AXS CEO Bryan Perez was in his twenties when he had an epiphany. Having graduated from college and embarked on a career in investment banking, the avid gig goer was at a concert by The Allman Brothers Band in Texas when he asked himself a pivotal question: ‘What would you do if you didn't have to work?’
“And I remember thinking, ‘Well, why can't I do this?’”
‘This’ was a career in the live events industry, a revelation that changed the direction of Perez’ life. In the decades since he’s occupied executive positions at companies such as Live Nation, AEG and Clear Channel Entertainment, and since 2014 has operated as the CEO of ticketing company AXS.
In February the AEG-owned AXS will expand its operations beyond North America, Europe and Japan to include Australia, working in conjunction with Frontier Touring to open an office in Melbourne.
“We’ve been working on this for nine months to a year,” Perez explains. “A lot of the prep work that needed to be done – systems configuration and installation, all the tactical things like bank accounts and tax IDs – has all been completed. So, we'll be selling tickets [in Australia] most likely in the first quarter of 2023.”
Here, Perez explains the thinking behind AXS’ expansion, the increasing personalization of ticketing, the touring outlook for the next 12-24 months, and more.
What made now the right time to move into the Australian market?
A variety of things. We've made a lot of investments in our platform. Most notably, during the pandemic when most people in our industry had to retrench for obvious financial reasons, we actually put our foot on the gas, and we ended up retaining all of our people and using that opportunity to do a lot of the things that had always been on our wish list.
The most important was merging our code bases to one single global code base. It used to be that we'd have one version for one country and one for another and then one for a particular peculiar venue. We took a year and merged that into a single global code base.
And so, what that meant was not only multi-language, multi-currency, all the things that you need in efficiencies of operation, but more importantly, our ability to transfer innovation and learnings seamlessly and instantly around the world.
So, for example, there are things that we're doing in Japan right now that have become the basis of some feature sets and products in the United States, and vice versa. And so we're able to kind of export this innovation and everything that we're learning all around the world, very seamlessly, and very easily. And so that made it a really great time to continue to be more aggressive in terms of international expansion.
"During the pandemic when most people in our industry had to retrench for obvious financial reasons, we actually put our foot on the gas..."
Australia has always been on our list. We felt the platform was right, the business was ready. We also felt that coming out of the pandemic there appeared to be a little bit of instability in the Australian market from a ticketing standpoint. And we felt like, because of the stability we had had during the pandemic, that actually gave us an advantage – now is the time to go for it.
And then finally, and I think most importantly, is any time you enter a new market, you've got to be able to understand the cultural norms, the business norms – just the realities of doing business in that particular market. No two are alike.
And for that you really need boots on the ground. And with the AEG Presents and Frontier relationship, that really gave us that comfort that we had a sister company with good insight, that could help guide us to making sure that we were doing the right things to be successful in the market from the very first moment.
"The consumer is now looking for more tailored experiences – we've moved on from just goods acquisitions to life experiences."
Over the years AXS has introduced numerous ticketing innovations, such as AXS Mobile ID, AXS Invite, AXS Waiting Room, and Amazon’s One Palm Recognition Service. What do you think the next big innovation in ticketing will be?
I think it's going to be personalization. The consumer is now looking for more tailored experiences – we've moved on from just goods acquisitions to life experiences.
And they know that you've got a lot of data on them, and they're willing to accept that as long as you're using it to their benefit. All those things come together in personalization, and that's really the ability to surprise and delight the fan with unique offerings that are tailored specifically to them on an individual basis and to communicate it to them.
And that communication piece is so important, which is also what sets apart what we do with AXS Mobile ID and identity-based ticketing.
When we issue you a barcode, we're not issuing you a ticket to seat 12 in row 13. We're issuing you a barcode that is [you]. And it's always [you].
And that gives us the ability to have that more consistent communication channel. Now we can communicate and understand what your preferences are and give you those surprise and delight experiences.
And we've seen great success with it. Perfect example is the festival environment. We can speak to the fan: ‘We know you're a great candidate to upgrade into this particular offer. And by the way, we've reserved two seats for you, you’ve got 24 hours to come back and purchase them if you want. If not, don't worry about it, we'll put them back in inventory.’
It's those kinds of surprise and delight personalized experiences that I think is the revolution that's coming in our business. And it required data and segmentation and a lot of sophisticated understanding of what all these behaviors and data points mean.
And then thoughtful offer creation, and then the ability to communicate down to the individual level. We're seeing great success with it in the United States, and we're ramping that up across the entire portfolio. That will be something that we'll be bringing to Australia.
Do you have an indication of what the uptake is when you offer those surprise and delight experiences?
It depends on the event and the property, but it's not uncommon for festivals to see very solid six figures in sales of on-site upgrades over the course of a multi-day weekend. It's real meaningful revenue.
"It's not uncommon for festivals to see very solid six figures in sales of on-site upgrades over the course of a multi-day weekend..."
In regards the One Palm Recognition Service – that was initially rolled out at Red Rocks amphitheater in 2021. Is that expanding?
It's a partnership with Amazon, who developed the technology, and it's interesting because in some ways we think it's the next generation of identity-based ticketing. But we find it not nearly as invasive and controversial as, for example, facial recognition, where people are concerned that you're scanning my face, and I don't know what you're doing with it.
