Pierre-Henri DEBALLON, co-founder and CEO at Weezevent
Ticketing is truly key and represents the main source of income for a lot of events. However, due to widespread shady practices, some players don’t hesitate to rob their “partners” by capturing for themselves the natural audience of their events. Here is a deep-dive on ticket-jacking: its various forms, the threat it represents, its tools and some advice on how to survive it and regain control!
TICKETING IS CENTRAL TO ALL EVENTS
As you know, subsidies are decreasing, sponsors do not run the streets, on site purchases are not infinitely extensible and TV rights and streaming only work out for a few chosen ones. Ticketing is therefore a strategic issue for any event promoter: beyond being the first touchpoint with your audience, it allows you to have a voice, to manage turnout-related logistics, etc. But it is also first and foremost where you make your money.
To improve your sales, it is essential to get a good understanding of who buys your tickets.
Your audience is made up of 2 groups — captives and non-captives
More details in our article “Ultrasound of your event’s audience”
- CAPTIVES are acquired to your event out of passion, membership, duty, geographic proximity or social link;
- NON-CAPTIVES are in your target audience, but difficult to convince — they could be opportunistic, unaware of your offer, hesitating with other options or generally making decisions at the last minute.
You should adapt your sales channels accordingly
You can find more information on this in our article “A sales channel for each audience”.
Captive and non-captive audiences should not be treated the same way, and definitely cannot be reached through the same channels: if the latter should be reached using retail channels whose expertise it is, the former must be reached directly using a ticketing platform.
So far so good, things get more complicated later…
WHAT IS TICKET-JACKING?
According to the dictionary
Ticket-jacking (noun) is a set of practices carried out by any primary or secondary ticketing retail network during an event’s sales cycle, whose purpose it is to capture said event’s captive audience and natural traffic for their own benefit and to the detriment of their event planner client.
At its core, this is piracy. After all, the term is derived from “carjacking”, which is the action of violently stealing an occupied car.
The definition of a parasite also perfectly matches the case at hand. It is defined as an animal or vegetable organism (#retailer) that feeds strictly at the expense of a host organism of a different species (#event), permanently or during a phase of its life cycle (#startofsales).
THE CAPITAL SINS OF TICKET-JACKERS
Several methods, with varying degrees of shadiness, are used. But for the sake of efficiency and to get a good understanding of this phenomenon, we will focus on concrete cases that may concern you directly. As such, I suggest grouping them in 3 main categories: deception, customer diversion and abuse of weakness.
- Another helping of camping: “We only sell ticket packages, i.e. with accommodation”, this original promise makes sense in many ways and appeals to a lot of event planners, but it is often a way to get allocated a quota of dry tickets.
Take the example of a festival in the south of France: a few days before the festival started, their famous retail network squatted the top spot on Google — ahead of the festival’s own website — by buying its keywords, as we will see later. In the end, on their 2018 edition, the neo-retailer sold 1,604 single tickets, and only 100 as part of a package: that’s 6%.
- “We will attract an international audience”: here too, the promise is appealing. Which event planner wouldn’t want to broaden their audience by partnering with a recognised player in the industry?
The promise quickly proves different when this network starts targeting local users through Google’s search engine, as can be seen below.
So, anyone can easily get ticket-jacked by letting in unscrupulous players making pretty promises … What if it was their strategy from the start?
Traffic and audience diversion
- Google Ads and keywords using your brand: for some time, the big game played by retailers has been to divert your natural traffic — the famous captives — to make sales effortlessly. And the trend is accentuated by a widespread use of Google Ads to display a paid link above those of the official website of the venue, club or event in question.
If the practice is legal — Google does not prohibit buying keywords of a trademark brand — it is nonetheless questionable and highlights the ambiguity of players who do not honour their role and deliver the opposite of their promise.
I recall a charismatic event organiser who, discovering such an advertisement, had angrily called his provider to demand and obtain the immediate withdrawal of the advertisement, threatening to break his contract and any future contracts. He had asked his service provider to advertise keywords such as “clubbing night” or “party in Paris” … but not on his brand, and he was completely right! The stealing stopped immediately, but strangely no other campaign replaced it…
To illustrate this, imagine that you are a baker and that in front of your bakery, a pop-up bread depot is set-up by one of your resellers who, to better deceive the customer, decorates it in your branding.
- Counter campaigns: this is yet another way of diverting traffic — retailers activate databases from your previous editions with emailing campaigns and targeted text messages competing with your own campaigns. Once again, the practice is legal but is not always in your best interest!
For instance, a music venue hosting Stromae — then on the rise — saw its direct sales rate fall to 30%, while usually, when hosting more niche artists, this venue directly sold up to 70% of tickets. The networks had simply bypassed the venue by activating their databases to ride on the artist’s notoriety.
