The University of Texas, wanting to give football fans something to do before games, started a concert series next to the stadium that brought in performers like Aloe Blacc. (Courtesy University of Texas)

Some ideas worth taking away from ticket tech company Paciolan’s annual conference

Three good ideas is all Paciolan President and CEO Kim Damron asked that attendees take away from Pacnet ’19, this year’s version of the ticketing technology company’s annual conference for clients, vendors and staff. 

That wasn’t an outrageous request. The ticketing world is packed with topics, and the event Feb. 10-13, which drew about 750 people to Newport Beach, Calif., just a few miles from Paciolan’s headquarters in Irvine, presented more than 50 sessions on breakthroughs of all sorts. Many were linked to the company’s products and partners, but all of them spotlighted issues that the broader industry is figuring out.

Here are some ideas that speakers said had worked for them and their organizations. Feel free to take a few for yourself.

Do What You’re Good At

The University of Texas knew where to go when it wanted to create a better game-day experience. “It started with asking our fans what they wanted out of a University of Texas football game,” said Drew Martin, the school’s executive senior associate athletic director for external affairs.

“One of the things we heard was there’s no real reason to be on campus before gates open, which is two hours out,” Martin said. “So, what can we do to make it attractive to have fans come on campus early?”

Well, when in Austin …

“What are the city of Austin’s brand promises?” Martin said. “If you ask anybody, it’s good food and beer, it’s live music and it’s tech. 

“With a stadium with an infrastructure that dates back to the ’20s in some of the areas, tech is probably going to be the third thing that I tackle. But good food and beer, we can do that. Live music, we can do that.”

From that came Bevo Boulevard, a festival along the street on the west side of Darrel K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium that the school worked on with Learfield IMG College. It gave fans (and food trucks) a place to go and sponsors a place to activate. Beer prices are lower at the festival than they are inside the stadium, which Martin said was a hit.

To make the event more of an event, the school created a timeline of activities. UT mascot Bevo the steer walks down the boulevard temporarily named in his honor. An hour later, the football Longhorns show up, making their team walk to the stadium, Martin said.

Nearby, held on the giant circular lawn of the LBJ Presidential Library, is Longhorn City Limits, a concert series that welcomed headliners and opening acts before each of the home games in 2018. UT partnered with Austin-based promoter C3 Presents.

Making all this happen wasn’t easy, Martin said, and in some cases required some additional creative thinking. Creating Bevo Boulevard meant shutting down a street that had been home to donor parking, and some donors had used those same spaces for years.

The school’s solution? It created a valet parking service for the displaced fans.

Get Help When You Need It

Like the University of Texas, its rival to the south, the University of Oklahoma decided to put on an event last year, in this case a concert before the school’s spring football game. It led the organization to a new way to sell tickets.

“We decided to make a change late in the process,” said Patrick Nowlin, associate athletic director for ticket sales and operations, one that led to a “a perfect storm of circumstances.”

“We decided in early January that we were going to book Trace Adkins,” Nowlin said. “We needed to get a stage and we needed to get everything set up … and the event’s the first weekend of April.” 

The formerly free spring game would now carry an admission price to pay for the concert. Tickets for football season-ticket holders were $5.

OU works with the Learfield IMG College ticket sales group, which suggested using group ticket platform Fevo to help sell the tickets, but at the time Nowlin felt confident that he didn’t need the help.

“By the time we got the go-ahead, it was three weeks till the event, and we had sold zero tickets to this thing,” he said. “Now, like I said, this had been a free event. For the first time ever we are going to charge our season-ticket holders to come to this event. We have to pay for a concert, and we have to pull it all off within three weeks.”

Fevo was brought in, and Nowlin was pleased with the results: The gate rose from 43,723 attendees in 2017 to 52,102 ticket buyers in 2018. That figure included 6,500 new buyers, 1 of 3 through Fevo.

Fevo was called on again to help maintain the Sooners’ string of football sellouts after conference rival Baylor returned a block of tickets two weeks before their game in Norman. OU reached out to local school districts, and Fevo’s social-media based system, which lets users take the lead by inviting friends to buy tickets and join a group going to the game, did the rest.

Use What You Have

Jacque Holowaty, Spectra vice president of client experience and ticketing, talked about how the company is filling space that’s just waiting to be used.

As the company tries to be creative with packaging meaningful experiences for concerts — something more than a lanyard and Row 3 on the floor, Holowaty said — it has discovered the press box, empty when concerts are in town and the tenant teams are elsewhere.

“We’re going into basically unmanifested inventory,” she said. “Let’s put somebody in there, let’s give them some food and beverage revenue, and let’s fill every space that we can in our venues.”

It’s all part of meeting the high demand for packages. “People are wanting the package,” she said. “They want the preshow dinner, they want something more than a ticket,” and it expands every year. Holowaty said Spectra is packaging when the Harlem Globetrotters, Pro Bull Riders and family shows come to town.

Speaking of families, high school graduations aren’t moneymakers, since they normally don’t involve rent or paid admission, but five Spectra venues are participating in a program that rents suites to families of graduates.

“We package in food and beverage revenue,” Holowaty said. “We make it an experience for them to go celebrate their child graduating. Sometimes a couple of families get in, and you’ve got a bunch of parties.”

The idea has caught on quickly — revenue has “increased drastically year over year,” she said. 

“We also sell flowers, I think, on top of that,” Holowaty said. “We’ve gone into the florist business as well.” 

Don’t Be Afraid to Let Go

Interesting ideas expressed with confidence always sound great. But as Adam Flack, regional marketing director for Spectra at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, admits, “Not everything always works.”

Flack, like one popular decluttering expert of the day, counsels that it’s better to bid farewell to that which is not proving useful, and he was willing to provide a couple of examples at Wells Fargo Arena, part of the Iowa complex.

 “I think we heard a presentation years ago at Pacnet about some loyalty program, so we jumped right in,” Flack said. “We created a marketing plan for it; we really committed staff to it; we really tried to build that up. And at the end of the day, we saw a low adoption rate;  we didn’t really increase our ticket sales or our drop counts; and we were spending a lot of time for a very limited return. Maybe people in Des Moines, Iowa, weren’t ready for that. Maybe we didn’t have the right content or the right focus or the right rewards that they could earn, but ultimately we decided to abandon that program.”

In another case, low turnout by club seat holders for minor league basketball games spawned a rewards program, but it lasted only a couple of years. 

It’s part of not being afraid to fail. Watch the numbers, Flack said, and if the idea doesn’t take hold, try to discern the weak link in the plan and don’t be afraid on. 

 

More From Pacnet ’19:

Build That Wallet: Coming Mass Acceptance of Digital Passbook Drives Changes in Ticketing
Notebook: Paciolan Partners on Insurance With TicketGuardian
Making the Numbers Work: Data Experts Say Taking the First Step Can Lead to Big Discoveries