Nathan Hubbard's Plan to 'Rival' Ticketmaster Makes Big Claims, But Offers Few Details

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Nathan Hubbard

Most of what Hubbard is planning has already been done.

It might come as a surprise to those who casually follow Nathan Hubbard to learn that he hasn’t run Ticketmaster for five years.

Since Hubbard exited Ticketmaster in 2013 and then left his Twitter gig in 2016, Hubbard has spent a lot of time talking about Ticketmaster on Twitter, appearing on Bob Lefsetz’s podcast to explain Verified Fan and penning a column for Bill Simmons’ The Ringer that tackled some shortcomings of the ticketing industry and why it’s difficult for fans to get tickets to the NBA Finals (spoiler alert: the Golden State Warriors vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers is a very high-demand event).

Hubbard left Ticketmaster in 2013, a move he said he made of his own accord, although sources at the company tell us he was fired. He then spent another three years at Twitter as head of commerce, before leaving one day after Twitter announced it was shutting down the project he had been working on: a "buy" button that would have turned the social media company into an e-commerce destination.

Today, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Hubbard is working to develop his own ticketing company called Rival, which is being described as a “platform for the most coveted live events on the planet” and has backing from unnamed “sports teams, venue owners across the globe, and leaders from the tech industry’s highest profile companies.”

For those without a WSJ subscription, tech site Recode does a decent job explaining Hubbard’s new initiative, which seems to be positioned as a company that will present itself as a partner to Ticketmaster before growing into a scaled-up competitor. Calling one’s company Rival seems to foreshadow a tipping point.

The Los Angeles-based tech startup has raised $30 million over 18 months with support from Andreessen Horowitz with Upfront Ventures, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and Stripe co-founders Patrick and John Collison. Upfront partner Greg Bettinelli, who helped developed Live Nation’s short-lived ticketing initiative before it was eventually scrapped, is also on Rival’s board of directors.

Hubbard told the Journal that Rival is being developed for teams and entertainment companies whose “two biggest concerns right now are how do I better monetize my fans and how do I keep them safer?”

Hubbard then goes on to lay out a vision for Rival with technology ideas that are interesting but largely already exist or are being developed. Rival will utilize a third-party distribution system to sell tickets, similar to integrations used by SeatGeek and AXS to get tickets into the hands of more fans.

“To keep track of ticket owners, Rival’s software gives teams the option to require that customers who buy certain tickets do so only digitally,” the Recode article reads, “and upload a photo of themselves to complete a purchase. Upon arrival at the venue, cameras onsite will snap images to confirm they are the same person.”

This idea sounds an awful lot like the Presence product Ticketmaster is building, which moves tickets to a 100 percent digital format, while Madison Square Garden already uses facial recognition software and Live Nation announced in Thursday’s earnings report that it was investing in Austin facial-recognition company Blink Identity.

There’s talk about using mobile technology to purchase food and upgrade seats, both of which already exist but aren’t widely utilized. While Rival has been successful at raising $30 million, that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the $150 million SeatGeek has raised, or the tens of millions Ticketmaster has spent to upgrade its technology and develop products like Verified Fan, which has helped Ticketmaster achieve a 109 percent net renewal rate in recent years.

Besides the ticketing technology, playing in the ticket space could require big upfront payments to rights holders, a plan to disrupt the exclusivity model currently utilized in North America, and a way to compete against both Ticketmaster and AXS, which have content divisions that can (under certain circumstances) provide shows and concerts to ticketing clients.

Last year, Amazon tried to enter the ticketing market and quickly retreated after making few gains in the space. Perhaps Hubbard will have more luck, but if he’s banking on his three-year run at Ticketmaster, $30 million from Silicon Valley and his vow to skip Christmas and Easter, he might find himself sharing a similar fate with everyone else who tried, and largely failed, to shake up the space.