E-marketing E-ssentials: The Ticket Is Dead

“The ticket is dead,” proclaimed Fred Maglione, CEO of New Era Tickets.

That’s a shocking statement coming from the President/CEO of a company that does the ticketing for such high profile clients as the Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers and is owned by Comcast-Spectacor. He made that comment as one of an all-star cast of industry professionals talking about the future of ticketing at a conference in Arizona last month.

As many of you know, we’ve recently entered the ticketing business ourselves with our new PatronManager CRM system, which we built in partnership with Salesforce.com and the Salesforce Foundation. Our system combines box office ticketing and subscriptions with donor management, e-mail marketing, day-to-day calendaring, and staff collaboration. So as you can imagine, I’ve been thinking a lot about potential innovations in the ticketing world.

When we were planning PatronManager CRM, I was determined to bypass the traditional ticket printer route entirely. We’d start by offering our clients print-at-home ticket capability, and the long-term view was that eventually everyone would just show up with a smartphone or other mobile device that displayed a barcode, which could be scanned at the door.

My logic was that if today I can show up at JetBlue with a piece of paper I printed out at home and get on an airplane, why can’t I show up at the theatre in the same way? And if I’m just printing a piece of paper at home, why shouldn’t the box office use a simple desktop printer to do the same thing? Why must they buy special cardboard ticket stock and print tickets using a specialized printer (costing $1000 or more) just for that purpose? I thought we’d be doing everyone a favor by eliminating the high cost of ticket printing.

Well, I was wrong. It turns out that many organizations still feel the need to have an actual printed ticket. When asked why, “our patrons expect it” is mostly what we hear back. So I’ve relented, and we’ve integrated PatronManager with these costly printers that have been the “state of the art” for decades.

But I still believe that with tickets, we’re at yet another crossroad where consumer behavior meets new technology. It’s like swimming in a lake where there’s warm spots and cold spots. Some areas are moving ahead faster than others. Last week I boarded a Delta flight with nothing but a barcode on my cell phone that was scanned and accepted by the government’s own TSA security check. I did “self-checkout” at the Food Emporium, scanning my own groceries.

And this is just the start — true digital payments are coming. Visa and American Express are investing millions to invent the “digital wallet” where you would pay for things by simply bumping your smart phone (embedded with a special chip) on a device at the point of purchase. And last week, The New York Times had an article describing the move among some retailers to send shoppers digital receipts and attempt to entirely eliminate the paper receipt at the store. This is a trend started by Apple, which gives their salespeople the ability to swipe your credit card on their iPhones from anywhere in the store and immediately e-mail you a receipt.

Currency comes in many forms besides pure cash (frequent flyer points and Groupon discounts are two obvious examples). As soon as these substitute currencies become completely fluid, the concept of handing over pieces of paper or plastic to buy something may seem as outdated as paying for your groceries with a check seems today.

And with these changes will come a lot of benefits for both buyers and sellers of tickets. Perhaps the most obvious one in our business is for subscribers. Subscriptions have always been hugely valuable to arts organizations because (among other reasons) they front-load cash into the coffers of organizations during the off-season when cash is tight. However, we’re in a world where patrons are shying away from buying anything in advance, and this has put a strain on organizations’ liquidity, not to mention the issue of customer loyalty.

It seems to me that one answer to shoring up the subscription is to up the ante and make sure the subscription is more valuable. And that does not mean discounting! It means focusing on the enormous benefit of transferability. The old “NO REFUNDS NO EXCHANGES” line seems not only antiquated in an era of customer service, it seems even hostile.

As an arts subscriber myself, there are things I’d like to be able to do:

  • Exchange my subscription tickets for another performance with no exchange fee
  • Pay to upgrade my ticket to a better seat online
  • Buy an additional ticket for a friend and then move both of us to new seats
  • Have more options for dealing with a ticket I can’t use. I’d like to forward it to a friend who can use it in my place or donate it back to the organization for a tax credit or put the value of that unused ticket into a “credit” account for the future.

And — most importantly — I’d really like to be able to do all of these things 30 minutes before showtime from my smartphone, while sitting in the restaurant across the street from the theater.

With digital tickets, all of the things on my wish-list can be done online, by me, without any physical mailing or box office action. The moment the value of the ticket is no longer attached to a printed piece of cardboard, you can start offering subscribers a lot more service (and value) with literally a few clicks. In an era when arts organizations are struggling to keep subscribers renewing, this is the kind of future I’d like to see my local arts organization offer me.

This is why Fred said “the ticket is dead.” Just as the ice delivery service continued for decades after the refrigerator came on the scene and the Times still prints a paper edition, consumer habits die slowly. But the future of ticketing seems pretty clear — whenever it happens.

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One response to “E-marketing E-ssentials: The Ticket Is Dead

  1. For the organizations that say “our patrons expect it,” did they ever ask their patrons if they prefer digital tickets, or would mind trying it out?
    There is some satisfaction of having an actual cardboard ticket, but I’m excited about the capabilities of doing without them. And this is coming from a guy that has a collection of all ticket stubs from events I’ve attended in the past several years.
    I’d love for patrons to be able to print out a ticket with a barcode, QR, or data matrix and bring it to the theatre for us to scan. Even better, have the code in an email they can display on their phones for us to scan. Or why not use “bump” to check in? OR allow patrons to connect location based services with their ticket order and check themselves in when they check in to the venue.
    And the no exchanges policy needs to go. Assuming ticket prices between nights are the same, I don’t see why that can’t happen. Plans change, life happens. Making it easier adds value to the patrons experience, and value will keep them coming back.
    Any plans for Patron Manager to experiment with some of the bullet points you listed?

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