|Stuart Cain - Managing Director, The Ticket Factory|
|Profile of the week|
Hi Stuart. Thank you for joining us. Can you please tell us a little about The Ticket Factory?
With nearly 40 years’ experience in the live events industry and as one of the UK’s leading national ticket agents, The Ticket Factory sells over 2.5 million tickets per year for a variety of events ranging from comedy, concerts and sporting events, to exhibitions, theatre performances and visitor attractions. As the official box office for the NEC, Barclaycard Arena and Genting Arena, we also sell tickets nationwide for many of the UK’s favourite annual events.
What are the main challenges you are currently faced with in your role at the Ticket Factory?
I think the main question has been a commercial one. How do you sell more tickets? Everybody wants to sell as many tickets as possible for as many events as possible. As the person responsible for driving that sale through the e-commerce engine and trying to open up new markets for sports rights holders or event organisers, I am always trying to find new ways to reach new customers – which is getting harder and harder as digital media starts to proliferate and traditional channels start to change.
The Ticket Factory has grown from operating solely as the box office for The NEC Group to a successful external business with approximately 70% of our work now taking place outside of the Group. That success has been driven by three things – embracing e-commerce technology, digital marketing and opening new channels to sell tickets, and finally, coming from a venue management background, having the experience in understanding how selling a ticket online translates into managing the customer experience in the venue.
You’ve touched on technology. How has this impacted the ticketing industry?
Technology has changed the face of ticketing altogether. Four or five years ago the industry still involved employing lots of people to manually stuff envelopes with tickets and put them in the post. Now about 80% of what we do is e-ticketing, and I think that will continue to grow as we start to see more emerging technologies around mobile phones and barcodes etc. I think this will change the way people use tickets, because all a ticket really is, is a barcode, a way of getting into a venue and proving that you've paid, to give you the right to be there.
One of the biggest changes has been the move online – if you look back five or 10 years, you would have people queuing outside of a box office for a big sport event when it went on sale. Now no one queues outside box offices, everyone dives on their laptops, but increasingly they are diving on their phones. About 60-70% of our traffic is coming from phones or tablets. You've got people buying tickets on the bus, on the way to school, in factory restrooms – the way people are purchasing has changed dramatically due to technology.
What do you need to keep in mind with technology when it comes to handling high volumes of people wanting tickets?
You have to build massive server banks to deal with short, sharp peaks of demand. For example, when we sold tickets for Adele, we had over 100,000 people using our website in five minutes, so you have to build a server capability and queuing capability that can manage that level of interest. We had the same for the Davis Cup final recently - the demand for that event was phenomenal! You end up building systems that can cope with large amounts of people entering them at one time and are better at managing queues.
Ticket touting is a current issue in the industry – how do you address this?
Ticket touting has evolved drastically over the years. It’s no longer the stereotypical ‘dodgy dealer’ trying to flog you a ticket outside the venue – these are global, well-financed organisations and cyber-warriors that we’re dealing with. At The Ticket Factory we do everything we can to stop ticket touting – we’re fighting a war with ticket touts on a daily basis and have invested significant resource into trying to combat the issue. We’ve implemented intelligent software to actively look to block malicious attacks and fraudulent activity without damaging the sales process for genuine fans.
As the technology and the techniques criminals are using change constantly, what we need really is support from a government or legislative level, to try and help us manage that. For example, New York State Assembly recently made the use of ticket-buying software illegal – at last, an official body that recognises ticket touting as a criminal offence and is taking steps to expose these individuals. Educating the consumer is key for industry and as the first ticket agent to sign up with Twickets, an ethical resale platform, we believe that fans should never have to pay above face value for their tickets.
Where is the future of the ticketing industry headed, in your opinion?
The development of virtual reality is quite interesting as it has the potential to completely change the event experience, from being guided around a venue by a virtual guide to watching a hologram perform on stage. But events might also become virtual in the sense that people may start consuming events primarily through technology. For example, I think you could end up with virtual reality season ticket holders in sport, where you can't get into the venue but you pay for a season ticket where you can watch the game through your phone, read a programme through your phone, you can go onto a chat room and talk about the hits, misses and goals – so you are creating virtual fans using technology.