Changing The Game: “Getting people through the gate is obviously a major revenue generator but the fan experience starts with the ticket purchase”
December 14, 2022
Ben Phillips, Business Development Lead at Outbox, spoke to the iSportConnect Content Manager Alex Brinton about the transition from paper to digital ticketing and the commercial opportunities an effective ticketing platform can create for sports businesses.
So for those who don’t know, what is it you do at Outbox?
Outbox is a cloud-based, all-in-one ticketing solution designed for the sports and entertainment industry. The business is built on software which has been created to provide a single point of control when managing large, complex and multifaceted events. We are currently managing the ticketing operations for Cirque du Soleil shows all over the world, as well as the European Tour Group and Ascot here in the UK.
The solution is designed to enable sports organisations to take complete control of their ticketing operation. That includes everything from customer experience and fan data to inventory management. We are trying to switch the perception of ticketing from something that is purely operational and cost based, to something that is considered a revenue generating asset for sports organisations.
We have seen a massive evolution over the last few years in the ticketing space from paper to digital, tell us a bit about that journey from your perspective?
The journey from paper to digital tickets has been driven a few factors. For sports organisations it’s generally safer, cheaper and offers a better customer experience. But it’s also been accelerated on the fan side by people’s consumption habits and the ‘Amazon effect’ of expecting things to be more instant and conveniently accessible. The notion of a paper ticket in any situation, take a boarding pass at an airport for example, is considered inconvenient for a lot of people now. When the ticket is digital and accessible on your phone it just gives you one less thing to worry about.
The other aspect of course is data collection. Understandably lots of sports organisations are making a push for digital-only event ticketing for exactly that reason. If your fans are all utilising digital tickets, it becomes much easier for an organisation to gather more data and better understanding of the fans as a result.
We do understand though that sport is built on nostalgia and a connection to occasions that is often created through physical items whether that be a shirt, scarf or a ticket. And with a digital ticket you remove that physical token of attendance which means that feeling can get lost.
I think we’re kind of walking this interesting balance between providing complete convenience, flexibility for fans, and on the rights holder side a rich fan data source, while understanding and trying not to lose sight of the elements of an event experience that are meaningful to sports fans.
If we want to take a look into the future and consider Web3 and NFTs, I think ticketing is in a prime position as an early step into that world for sports organisations and their fans. Creating that token of attendance, that collectable, just like the paper ticket but in a digital world is really interesting. For sports organisations it represents an opportunity to add to the mix and offer the best options to fans.
As someone who has a board in his room with tickets from FA Cup finals, Ashes Test matches and music festivals. I feel like that special connection to the event is lost from not having paper tickets. How do you feel about that and is there any way digital tickets can help improve this?
I think you could definitely argue that not having the physical ticket does remove some of that special connection. That traditional aspect of getting your ticket for the game is something we are all pretty familiar with and it makes up part of the event experience. We have a connection to the physical ticket, a sense of ownership and a sense of responsibility that you need to look after it, because that’s how you’re going to get in!
In contrast there is a younger and newer audience who are less wedded to the ‘old school’ paper ticket. As I mentioned earlier, they now see paper as an inconvenience and that desire for a smoother, easier experience using a digital barcode outweighs the sentimental aspect of the ticket itself.
What is interesting is how sports organisations can use those differing attitudes to their advantage. Yes, deliver digital tickets for a better fan experience and the obvious data capture benefits, but play on the nostalgia and sentimental value of a physical ticket too. As an example, you could offer a physical souvenir version of your match ticket as an optional add-on to the ticket purchase. That way you open up supplemental revenue streams and maybe even new sponsorship opportunities.
The final part is obviously that as fans begin to adopt NFTs and place more value on digital assets, that digital ticket could well end up playing the same sentimental role as our paper tickets have for us. They’ll just be in a digital wallet rather than on the wall in your room!
Tickets aren’t just something that get you into the event; they can be used for lots of commercial opportunities as well. Tell us more about how you see ticketing as a gateway for sports organisations to grow?
What I have learnt since being with Outbox is that ticketing is often viewed by sports organisations as a cost centre, rather than a place for generating revenue. If you are going to put on an event you need to have tickets to get people through the door, so you have to have a ticketing provider, and that’s a cost.
Where we see the opportunity is for sports organisations to switch that way of thinking and start utilising their ticketing platform as a revenue generating asset. Not just for selling the tickets themselves, but for tailored upsells, cross-sells, upgrades and new sponsorship opportunities. Most of the time the period between ticket purchase and event day isn’t really utilised to its full potential. But you’ve got a pre-engaged audience there, and with the right platform and approach, you can really maximise that.
With the right platform, sports organisations can fully control and customise their customer experiences from start to finish. We often think of a fan experience starting at the gate of the venue, but if you consider it to start at the point a fan decides to look for a ticket, there are a whole host of commercial opportunities you can exploit. Take regional partnerships as an example. If you’re using an effective white-label ticketing solution like Outbox, you can create unique branded customer ticketing journeys for every territory that you sell in. If you sell globally, that’s a huge number of new partnership opportunities you have just created for regional partners to own a slice of the customer experience for your event.
Another commercial opportunity is the fact that an effective ticketing operation can be a lucrative data capture opportunity, which in turn can allow sports organisations to deliver more personalised messaging. With traditional ticketing methods, organisations will often only know the ticket bookers details. Say for example I go with five friends to an event, and I buy the tickets every year. The event organisers know me and can market to me, but they know nothing about the other four people that come to their event every year and have no way of communicating with them. With digital ticketing and ticket journey tracking, you can understand the details of everyone that interacts with your event, which means more bespoke upsell opportunities and far more targeted activations for potential partners.
Where do you see the biggest challenges in the ticketing space at the moment?
I think adoption presents our biggest challenge to be honest with you. Just today we have spoken a lot about the move from paper to digital tickets and a lot of people are naturally a bit reluctant to make the switch. So I really think our biggest challenge as an industry is to make that transition as smooth for fans as possible.
I think we also need to educate sports teams and rights holders about the opportunities that digital ticketing can present to them in terms of both data collection and sponsorship activation.
They need to know they’ve got this great window of opportunity to communicate with fans and need to grab it with both hands to maximise their own revenue generating opportunities.
There is a lot of talk about the role Web3 can play in ticketing, how do you see the future and is Web3 an exciting new opportunity?
For ticketing it does present an exciting opportunity. With its emphasis on ownership, collectibles and NFTs seem such a natural place for the sports business to start in Web3. But education has a big role to play first. We are still working through a transition to digital ticketing, so the introduction of NFTs and how they are associated with the ticket journey and event experience needs to be navigated with caution to begin with.
But we spoke earlier about your wall of tickets, you can easily see a world where having that isn’t the thing anymore, and instead you have your tickets displayed as part of our online persona. My view is that the first steps should be to link the physical and digital assets together. Having a physical asset that fans already understand (a ticket) directly associated with a corresponding digital asset (an NFT) will help to build some trust and bridge that initial gap of understanding for sports fans.