Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee opened this year designed for paperless entry to its events. (Don Muret / Staff)

The only thing certain about the future of the multibillion-dollar ticketing industry is it most definitely won’t include tickets – that is, the garden-variety ducats in envelopes that have been standard in the live entertainment business will soon go the way of the typewriter and landlines.

“The life of the paper ticket is coming to an end,” said Justin Burleigh, chief product officer for Ticketmaster, whose own company led the charge with all-digital offerings for the recent Taylor Swift tour and the current NFL season. “We live in a world where, no matter your age, everyone is living on their mobile devices. And we fully expect that to continue.”

Over the past year, Ticketmaster has taken the lead on two of the most important advances in ticketing technology, investing  in Blink Identity, a presenter at the recent TechStars Music Accelerator program, for its work on facial recognition and biometrics, and acquiring Upgraded, a blockchain ticketing company out of the Bay Area.

“The end goal for us is creating safer, more personalized experiences for the ticket buyer,” Burleigh said. “And also providing marketing and consumer insights to our clients.”

The other major area of concern for the ticketing business is controlling the secondary market, or in Ticketmaster’s case, keeping those transactions within its ecosystem, as with its controversial Trade Desk, which came under fire earlier in the year for the company’s apparent dealings with bulk resellers.

“There is an increasing movement towards the blending of the primary and secondary market into a single market,” said Josh Baron, co-author of the 2011 book “Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped,” as well as a consultant to several ticket companies, including Project Admission, a national tech company and blockchain alternative with a focus on the transferring and reselling of tickets, and Dead promoter Peter Shapiro’s group of events and festivals, now serviced by Ticketfly, but which will eventually be rebranded as part of Eventbrite, which acquired the former. 

“We’re just another marketplace,” agreed Jeff Poirier, StubHub general manager for music, theater and performing arts. “The customer has evolved and so have we, as we offer both access and choice to purchase the tickets they want at the value they want, whenever and wherever they want. The secondary market offers two features primary does not: true market value to inform pricing, and data on who is doing the purchasing.”

While Ticketmaster is most certainly the gorilla in the room when it comes to the industry, there are any number of rivals who are busy carving out a space of their own, including not just StubHub and the combined Eventbrite/Ticketfly but also ShowClix, SeatGeek, Vivid Seats AXS and former Ticketmaster head Nathan Hubbard’s startup, Rival.

“There are now and certainly will be competing technologies that offer the same, if not better, services than what Ticketmaster currently offers,” Baron said. “But can any of them actually cause disruption to its primary ticketing business? I don’t see that happening in the immediate future, but I could see them chipping away over the next five to 10 years.”

For Ticketmaster’s Burleigh, the company’s primary goal remains “How do we build products through the lens of identity-based ticketing? It’s not enough to know who bought tickets. Clients want to know who’s actually attending the event. How do we preserve that end-to-end view and chain of custody, and provide them with better, more efficient experiences?”

Fans use their phones to enter Fiserv Forum. (Don Muret / Staff)

Josh Baron agreed: “If the idea of a ticket is a license that can be transferred, we need to know how that’s being done. The key is knowing who the end user is for each ticket in every seat in the building, much as the airlines do.”

Indeed, the idea of dynamic pricing, based on supply, demand and timing, which has been used for both airline tickets and hotel rooms, looks to be a something increasingly taking hold in the ticketing sector.

“At the end of the day, there are still a vast amount of tickets that go unsold,” said Baron, citing reports of “almost 30 to 40 percent leftover inventory in some quarters.”

Taylor Swift used the concept of dynamic pricing for her most recent tour by setting tickets at market-high levels, risking what turned out to be a slow initial rollout but which ultimately resulted in one of the highest-grossing concert tours in history. It also boasted paperless ticketing and verified fan initiatives that offered rewards for consumer behavior.

Baron cited the ticketing companies’ goal to provide the kind of “long-term fan engagement” one sees in, for example, country music, which specializes in grip-and-grin interactions with the public, suggesting enhanced VIP packages that offer meaningful contact like a preshow meditation with Miguel or playing a game of rock, paper, scissors with Chance the Rapper.

“It’s not just about marketing,” Ticketmaster’s Burleigh said. “Wouldn’t you like to wake up in a world where your favorite content is having a conversation with you because they truly understand your affinities and desires?”

With smart contracts, facial recognition and other new technologies, the traditional paper ticket is undergoing a sea change.

Ticketmaster recently rolled out Presence, what it is calling “a next-generation venue access control and fan engagement platform that replaces tickets with digital passes, streamlines live event venue operations and provides real-time insights and analytics to venues and teams, enhances security and protects against fraud.”

“The end goal for us is creating safer, more personalized experiences for the consumer,” Ticketmaster’s Burleigh said. “We’re constantly exploring emerging technologies that can leverage and connect avid fans to allow them to enjoy those two hours of live entertainment, while providing operational data about those buyers for our clients.”

So whether that means your face providing entrance to the express line at the merchandise table or opening the doors to a VIP backstage experience, the ticketing business is embracing advanced technology to turn those dreams into reality.



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