To summarise, contrary to the original promise, you bring the audience to the retailer and not the other way around. Entertainment is a demand economy, and unfortunately some are benefiting at your expense. And that’s a fact.
Abuse of weakness when demand is high
- Simultaneously selling on all channels: Take the case of one of the largest French events, whose sales opened simultaneously on all channels. We observed that 81% of sales occurred between December and February, 14% from March to May, and finally 5% over the last two months before the event. While demand decreases throughout these 3 periods, we also see an increase in the direct sales rate from 46% in period 1, to 67% in period 2 to finish at 100% in period 3.
If opening sales on other channels occurred at the end of February then direct sales rate could reach 95%!
So, we see that the higher the demand is, the less the organisation sells directly, and as a corollary the best the retailers perform! The share of sales made as direct sales should follow the opposite process, because the role of a retailer is to sell through its own distribution channel to people we cannot reach, not the other way around! We need a retailer when the sale is difficult and when demand falls…
- The sales preview: even more problematic than opening sales on all channels at the launch of the box office is giving exclusivity to a third-party network at the opening of sales
In the case of Hellfest, the Viagogo secondary network already offered to sell its 2018 pass a few minutes before official tickets were available … and without the organiser’s consent.
While it is very difficult to fight such practices, the impact of pre-opening one’s ticketing via a third-party must be carefully measured. It basically comes down to Media for Sales, but while this opportunity can seem attractive at first glance, it can quickly become a zero-sum game if it is not well supervised and targeted.
Indeed, the early-adopters most likely to buy their tickets first are none other than your fans. If the media mainly reaches them, then any communication efforts you made are automatically annihilated.
- Last-minute sales: conversely, some events have an exponential sales curve in the last days — typically the case with trade shows. At these times of high demand, again ticketing networks tend to focus exclusively on Google Ads campaigns.
We can legitimately question the relevance of leaving sales open on these networks while it is harvesting time for you.
This observation is true for all periods of high demand across the 3 main sales curves we see. The Blast effect (e.g Hellfest or scarce events), the Bowl (e.g. festivals that don’t sell out but sell a lot at opening of sales when the schedule is announced and then at the last minute), and the Exponential curve (e.g. trade shows).
Therefore it is easy to sell when there is a rush of interested buyers, but on the contrary if the product is hard to sell retailers are struggling even harder than you are. The performance of these networks should be separated from sales periods and it is up to you not to get yourself ticket-jacked at strategic times.
If you want to know more, find out more details in our article “distribute me if you can”.
DOCTOR, IS GETTING TICKET-JACKED A SERIOUS CONDITION?
Financially, a direct sale using your own ticketing platform is a lot less costly than a sale through a retail network. We generally consider that it costs half as much. Over dozens of thousands of tickets, this becomes a significant amount. Getting your native audience diverted hits your margin first — generally around 10% of your ticket price. Indeed, a direct sale generally costs you 5% of the ticket price while a sale through a middleman is closer to 15%. And if your margin doesn’t go down, then the price of the ticket for your attendees will go up. Yet the principle of elasticity of offer logically induces a decrease in demand when prices go up, or at the very least higher expectations for the service provided. Let’s not forget that we always end up paying for advertising: on average, 10% of the price of a pair of sneakers is dedicated to advertising while 0.4% pays for the salary of the people who made it. In the case of keyword campaigns, the real winner is Google, customers and producers stand lower on the podium…
Beyond the financial aspect, just when it is essential to get closer to your audience and engage directly with them, this middleman drives you away from them a little bit more. In terms of customer experience, you can hardly do worse: your customer needs to exit your event’s universe, sometimes to end up in a cheap copy of your own universe, then create an account with all the fun it implies…In short, we often say the customer experience starts at purchase, and here the first touch point can leave a bitter taste…
But the biggest issue is that the famous data is taken away from you. Each supposedly successful sale enriches the database of a third-party. Thus, for the next edition, your retailer’s strategy will be to activate that database of prospective clients for their own benefit. They can then justify the power of their network and the fact that you cannot do this without their help. It’s as if the oil industry lobby prevented — for some unknown reason :) — the progress of electric vehicles. And not only is your customer database getting diverted, it also ends up helping your direct competitors! Generally speaking, nothing prevents the retailer to suggest to festival goers to attend another nearby festival and vice-versa. If a retailer sells their service as the opportunity to reach a large audience using their database, it means that your customer data will be sold to someone else later…
If the database of your famous captive customers is getting away from you, this means you are not leveraging it. Every year, every season, every edition…you have to start acquiring your audience from scratch. Yet, the essence of a project is to build a solid foundation on which you can rely in the future. Leveraging your customers is the foundation to becoming free and independent.
