Officer Chris Burggraeve among its investors.

“We see a big opportunity in the U.S. market,” Gosuin said. “Obviously, it’s a much bigger territory, but it’s also more open to entrepreneurial businesses.”