Festival wristbands tell a story. In the case of TicketSellers and Eventree CEO Phil Hayes, they reveal how he spent last summer.
“On my office wall, which you can't quite see, I have all the ones from last summer,” he offers via video call. “I don't wear them for months [on end], because I'm typically going from show to show to show, I'd have like 50 on my arm by the end of the summer. So I tend to stick them up there, because it's a nice thing to look at at the end of the summer and go, that's what we delivered.”
With TicketSellers regarded as one of the UK’s leading ticketing platforms, and Eventree specializing in event management and crew organization solutions, Hayes is clearly a man who lives and breathes events. Which makes him the perfect person to offer his insights on current trends in payment plan ticketing, best practices for selling upgrades and add-ons, and why digital ticketing is the way of the future…
Payment Plan Ticketing Is More Important Than Ever
“The trend we're seeing is that people have a little bit less money to spend on nice-to-haves, like going to events, going out to eat. And I think that, more so than post-COVID, has prompted the increased use of payment plans.
“And the data we've looked at is really interesting, because it's really age dependent. Older people, which is maybe 40-plus, are less likely to use payment plans; maybe less likely to need payment plans, perhaps. And so the take up there is quite small, maybe two to 4% of those customers.
“When you get to 20, 22, 23-year-olds, you're up to maybe about eight to 10% of them using payment plans.
“When you get to 18 to 21, 22, although their use of payment plans is quite high, they generally engage much later. And I think that's because they'll make their plans later, they'll commit later.”
And You Should Launch Your Payment Plans Early
“It’s just another way to try and get some customers to commit to going to your event versus a competitor's event.
“So, go with the traditional big launch, your early bird, super early bird, [but] at the same time get something out there that offers some kind of payment plan, whether it's 10, 20 Pounds to enrol initially – just have something there.
“Even if you don't promote it as heavily, just have it visible on the ticketing page, so people can see that's an option.
“And then at quieter times – like around Christmas, when people have got a bit less money to spend, and January, which is traditionally quite a difficult month to sell in – that's a really good time to start to push the fact that we've got a plan, you can get on there for as little as 10, 20, 50 Pounds, whatever it is, and try and lure people in that way.
“It is such an important way of getting people to commit, because once they've committed, then they're part of your audience, your marketing to them is quite different. It's more like using them to try to sell and convince other people to come to the festival.”
“It is such an important way of getting people to commit..."
If Tickets Are On Sale, Your Add-Ons Should Be Too
“I see so many festivals go on sale with just the entry tickets and they go, ‘You know what, we just want to get people committed to coming to the event. And we'll solve the problem of add-ons and upgrades later on.’
“And I just think you're missing an opportunity because if you get people on the web page and they're engaged in the ticket buying process, that's your best opportunity to say to them, ‘Have you at least considered these other things that we're offering?’
“And if you're going to try and convince them to come back in six months and buy them, you've lost their focus. I mean, sure, they're going to come to the festival. But they've spent money on other things by then, because you're launching packages too late.”
Just Because They Didn’t Buy Add-Ons When They Checked Out, Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Try Again
“You can easily segment your audience and go, these are people that bought the add-ons we wanted them to, we've got a good return on investment from these customers. But all of these have just bought their entry tickets, they haven't even looked at anything else. So how are we going to kind of retarget those customers, how are we going to reach out to them and say, ‘Look, you can really round out your experience.’
“You’ll find it easier to make more money, if you want to put it in those terms, from those people that are already engaged with your brand. It's kind of an easier win, the barrier’s a little bit lower to say to those existing customers who've already committed, ‘Would you like to spend a little bit more and have an absolutely amazing time at a festival? We've got some great offers.’”
The Power of Packages
“People don't do enough [with] packages or bundles, however you want to term them, which is basically where we can look at our audience and go, well, these guys have all bought tickets to come to the festival. But we could be offering them this, this or this.
“So what we'll do is package those things up, we'll maybe put a small discount on it, and we'll send that out to all of those people. And it's just a link in the email, they click it once, they come on the website, there's a basket made up for them. It's customized to them. So we've looked at them, there's a party of four people coming. So we've got them two pre-pitched tents, with a bedding package, we've stuck a 10% discount on, and all they have to do is enter their payment details. And they're done, they can check out.
“And I think people don't do enough of that kind of analysis of what people have bought, what they could buy, and just spending maybe a couple of hours sending out those pre-packaged bundles to people just to try and kind of get them over the line from just like a decent value customer to a really high paying customer. It's just a little bit more revenue coming from someone you've already attracted in the first place.”
“People don't do enough [with] packages or bundles..."