CRM tools to grow customer bases and associated revenues are therefore popping up on the ticketing market: ArenaMetrix and Delight come to mind, and Weezevent will launch one soon. A lot of event planners are interested, and rightly so, in these topics as stated by Laura Débard , digital marketing project manager at Delight : “Using data that we own about audiences for marketing and communication purposes has long been taboo in subsidised spaces, but this is coming to an end” (La Scène, June — July — August 2018). For this to happen, people need to own their databases or at the very least be able to collect it directly through the ticketing platform integrated to their dedicated website. Don’t forget that direct sales also help to collect data from attendees directly, not only those of the buyer!
In the end, you are being made dependant and the mid- and long-term consequences are not insignificant. The strategy of retailers is to inflate their performance. But the snake ends up biting its own tail because these methods validate fake beliefs about the efficiency of “free” media plans, and create uncertainty in one’s own capacity to sell on their own.
It’s time to gain back control of your events!
THE ANTI TICKET-JACKING MANUAL FOR JUNIOR WOODCHUCKS
Getting a better hold over your own ticketing and fighting ticket-jacking benefits your event’s various income sources and financial health. Here is a list of ideas to explore in order to take back control.
Firstly, sell through retail networks. This can come as a surprise but my point is not anti-retailers. They are very useful if you know how to use them correctly and for the right reasons and if they play their part.
Choose the network with the best performance — the big trend is to open sales on all networks to feel like you are having higher impact and covering more ground. However, it is better to use a naturally performing network offering good conditions, than being drowned among all the dates in the agendas of all your partners. Additionally, selling on each of these networks carries a significant administrative and operational cost…
This doesn’t prevent you from pushing direct sales and any form of direct relationship, putting you in control of your future.
Would you accept it if a shop opened in front of the box office at your venue’s door? No. Then don’t accept it online either, and prevent ticket-jacking.
After all, don’t forget that you are the decision maker. You have the power in the relationship. It is up to you not to allow these methods by indicating it at negotiation stage in the contract. As a reminder, retailers cannot sell without the event promoter’s consent. So you can add to the contract that it is forbidden to promote keywords related to your brand and/or event. Some amusement parks, like Disneyland, do just that.
Escape the Stockholm Syndrome. If you are dissatisfied with these methods, take back control. Don’t let your kidnapper make these decisions for you. You cannot keep complaining about your service providers and leave them to act as they please at the same time.
Shop around, retail networks need a diverse offer to keep doing business with end-customers so it’s much better to negotiate and set your terms against exclusivity rather than being referenced everywhere on average terms and conditions.
They need you and your events — even small — contrary to what they say. A retail network can only exist if they have a diverse offer. And they will always prefer having you in their portfolio than in their competitor’s.
Work on your referencing. Do your SEO (natural referencing) and SEA (paid referencing) work if you don’t want others to do it for you. One way to ensure that you appear in first place is to buy your own keyword.
Another avenue to explore is to trademark your brand with the relevant authorities, because while Google gives you the possibility to bid on your brand, said brand cannot be used in the content of the ad.
Keep engaging directly with your customers at all costs, you should be their only point of contact. Does Apple ever let Amazon announce the release of the new iPhone?
Don’t allow networks that are supposed to bring in a foreign audience advertise in France. A British company specialised in “packages” was allocated 100 3-days passes for a festival that had been sold-out for weeks with the instruction not to advertise in France. The result: 10 sales.
Maintain control over your sales cycles, announcing a headlining act or a change in price are all attractive opportunities for you to directly convert into sales. The opening of your ticket sales is an even bigger opportunity, you should save it for your audience to prevent other parties from shooting fish in a barrel before the opening of the competition. For instance, you can organise a private sales by opening ticket sales only to people who attended the previous year, then start a lottery to build a qualified database and get a feel for the level of interest.
Master your customer data before even considering CRM, Big data, Yield Management or Artificial Intelligence.
Cashless is also an excellent tool to collect your attendees’ contact details, even when they purchased their ticket through a retail network. You can then start engaging directly with them.
Get help from an expert for your communication strategy. The job of a ticket retailer is to sell tickets, not to set-up your communications plan. Agencies such as Klox specialise in this area.
At the end of the day, you should have faith in yourself. The success of your event has never stemmed from a ticketing retailer but from what you offer and your team’s hard work. Keep in mind that event planners trying their hand at direct sales never go back.
The ball is in your court now!
Call your partners and build new, healthier foundations with them. Don’t accept these old methods. Build together with them, be in control and make the most of their service because they have a lot to offer and are USEFUL but only if they play their part and let you play yours!
You will see that things will move in the right direction. Of course ticketing isn’t everything but believe me, it is worth making an extra effort in this area.