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Better Fan Experiences Through Technology

Moderator: Andrew Hampp | MAC Presents
Lee Anderson | Paradigm Talent
Josh Baron | Songkick
Grant Gelt | Fullscreen Direct
Rich Holtzman | StubHub

There’s no getting around the secondary ticketing debate these days. For some it’s a matter of heart, for others it’s a matter of business.

To discuss this question, moderator Andrew Hampp (MAC Presents) welcomed Lee Anderson (Paradigm Talent), Josh Baron (Songkick), Grant Gelt (Fullscreen Direct) and Rich Holtzman (StubHub) to the stage on the first day of Pollstar Live.

Baron represented the heart faction. He explained how his company’s anti-scalping technology, which is able to discern real fans from bots, helped keep “hundreds of thousands of tickets off the secondary market, saving fans millions of dollars.”

Holtzman, who represented the free market proponents, responded that Songkick “did well with Adele, but she didn’t price to the market.” He pointed out that there still were tickets on StubHub, and that “it was a massive business.” Holtzman, who is also an artist manager, believes all that money should have gone to the artist.

For that to be the case, artists need to embrace the secondary market. Some did, and some didn’t, Anderson pointed out. He emphasized that it’s always the artist’s decision, though he didn’t see why they shouldn’t partake, as long as the data showed that they could charge more.

Holtzman said that his clients’ jaws regularly hit the floor when he confronted them with the true value of the seats in any given venue, which StubHub is able to do by looking at consumer spending. It is the customer data in combination with StubHub’s 21 million unique monthly visitors that make it so hard to get around the platform.

Songkick heavily relies on data as well, but the company takes it in a different direction. Besides using data to determine whether the ticket buyers are true fans or scalpers, Songkick focuses on introducing people to concerts they might like. The fact that people didn’t know what shows were happening in their area prevented them from buying a ticket.

The implication, of course, is that if fans knew about more gigs, they’d spend more money on tickets, which would in turn renders the large-scale participation in secondary markets for profit reasons unnecessary. Baron hopes others will eventually join in fighting scalping on an industrial scale, and thinks that it’s down to agents and managers as well to take a stand.

The panel then went into methods of improving the pre-sale process, agreeing that there was no reason to go on sale on a Friday morning, when everyone was at work – including the brokers who profit from the fact that not every-one can order tickets on a computer at such an hour.

Tickets bundled with a code to the artist’s album also came up in the discussion, but wasn’t met with approval. Anderson said he hated them, and pointed out that they were mainly a way for record labels to boost their first-week figures.

The panelists also talked about ways of reducing ticket prices by consciously supplying the secondary market. Holtzman recalled one instance in which a band, through increasing the supply and thereby reducing the price of tickets on StubHub, left the brokers with no other option but to dump their large contingents for prices below face value as the gig approached.

Technology such as Fullscreen Direct provides the digital infrastructure for artists to engage with their fans, for example through exclusive ticket sales. Baron explained how customer data could be used to surprise the most hardcore fans with tickets in their mailbox before a tour has even been announced. Gelt agreed that treating the most faithful fans exclusively was the way to go, in other words: using digital technology to provide a tangible, physical experience.

The idea of laws to cap ticket prices was floated but didn’t receive much support. While this might work in other countries, it simply didn’t chime with the U.S. panel, which concluded that there will always be artists out for the quick buck, just as there will always be artists that want nothing but the lowest possible ticket price for their fans. And as Holtzman pointed out, “it seems like 2017 will be a big year for ticketing. A sea change is going to take place.”

– Gideon Gottfried