Dave Wakeman and I are friends. Here’s why: he is smart, he understands how to build a strategy which sell tickets and he doesn’t reach for the discount button the moment things slow down. Dave keeps up on what is working around the globe and he shares that information with his clients, his friends and anyone who signs up for his Talking Tickets newsletter, follows him on social media or listens to him when he speaks at conferences.
As it is apparent the North American marketplace is now moving rapidly to sell tickets for events later this year and all through 2022, it seemed like a good time to catch up with Dave and see what his outlook is for how to sell in this post-pandemic climate. As you might expect, Dave had a few thoughts.
Spoiler Alert: during our conversation which took place on April 19, 2021 we discussed the attempt by 12 soccer teams to form a Super League
Our conversation started on whether the restart which really lit up with the massive sales numbers posted by Bad Bunny were an accurate predictor of high demand and low-price resistance by consumers for events. Dave, as I expected, concluded that Bad Bunny’s incredible strength in selling ticket only confirmed there was demand for him. Meanwhile, baseball and hockey ticket sales suggested that demand is fluctuating as it always does. One big on sale does not set the level for all events. Dave called out the Santa Anita racetrack which resorted to discounting by the second day they were selling tickets.
Dave was blunt: If you’re already discounting on the second day, you’ve given up. It’s a bad strategy. Dave believes “discounting is for dummies.” My thought is that it’s unfortunate for the entire industry that Bad Bunny came out so hot, because it set the wrong expectations. In many ways it’s similar to Cirque du Soleil/The Beatles’ Love show at the Mirage which in its original incarnation came out with the very best part of the show in the first five minutes and the rest of the evening was a slow lessening of quality.
Dave thinks there is volatility in all markets, including tickets. That sort of volatility serves cryptocurrency well. I’m not sure it is helpful in moving tickets at scale to mass events. The science of marketing requires looking at studies of behavior. The age group really flocking back to ticketed events right now is the young, who are least at risk to Coronavirus effects. Marketers must watch the behavior of the public, as it is not what people say but what they do is what is instructive.
Dave also pointed out there are a lot of teams which are selling now with the same methods as before the pandemic – sales rooms, no adjustments to pricing (except upward) and the same cold calling phone banks. Somehow marketers need to learn to build links to new audiences to differentiate themselves from others working the same script.
It is Dave’s belief that people only look at the statistics or data points that benefit them. That might lead them to false conclusions. We can’t assume that the “common knowledge” consumers have saved up more money than normal during the pandemic can’t translate into a certainty that money will go to live events. Dave was strong in his insistence that those who are in the sales rooms are not the market. Once they enter that sales room, they lose connection with how fans would think, which means that they cannot use what they might do as a template for what customers will do. Making decisions based on your decisions of what you would do is wrong and dangerous. You are likely wrong, so relying on what you as a ticket marketer might does not correlate to consumer behavior.
Dave’s advice is clear to marketers:
1. Get of your offices and talk to customers to see what the world really looks like.
2. Do your research and segment your market accordingly. The “new normal” means nothing. All there is now is what is normal now. In order to understand what’s going on you have to understand the behaviors driving people now in the market.
3. Rethink your strategy around funnels and pricing. The value proposition has to be relevant to what the customer expects. One size fits all is not sufficient to address the differentiation between your entire customer base.
The prior sales model treated fans like cattle with an emphasis on how to extract maximum money. Attendance is a real issue for a lot of teams. There are ancillary revenues in venues and on fields when people are in attendance. They buy food, drinks and merchandise.
1. Build strategy. Where will we compete and how will we win? Business as usual will fail.
2. Make sure you have done a good job of brand management. Brand is important. It’s your connection to the public at large.
3. Be willing to experiment. We can’t really afford to be stuck in our ways. The pandemic has taught us to be more comfortable with change. Rethink, reimagine and try new things.
The Super League was a perfect demonstration of what happens when arrogance is balanced against desire. In almost every instance arrogance is forced to surrender. It’s a short-term power which falls against long term relationships.
The Super League gave away its power against suppliers, customers and competition. There could not have been a worse reception from every element of their ecosystem. It’s like they had no strategy at all.
Dave believes nobody other than the 12 teams involved thought the Super League was a good idea. It was an exercise in arrogance which failed right out of the gate and all involved should be chastised. The teams thought they could impose this change into the marketplace. In part this may have been driven as a result of the large debts incurred by certain teams including Barcelona and Real Madrid. The groundwork was not done with sponsors, fans or even the employees of the teams themselves. This was likely done at ownership level to impose upon the market such a dramatic change as a money grab. Here is a look at what happens when you don’t respect tradition in leagues which are draped in history. Heritage and the community roots are important. The Super League was a blunder which undermined community and fan base. Without that connection the team is just about wins and losses, which makes them much like Jerry Seinfeld’s observation that as players move around between teams, truly you’re simply rooting for laundry. Super League tore down decades of work building community involvement and emotional investment in the teams.
Dave suggests the teams of the former Super League must apologize to their fans forcefully and work to restore the trust and tradition which was broken. I agree. I often agree with Dave. Likely, that’s because he’s usually right.