Take My Ticket, Please!

About a decade ago, the notion of ticketless events was a hot topic but it was several years ahead of its time. Fortunately, the technology curve is beginning to catch up and we’re at a point in time where affordable solutions that are also user-friendly for both patron and organization have started trickling into the market.

Adaptistration People 124Joe Patti recently touched on this topic over at Butts In The Seats via a post from 3/16/2016 where he focuses more on the interpersonal connection, patron mindset, and lobby logistics angles rather than technological implementation. It got me thinking about this issue again and as a result of some experiences over the last year, I’m moving toward an inescapable conclusion that arts orgs need to demand more of their box office and ticketing providers to step up ticketless box office development.

As of now, too many providers are either woefully behind that development curve or they charge so much for a (usually mediocre) solution that the return on investment simply isn’t worth it.

Case in point, AMC Entertainment Inc. (which owns AMC movie theaters) launched a digital ticket buying process that allows patrons to completely side step the box office or any ticket kiosks. The entire procedure takes place via a Smartphone/tablet app that generates a QR code after purchase which you show to the employee taking tickets.

Since using the app, I’ve been to a few different AMC theaters in the Chicago area and some print a tiny paper receipt after scanning your digital ticket while others simply let you through to your theater. In both cases, the process was substantially faster than wading through the box office lines or lines at paper ticket dispensing kiosks. Not only does this make the entire process far more pleasant but it managed to increase my patronage frequency.

Smaller Is Better

Although some smaller budget groups may bemoan the lack of options for box office solutions that accommodate traditional subscription sales, that lemon becomes a tasty glass of ticketing lemonade in this scenario.

For example, some ticketing provides, such as Eventbrite, may offer individual seat selection but they still don’t offer traditional subscription sales or subscription management. And for groups that absolutely, positively must sell subscriptions, that is pretty much a deal breaker. At the same time, they do offer one of the more refined and affordable ticketless solutions available. And since smaller budget groups aren’t shackled to the subscription model the same way their larger budget peers are, they are in a better position to leap frog ahead in this area.

Eventbrite makes the process even easier for small budget groups to implement thanks to a mobile device only app that scans digital tickets and records everything in your organization’s Eventbrite database. For those needing more on-site options, there’s a digital box office solution available as well that allows groups to process check, credit card, and cash payments. There are even ticket printer options available if desired.

Over the course of this season, a few of my Venture Platform users switched to this option and based on their feedback, the solution has been working out nicely. In most cases, older patrons aren’t having trouble buying tickets online nor using digital tickets at the door. By and large, these groups are noticing a drop in overall box office related frustrations for patrons. One group even managed to implement a membership program that is compatible with the way Eventbrite sells tickets.

So far, they’ve been generating more earned income revenue with that option rather than their traditional subscription offering, which still has to be managed entirely by mail/phone/email and tickets set aside manually. In short, the traditional model is a rapidly diminishing return on investment when all of the staff hours are added into the equation.

In the grand scheme of things, an affordable and reliable turn-key ticketless option is still in its early stages. But these early steps provide options for the field that are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were just a few years ago. Ideally, this momentum is only the beginning of a larger development surge.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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3 thoughts on “Take My Ticket, Please!”

  1. Eventbrite has provided the perfect ticketing solution for my small budget organization, Allegheny RiverStone Center for the Arts. For full disclosure, we are a Venture client and Drew’s recommendation to use EB has proven to be expert guidance. Having just completed a full year with the Venture platform and EB, online ticket sales accounted for 18% of total sales in 2015. Given that our core support base is a senior population, I think the 18% conversion to web sales is a major accomplishment. The EB platform is user friendly for the non-subscription types like we are and their customer service has been excellent.

  2. I wonder if there would be a way to connect something like Memberful with Eventbrite using their respective APIs. Not sure how that works with Eventbrite’s commission policy, and of course, you’d be adding Memberful’s own commission. I know a lot of web publishers really like Memberful for premium subscription models.

    • Quite possibly but that’s where things tend to grind to a halt for smaller budget groups in that API related work involves custom programming fees. Ideally, a Zapier app exists that can all but eliminate those costs but a quick look at the Eventbrite related zaps (https://zapier.com/zapbook/eventbrite/) seems to indicate there is no existing connectivity with Memberful.

      Having said that, there are some very useful EB zaps there which we do use to help connect with services like MailChimp. which in turn is also connected to a Venture user’s website. This produces a synced EB > MC < Venture connection that keeps mailing lists up to date and as effective as possible.

      If anything, this is one area where a number of arts focused tech providers tend to fall down. For instance, they may offer an API but it is very difficult to use and/or poorly documented all of which means much higher development costs for the arts organization. But if those providers took the time to develop their own zapier module that connects with the most common providers used by arts organizations, that would position them in a far more valuable place.

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