Whetting Customers' App-etites

Venues are creating customized apps as a value-add for fans to drive ticket sales

  • by Jessica Boudevin
  • Published: November 1, 2011

Want to find the set list of a recent concert? There’s an app for that. Feel like taking a picture with the L.A. Kings crown on your head? There’s an app for that, too. Venues are reaching out to their increasingly technologically savvy consumers through the creation of customized apps.

The most recent venue to launch a customized app available for download is Staples Center in Los Angeles. The facility joins Power Balance Pavilion in Sacramento and Madison Square Garden in New York as venues with personalized apps available for free download on iPhone and Android. So far, venues are unable to quantify return on investment (ROI); however, there are various avenues by which it is possible to make money from apps. Sometimes it’s worth the cost just to be on the cutting edge of technology.

The Staples Center app launched Oct. 3, and just 16 days after the launch, had 1,622 downloads. Power Balance Pavilion’s app, which launched at the beginning of 2011, has around 5,000 downloads.

L.A.-based Mobile Roadie created both the Staples Center and Power Balance Pavilion apps. CEO Michael Schneider said that apps are a great tool for venues because they can do a lot more than a website and are a reasonable cost. Pricing is listed directly on the Mobile Roadie website, and all of their packages include push notifications and product updates.

“Power Balance Pavilion has our core product which is $1,200 a year; and Staples Center has our Pro product, which is $5,000 a year,” said Schneider. “A lot of the ROI is to be determined. Just like if you were building a website in the mid-90s — it’s very early days. But the basics are there,” he added.

Schneider said that venues can make money on apps through sponsorship, selling tickets, selling merchandise and collecting email addresses for marketing.

Cara Vanderhook, director of Communications & Social Media at Staples Center & Nokia Theatre L.A. Live, said that total start-up costs, including registering with Apple and Android, came to right around $10,000 to get the app up and keep it running for the year.

The first concert-specific offer on the Staples Center app was used for the Chris Brown concert Oct. 20. Within 15 hours of sending out an email to ticket buyers letting them know about a $5 parking offer only available to app users, 35 parking spots were purchased using the coupon.

Kirk Rhinehart, director of arena programming and Marketing, said that the Power Balance Pavilion app also offers exclusive coupons, presale tickets and promotions. He said that he thinks the app has been a successful tool when it comes to ticket sales, which they track through presale codes.

They were able to save money, also. “We used to have an expensive text-messaging platform that we’ve been able to eliminate because now we can just send messages and notifications through the app,” said Rhinehart.

Staples Center staff plan to use their app to send notifications to their customers also. “We have push notifications where we can geo-target users within a certain radius; if we get more tickets to a show that’s playing that night and it’s 4 o’clock, we can get the word out that day and send out a notification to users close to the venue that there are more tickets available,” said Vanderhook. She said the technology would have been useful last Lakers season.

“There was an accident that closed off the main freeway exit for the venue, and these push notifications would have been perfect in this instance because we could have set up one that people could get even if they were already on their way to the show.”

So far, the three venues haven’t sold sponsorships inside of their apps. They have house advertising and promotional material for their own concerts and venues instead.

Vanderhook said that there is more than one type of return on investment when it comes to apps. “I think the ROI is one that can’t really be measured monetarily because it’s a return on customer satisfaction and service,” she said.

Staples Center GM Lee Zeidman said he considered it a personal goal for the venue to remain current with technology. “When we built Staples Center in 1999 it was over $400 million and we always said we’re not just going to rest on the laurels of opening up a brand new facility in downtown L.A. We’re always going to make sure that we refresh it not only from a maintenance standpoint and amenities standpoint, but from a technology standpoint.”

Zeidman added that an app was the logical next step in terms of social media. “It improves customer service not only in-venue but out-of-venue,” he said. “The features on the app are very timely for some of our patrons who are coming to events and want to be updated on what we have going on here.”

A Nokia Theatre app, located just across the street from Staples Center at the AEG-managed L.A. Live campus, is going to be launched in November.

Power Balance Pavilion is growing its app arsenal also, with an app for the National Basketball League’s Sacramento Kings to be launched as soon as the lockout is resolved.

Neither Staples Center nor Power Balance Pavilion spent much money promoting the app. Vanderhook said that Staples Center hasn’t used any paid advertisement for the app. “Instead of paying for advertisement, we’ve used all of the assets that we have at our disposal — signage on campus, signage across the street. We mention it in the emails we send out but we haven’t even done a dedicated e-blast just for the app, and we’re still getting about 100 downloads a day.”

Rhinehart said that at this point, 10 months after the launch, the Power Balance Pavilion app is still getting about 30 new downloads each day, even without much marketing.

When creating an app for a venue, it is important to condense the most important information into an easy-to-use platform.

“What I tell people is that the app is like a miniature, quick version of the website,” said Vanderhook. “We looked at the most-viewed things on our website and put those into the app.”

The Staples Center app has a list of options at the bottom with information. It includes an event listing, a directory with information about parking and merchandise, as well as their frequently asked questions and information about suite and meetings bookings. Also available in the scrolling section is a locations map where you can get real-time driving directions to any of the buildings on the Staples Center L.A. Live campus. There is a section for five exclusive offers, a photo gallery, a news section that links to Twitter, a customized photo section with banners and a QR Scanner. Out of 808 downloads eight days after the app was made available, 115 of those had signed up for the newsletter through the app.

The most personalized and interactive elements of the Staples Center app are the Chat function and the Top Users.

“It’s an in-app chat; a mobile-app chat,” explained Vanderhook. “Ideally you want people to be logged into their Facebook or Twitter account while they’re in the app because then they can push anything that they’re doing to their friends through social networking. Also, they can chat only with other app users, or chat based on location proximity with app users who are nearby.”

The Top Users function gives app users points for downloading the app and then participating by posting photos, leaving comments and linking the app to other social networking accounts. “You want points because this month, the most active user will win a new Kings jersey,” said Vanderhook. “We’ll do a new contest every month.”

The Power Balance Pavilion app has the same mobile-app chat function and galleries, as well as listing events. In a unique twist, Rhinehart posts set lists from nearly every concert at the venue. Also, the venue is “working with another company, called Bypass Lane, in order to integrate the ability to order food and drinks from a seat into the app,” said Rhinehart, adding that the company will be able to work with Mobile Roadie to make that happen.

Zeidman said that he had an ulterior motive for getting an easy-to-use and manage Staples Center app. “Right now I’m here all the time so I’m not sure I need an app, but maybe eventually it will be so easy that I’ll be able to run the building through the app and spend more time in Bora Bora,” he joked.

Interviewed for this story: Kirk Rhinehart, (916) 928-3610; Michael Schneider, (310) 526-8502; Cara Vanderhook, (213) 742-7273; Lee Zeidman, (213) 742-7255 

  • by Jessica Boudevin
  • Published: November 1, 2011