Image: Howler

CAPE TOWN - Choosing a ticketing partner for your event is as important as your headline act; that is, life or death. There’s a host of variables to consider, and major differentiators between ticketing companies, especially since ticket sales for big events is usually considerably more complicated than you think. Here’s why…

Imagine a circus juggler. He starts with three balls in the air. Then, it’s four, five, six. Then, he hops onto stilts. Then, he adds his hat. And then, he sets his hat alight. This should give you some idea of what it’s like to sell tickets online for large events. Multiple balls in the air. An often unsteady surface. Unforeseen elements. And fires to put out left, right and centre.

 In this article, we’ll look at how and why online ticket sales for big events is more complicated than making a page look good by clicking a few buttons and adding a logo.

 Let’s start with the ticketing system, which has about 20 other integrations: external servers, payment gateways, different banks, and diverse payment options. If any of these collapses, chaos ensues. You need a system that can piece everything together, and handle the traffic.

 Take it from someone who’s been in the trenches, made the mistakes, crashed the systems, fought the fraud, dealt with thousands of angry fans, and pacified unhappy customers…

 The strategy

 First off, a ticketing strategy is required, to work out how many tickets are needed to cover the costs of the show. The rule of thumb is that ticketing revenue should cover all expenses, and sponsorship and bar revenue should make up your profit. So, here’s a warning: Make sure that you have sufficient financial backing, and don’t attempt to put on a show if you’re not comfortable with the fact that ticket sales won’t actually cover the costs.

 The phases

Tickets for big festivals are generally sold in phases, because phases help to create hype throughout the year. Reward those that buy early, and remember to evenly distribute the number of tickets available across the different phases. This is just fair practice.

 Registration

 Registration is there partly to create hype and partly to be able to communicate all of the exciting things about your event. But also – critically – registration enables you to collect data and make the buying process simpler when tickets actually do go on sale. Pre-reg gives you a good indication of what traffic to expect on Day One, so you can be prepared.

Communication

 Make sure that you clearly and regularly communicate with your fans about the buying process – including what payment methods you accept and how they work. There’s nothing worse then being presented with something completely new, because this can be confusing for fans and may result in their buying the wrong item or missing out on their desired tickets.

 Asking for ID

 Most festivals have a strict ‘No under 18s’ policy, so requesting ID upfront scares off the youngsters trying their luck and gives the people who scan the tickets something to validate against. On that note, always ensure that if an ID is being collected, it is being validated – otherwise you’re just wasting people’s time. The other major reason to ask for ID is to create another layer of online security and to help protect against ticket fraud.

 Ticket limits

 Imposing ticket limits is a science. If a festival is in high demand, my advice is to have strict limits in place, like a maximum of 2 tix per person. This mitigates the risk of 500 people grabbing all the tickets in one go, which creates unhappy fans and an instant black market.  

You must also decide whether each person attending the event must individually register his/her ticket. For high-profile events, we’ve found that this minimises online fraud and the second-hand market – but it must be properly enforced or it’s a complete waste of time.

 The booking process

 The booking process can make or break an event launch. This sounds obvious, but (clearly, if we look at the ticketing industry lately) it isn’t. Make sure that your process has been clearly thought out and rigorously tested. If you’re releasing new features to the mass market, you never know how they’ll behave across 10 different devices and browsers. At the same time, don’t be tempted to ‘fix’ elements that aren’t broken.

 The queuing system

 Once you’ve designed your strategy, planned your phases, decided on registration, kept up the communication, imposed limits, generated hype, and got your fans ready to go… make sure that your system can deal with expected load. This is the beauty of registration data:  you know what to expect. Beyond your own system, though, ensure that your website and payment gateways/banks are able to deal with the load, by using a queuing system.

 The queuing system can kick in before fans hit the website or between the ticketing site and the payment gateway, because banks in SA simply cannot deal with an instant rush of payments. Think of the queue as the traffic manager; without it, there’s a good chance the site will crash. Or, worse, engaged fans could be kicked out of the site, experience failed payments, or even have money disappear off their cards with no tickets in return.

 Tips from a veteran: 

Crisis management 

Anything can go wrong; what makes the difference is how you manage the crisis; how you turn negative experiences into positive ones. Start by having enough people to deal with complaints and queries, across social media, PR, and customer support. Get your entire team aligned so you’re all communicating the same messages.

Honesty first 

Never embellish your numbers. Your fans will see through it, and so will your sponsors and traders. Without these three audiences you have nothing.

Jumping the gun 

Never ever say it’s sold out until you’re 300% sure that it is. Give it at least 60-90 minutes before announcing, because it’s possible that not all the sales have gone through and you may want to open up again. There’s nothing worse having to put tickets back on sale, and re-adjust phases and pricing, once you’ve popped the champagne.

 Emotional intelligence 

 The relationship between the ticketing company and client is like a complex love affair. It can run hot and cold, but the most important things are respect and loyalty as together you learn about the event, what works, and what doesn’t. Don’t jump ship every now and then, for a ‘change’; the grass is seldom greener on the other side.

 Howler, is a tech company that offers a cashless system at events. 

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

- BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE