Customer-Centric Strategy Needs to Lead Ticketing Changes
Guest Feature: Adam Moulter
Author’s Note: Earlier this month, the Festival industry lost a true leader and all-around good man with the unexpected passing of Ben Taylor, GM of Front Gate Tickets. Ben’s work in the festival ticketing world since joining the company in 2007 was far reaching and beyond influential, especially the creation and launch of Front Gate’s RFID ticketing platform that’s been used by tens of millions of festival goers to date. Ben was a driving force behind Front Gate Tickets becoming the industry leader that it is today, and “Coach Taylor” will be dearly missed by all that had the pleasure of knowing him and working with him.
I think it goes without saying that the last 13 months were hands down, without question the most disruptive time the live music and festival industries have faced. As we begin to ramp back up, we need to take a minute to refocus on the most important piece of the equation -- the music-loving fans, our consumers.
The pandemic spotlighted a unique truth about live music: Without fans, there is no industry. Fans are the keystone of the entire experience. We’ve all seen some amazing livestreams and digital festivals since last March, but they aren’t a true replacement for being transported away from the ordinary of every day to a moment within a festival, singing along to the band, feeling speakers pounding inside your chest. Livestreams have shown that there really isn’t any analog for a shared musical experience. There’s no cookbook or recipe you can follow at home to whip up Lollapalooza in your living room.
That’s why I think the ticketing industry needs to put the hardships music fans went through in 2020 at the forefront of its decisions as we return to live shows. Studies have shown that 35% of Americans age 18-29 and 30% age 30-49 have had trouble paying bills during the pandemic. We need to not only acknowledge that many fans aren’t going to have as much disposable income to spend on things like concerts, but we’ll need to further develop solutions that continue to reduce the barrier to entry for customers instead of creating them. I’m proud to have seen the evolution of payment options like Front Gate’s layaway plan, which allows customers to secure and pay off festival tickets over time without a 3rd party servicer or a line of credit. It is imperative that the ticketing industry acknowledge customers’ plans and monetary situations can change between the time of purchase and the day of the show. We’re already seeing solutions like LYTE and FlipTix enabling secure ticket exchanges for ticket holders to be able to return tickets or flip them to another eager fan, and I am excited to see what other customer-centric solutions create further flexibility for ticket holders.
As an industry, we have to realize that, while there is definitely strong demand for live events right now, there’s also going to be a subset of concertgoers who aren’t going to be comfortable returning to shows for a potentially long while. In service of this, I think we’ll continue to see ways of bringing people together from afar through digital means, but in ways that don’t try to replicate the irreplicable live show itself. While there’s plenty of examples of digital engagement to draw from, it’s actually a smaller-scale event series produced by one of my clients that stands out to me on how to keep a fanbase engaged across a longer-than-expected lockdown. NYC Pride’s Savor Pride series is an immersive culinary fundraiser that historically takes place during the annual NYC Pride and, like many in-person experiences, found itself pivoting to an online edition in 2020. While the 2020 edition started as a week-long virtual cooking event, it continued on as a recurring monthly fundraiser for NYC-based God’s Love We Deliver. In going digital, Savor Pride continued welcoming fans and supporters to the table past the end of Pride Month while celebrating community and teaching people how to cook some amazing meals at home.
We’ll also need to safeguard customers’ right to a safe, in-person experience. We know the demand for shared music experiences exists. According to a study on consumer confidence, conducted by Live Nation, 90% of live music goers in America said they’re likely to attend live music events post-COVID. While I’m sure hand sanitizer stations and increased cleaning protocols aren’t going away anytime soon, I expect to see additional safety measures implemented across the festival industry this summer and fall.
A great example here were the In My Elements festivals produced by BangOn!NYC, who successfully conducted Summer and Fall 2020 editions with additional safety precautions. For the small capacity test festivals, all ticket holders had to take a PCR lab test before the event and a 2nd rapid test when they arrived on site at the event, with the cost of both being included in the admission price. If someone in a ticketholder’s car tested positive upon arrival, the entire car was refused entry to the event and granted a full refund, no questions asked. The process was such a success that not only were there zero reported COVID cases across either event, but the promoters created a separate consulting business, Tested Contained Retreats, to help replicate that success safely and at scale for other events and promoters.
While I don’t foresee widespread adoption of the testing approach due to cost, we’ll likely see the majority of large-scale events utilizing checkpoints for proof of vaccination for the next year or two. Similar to how you need to go through TSA checkpoints before boarding a flight at the airport, I anticipate festivals using dual stage checkpoints where ticket holders have to provide proof of vaccination or negative COVID test before being allowed to the main festival gate for entry scanning. Furthermore, I also anticipate increased adoption of RFID capabilities, both for access control and for contactless payments on site. By implementing RFID on site, festival goers are able to register their wristband in their name, connect their credit card, and largely avoid the hand-to-hand passing of cash or credit cards at on-site vendors. Less physical touchpoints mean less potential opportunities for transmission.
When I take a moment and reflect back on everything we've gone through this last year, being away from shows has really underscored how important shared live experiences are to us as communities, as fans of live music, and as professionals. As I look out at the horizon and towards what comes next, I firmly believe we’re standing on the precipice of what could arguably be the most exciting and transformative time for live entertainment. There has never been a time like this in the modern era of the concert industry, one that’s forced us to reevaluate what is important in life both on a personal and fan level. While we start to inch back towards whatever “normal” is going to feel like, we as an industry must resist the urge to revert back to the way things were and instead embrace a more fan-centric mentality.
We’ve now seen how, without fans, so many aspects of this business fall apart. We owe it to fans as an industry to make sure we get the comeback right.