Why Fans Are Selling Festival Tickets To Earn Everything From Free Admission to Golden Toilets
For the past four summers, Jack Fossey has enjoyed ending his university semester by celebrating with his friends at the annual British music festival Bestival. In 2014, he purchased a general admission ticket and camped out for the weekend festivities with his usual crew.
But the following year, he and his friends all went for free, and were treated to a variety of first class amenities. The reason: he sold 62 Bestival tickets as an ambassador for Verve, a word-of-mouth sales software for live entertainment.
"I actually sold the most tickets in the U.K. so I hit the top prize tier," he tells Billboard. "A speed boat picked me up in South Hampton and took me to the festival on the Isle of Wight. I was able to bring five or six of my mates and they gave us champagne along the way. It was pretty awesome." The 22-year-old Fossey was awarded a free ticket to the four-day fest, a VIP camping spot for himself and up to 10 pals, a t-shirt, and passes to watch the show behind the venue’s main stage.
For the past three years, Fossey has continued promoting the festival to his friends and colleagues and receiving rewards that he then redeems for special Bestival experiences. It’s part of Verve's model, which relies on fans teaming up with brands to launch grassroots, mostly offline sales campaigns on their behalf. The average advocate sells around 12 tickets per event, while an event can employ between 100 and 800 advocates.
“We built software that we give to event organizers for festivals, sports, and tours. They promote it out to their fans and the biggest fans, they sign up to become advocates for that brand,” Verve founder Callum Negus-Fancey tells Billboard. “With every ticket that they sell, they get currency that they can then swap for rewards.”
The VIP experiences start with a free ticket to the event, and go on to include free drinks and food inside the festival, discounts on merchandise, hopping on stage during an artist’s set, or even shooting a confetti cannon off into the crowd.
“We’ve driven people around in a golf cart and had them take pictures with all of the headliners,” says Negus-Fancey. “We even have a golden toilet for Bonnaroo advocates where only that advocate can use it the whole weekend, which is a pretty funny but much appreciated reward,” he adds. (Advocates must sell 100 tickets for the private toilet.)
Over the last 12 months, Verve, which just announced an $18.5 million Series B funding round alongside partnerships with Eventbrite and Frontgate, has sold over 500,000 tickets. The company currently works with 450 brands—everyone from Sweetwater and Donnie Disco Presents to festivals such as Voodoo Music, Bonnaroo, Spring Awakening, Country Thunder, Freaky Deaky, and Electric Beats—and is responsible for 10 to 20 percent of ticket sales for their core clientele.
Negus-Fancey says Verve currently partners with over 100 festivals in the U.S., and has grown two to three times every year since its launch in 2014, with active ventures in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.K, Germany, Holland, France, Spain, and Scandinavia.
Tim Smith, an avid festival-goer who frequents events like EDC, Electric Forest, Moonrise, and Tomorrowland, has been working as an advocate for Bonnaroo for three years. “I went to the festival in 2012 and let’s just say my life changed forever,” says the North Carolina native, who married his wife at the festival two years ago.
While he enjoys the freebies, he says his motivation for working with Verve is to share his passion for the Tennessee-based event. “It’s cool to get a free ticket to go to Bonnaroo, but that’s not why I do it,” he explains. “It’s just getting people to go and experience what I’ve experienced the last 5 years on the farm. I guess my goal would be to get everyone in the world to attend Bonnaroo.”
While some advocates use social media to spread the word on their specific events, Negus-Fancey notes that the model is set up to resemble that of an old-school street marketing campaign. “We are trying to attract genuine fans that love the brands and encourage advocates to sell to people they know directly, rather than giving out a link that attracts a different type of person,” he says. “These people are going and selling at colleges, at work, knocking on doors. It’s very offline-driven. Their real focus is having conversations in the real world or via mediums like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.”
Smith, for instance, helps to share the Bonnaroo experience by chatting with the youth who frequent his bar. “I also recruited an older guy to go with us two years ago,” he notes. “And he had so much fun that he’s coming back again next year. That right there is what it’s all about.”