Reducing Fan Pain Points: Queuing, Pt I
“So many companies use queueing software to get people onto the website in a sort of random but organized manner to try to combat bots and ticket touts snapping up all the tickets. And I don't know anyone who enjoys that experience.
“So what we decided to do a few years ago is re-architect the ticket buying part of our website. The bit that a customer goes to when they want to just buy a ticket, that kind of real simple workflow, we re-engineered that. Our goal was to never need queueing software in front of it.
“So what we commit to our organizers is that when you put your event on sale, if you're going to have 5000, 50, 100,000 people, they will all be able to get onto the page, it won't slow down, it won't crash, and it gives everyone a fair opportunity to buy tickets.
“We have to combat the bot problem behind the scenes by analyzing each transaction before we authorize it, and there's some great AI-led third-party tools now that you can tap into. And you can send them the transaction and they'll instantly give it a rating as to how suspicious it looks. And you can decide whether you want to go ahead or not. So you don't need to use queueing software.”
Reducing Fan Pain Points: Queuing, Pt II
“No one wants to have to queue to get into the festival. So what we try and do is work with the organizer to put an access control plan in place that we think will serve the customers and also the needs of the events in balance.
“For example, security is often the biggest bottleneck. You can do things like introduce different levels of searches. So you might have the gold level where everything's inspected very carefully. But if you see the queue building up outside, someone can radio through and say, okay, can we drop that down to the silver level or the bronze level or whatever coding you've got for it. And then it becomes more of a cursory glance and more of a pat on the outside of the bag, and through the customer goes.
"And you're sort of balancing that with the likelihood that people are trying to smuggle things into that particular event, the safety of the audience inside versus the welfare of the people in the queue outside.
"What we try and do is work with the organizer to put an access control plan in place that we think will serve the customers and also the needs of the events in balance."
“They're not as well supported, but we did some good work with iBeacon a few years ago, and these are little Bluetooth devices that you can stick under the counter where people are going to come in to get their ticket scanned, and it actually talks to the phone.
“And if they’ve put the ticket in the wallet on their iPhone or the Android equivalent, the phone talks to this little beacon, and it basically pulls the ticket onto the lockscreen. So they're not having to kind of fumble around to find it. It's literally just there and you can put a little message like, ‘Have this ready to scan’ or something. And so as they're walking up and they’re 50 meters away, it's popped up on the screen: ‘Welcome to the festival, here's your ticket.’ They tap on it, face ID, they show it, and they're into the festival really, really quickly.”
Digital Only Ticketing Is the Future
“I would love to see a shift to digital only ticketing. The problem we've got is as soon as you can print out a ticket, you open the doors wide to customers being exposed to fraud. And it doesn't actually matter whether your ticket’s backed up by blockchain or just happens to be more of a traditional digital ticket from a ticket agent. Because as soon as you manifest it as a PDF and people can print it out, they can make copies of it, they can sell it to as many people as they want.
“If we can move to a digital only ticketing world, I think we can eliminate a whole layer of ticket fraud from our industry. If we could move to a digital only model where everyone has an app from the ticket agent and the tickets get released in that app on a certain date, and you don't accept something that's not in the app, and we animate the QR code so that you can't take a screenshot of it, I think we would cut down on ticket fraud immensely.”
"As soon as you can print out a ticket, you open the doors wide to customers being exposed to fraud."
The Next 12-24 Months in Festivals
“I think this is a difficult year for festival organizers. Customers are spending a little bit less at the moment – we've seen about a 4% reduction in sales across the board. That will hit some festivals harder than others.
“And on the other hand, you've got the increase in supply costs. So organizers are sat there in the middle of this saying, ‘How do we run a really good event when our costs are going up, and our ticket sales are lower than we would like them to be? And we can't put the price of tickets up by too much because the market just won't bear it.’ So they're stuck in a really difficult place.
“You’ve got to look at it a couple of ways – you've got to think this is long haul. So don't be despondent that in early March you haven't sold enough tickets for an August festival. There is plenty of time to go before we get there.
“But you need to think hard about how you invest your marketing spend. It's not about just throwing out line-up announcements, or just the same old, ‘We're here and we can't wait to see you’ kind of marketing stuff. It's about being really clever about who you market to, what channels you’re using to reach those people.
“What are you offering those people? Give them a reason to click the button and go and look at the tickets.
“If they have made a purchase, how can we enhance their experience and increase our revenue?
“It's about tracking the spend – what's the return for this ad campaign? You know, make sure all of the integrations are there with your ticket agency, so you can see exactly what works and what doesn't work and then double down on the things that work.
“So I guess that's what I would say to organizers: be patient. Be clever about how you spend your marketing budget, and you will get there, it’s just a little bit scary at the moment.”