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Volume 21 No. 48
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Hubbard shakes up ticketing business with Rival venture

Longtime ticketing and e-commerce executive Nathan Hubbard believes the season ticket is dead. His new technology startup, Rival, is aiming to help teams wrestle with that stark reality.


Hubbard, the former chief executive of Ticketmaster, has formed a new company based in ticketing but also designed to veer heavily into other areas such as commerce, data and analytics, and building security, with an overarching goal of boosting attendance and overall fan spending at live events. 

The foundation of Rival is emphasizing: An identity-based and mobile-focused ticketing system that allows teams to easily select how and where they distribute inventory, including through various third-party outlets both on the primary and secondary markets; the ability to track the ownership of individual tickets; and to know with far more clarity who is in their buildings.


Rival Chief Executive Nathan Hubbard
Photo: Marc Bryan-Brown

Rival will not be a consumer destination. Rather, it will exist as a back-end software platform in which teams will sell inventory through their own sites as well as with chosen partners. The company’s revenue model is based around software licensing fees coupled with small percentages of the overall gross transactional value around events. 


The company is planning a formal debut in 2019 with more than 10 undisclosed teams across the four major U.S. pro sports leagues and the English Premier League already signed, Hubbard said. And though those team contracts on one level present a competitive threat to existing ticketing players such as Ticketmaster and AXS, Hubbard said he also foresees a possibility of Rival client teams using companies such as those as potential distribution avenues.


“The business of ticketing has changed a whole bunch in the last few years, but the product and user experience really hasn’t,” said Hubbard, co-founder and chief executive of Rival. “We’ve built a whole new product from the ground up, which nobody has really done in the last two decades. What we are attempting is a whole new platform for live events.”


More than 18 months in development and widely anticipated within the sports and entertainment industries, Rival has attracted more than $30 million in startup funding from venture capital heavyweights such as Andreessen Horowitz and Upfront Ventures, several undisclosed pro team owners and high-profile technology executives such as Dick Costolo, former CEO of Twitter, where Hubbard also had a three-year stint. 


In addition, the Rival system, which also involves co-founder and former and Maker Studios executive Ryan Lissack, incorporates new technologies such as facial recognition for fan entry and stadium seat views based on drone footage. Rival is based in Los Angeles, and while the company’s current headcount has not been disclosed, Hubbard expects to have more than 70 employees this year. Many of the company’s employees have come from outside the ticketing business, part of Hubbard’s aim to bring fresh perspectives into the space. 


Despite the many recent technological advances in ticketing, such as mobile-based entry, many of those efforts have been built upon existing legacy systems. As a result, insiders and company investors believe there is a significant market opportunity for Rival to enter the industry with something new and built entirely from scratch.


“This is a really good time for a next-generation ticketing company,” said Greg Bettinelli, partner for the Los Angeles-based Upfront Ventures and a former StubHub executive. “We see this platform moving into all sorts of areas in terms of communication, marketing and security based around attending live events.


“There has been a dramatic under-investment by the industry into modern ticketing, and this is something we think can address that,” Bettinelli said. 


During Hubbard’s self-described “stealth mode” over the past year and a half, he has been an occasional contributor and “unpaid intern” for The Ringer, the Bill Simmons-led website and podcast network. He has also been an often-provocative voice on the current state of live event ticketing, and he continues to predict a rise in market power for individual fans to dictate their own ticketing and event-going experiences.


“Our view is that technology is going to dramatically reshape the business in the coming year,” Hubbard said. “That trend historically always benefits content. I can’t imagine anyone committing to their inventory for a long period of time at the moment. They are just at the dawn of their leverage.”