This is one of those things where the fan is in complete control – they can marry their AXS Mobile ID to their palm, everybody has a unique palm print. And it's abstracted, so it's not like we're keeping your palm print stored in some server somewhere – it's reduced to kind of a mathematical equation. And then we just link those two things. But if you don't want to use it, you just keep your hand in your pocket and log in like you always do.
But if you do want to use it, it is super convenient. The one thing we've added now at the Mission Ballroom in Denver is the ability to pay with your palm. So, you're in and you go to the bar, and boom, you do the same thing [motions waving palm over sensor]. All you have to do is link your credit card to that same identity. So now you're talking the ultimate in convenience – I don't even have to show up with my wallet. Once we’ve verified your ID that you're over 21 we never have to do it again, because it's always against your palm.
So yeah, it's exciting new technology. And again, any time that you're kind of pressing the state of the art like that, it's really important to get feedback and grow into these new services and technologies. And so that's what we're doing with that one. But yeah, the next step has been to link the bar purchases to your hand as well.
Has the data you’ve gathered from that given you any unique insights into customer behavior?
We haven't stitched all that data together yet. The integration with the food and beverage systems just happened at the end of ’22. So we're in the early days of monitoring pickup and insights.
"The early [indication] in 2023 is that consumer confidence is back..."
What are the current trends you’re seeing in consumer behavior relating to ticket-buying?
I would say a couple things. One is the trends that we're seeing now – and they're slight, but they’re there – is that during 2022 we were seeing a lot of events close very, very strongly. And that was because people were still wondering whether the event was going to take place.
I think that's largely passed, as the early [indication] in 2023 is that consumer confidence is back, and so the trends are going more towards front loading a lot of the majority of it at the onsale.
But we did see a trend during 2022 with people waiting until the last minute. We didn't necessarily see any decrease in enthusiasm for the event, or their penchant to spend depending on when they bought, nor did we see a ton of price differentiation.
The only thing I would say maybe that's probably more US oriented is people who tend to purchase off resale markets at higher prices are going to spend more. But that's a lot of times because they have more disposable income.
Although not every ticket sold on the [resale] market is above face value – we sell a pretty decent amount below face value, because [if people] can't go to an event because they got sick, something came up at home, they need to sell those tickets, and are just looking to get rid of them.
"We've seen some very successful initiatives with festivals where they speak very directly and clearly to their fan base, and it engenders an extraordinary amount of loyalty..."
How are you seeing successful promoters operate when it comes to selling tickets?
It’s really going back to the focus on the fan. More people are focused on the fan and transparent communication with the fan on what's going on. That really seems to be moving the needle.
We've seen some very successful initiatives with festivals where they speak very directly and clearly to their fan base, and it engenders an extraordinary amount of loyalty, which means annual repeat purchases, which means you're de-risking next year's festival.
But it goes to this holistic approach to the festival – it's not just about selling them the ticket and [focusing] on the artists, it's everything that goes into that experience. And that's making all the difference. Maybe it can't be done quite as deeply and customizably, but you can still have that same attitude towards club, theatre and arena shows as you do towards a festival.
It goes back to people are looking for experiences. I want the experience of a lifetime. And the more the promoter is focusing on that from the moment they purchase the ticket to the blow off at the end, and now they're wishing them goodbye and we hope we'll see you next time, those things matter.
When you say communicating clearly and directly, is that about everything from logistics to opportunities for money-can't-buy experiences?
Or when there's problems. Ticketing is difficult, and sometimes people have a challenge navigating through it, and in many instances it's not always a ticketing system problem.
But speaking to the consumers on a one-to-one basis – if people are having a problem, DM us and we will take care of you. That's a commitment to the fan because that's not easy to do. That takes personnel, that takes trust that you know that you're going to be able to have this one-on-one conversation with them and that's not going to blow up in your face. [It’s] a commitment to solving problems.
The fan is willing to give you an extraordinary amount of feedback right now. And they have the channels to do so. The promoters that are silent to those channels are not the successful ones. The ones that are the most deeply engaged in those channels, and willing to kind of take it offline, so to speak, and give that personal touch where necessary, that's who's moving the needle.
"The promoters that are silent to those channels are not the successful ones."
What do you think the touring circuit will look like in the next 12 to 24 months?
It's going to be increasingly global and international. Just the rise of the international artists and the speed with which they develop fanbases – I mean, you can look at Coachella’s lineup this year as a perfect example of that.
So the internationalization of not only touring, but the fanbase, and their willingness to travel for these experiences, that's going to continue.
I think tactically you'll see ’23 is still gonna be a pretty packed calendar. And there's going to be a lot of challenges, just in terms of how much we're asking from the consumer, with all of the backlog that we have to work through. I think ’24 it frees up.
But there's a lot of great content on the road right now. And you just hope that that's not forcing the consumer to make choices between which artists to see, that they have the ability to see all of their favourite artists.
And then on the ticketing side, one profound change from the pandemic was we really completed the move to digital ticketing. And that was a foundational thing that we needed. You can't get to personalization if you have anonymous ticketing, and that's what paper tickets and even print-at-home was.
The shift to digital ticketing also has helped eliminate fraudulent tickets, and [taken] some of the fear out of purchasing a ticket from the marketplace. The fact that that foundation is firmly established [is going to] open up all of these new marketing and personalization opportunities over the next 24 months.