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Top Arena Execs Dish on How They Move Ticket Sales

What does it take to run a successful arena in today's competitive and volatile touring business?

Venue executives from across the country will convene Sept. 14-16 in Long Beach, Ca. for the Arena Management Conference organized by the IAVM, the International Association of Venue Managers. Information about the conference and its agenda can be found here.

In advance of the event, Billboard surveyed executives at five of the world’s top arenas, with a capacity of 15,000 or greater, as ranked by the midyear Billboard Boxscore charts.   We asked them about their use of digital and social media to sell tickets, their tips to their fellow venue executives and their view of trends shaping the arena and touring business. 

The participants in our digital rountable were: Sean Saadeh, senior VP of programming, Barclays Center, Brooklyn; James Allen, general manager, Phones 4U Arena, Manchester, England; Lee Zeidman, president, Staples Center, Los Angeles; Robin Korn, executive VP of strategic marketing at MSG Entertainment, Madison Square Garden, New York; and, from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and its parent company Global Spectrum: Bob Schwartz, VP of marketing; Brock Jones, VP of booking; Mark DiMaurizio, president of FanOne Marketing;  Hank Abate, senior VP of arenas and stadiums and Ike Richman, VP of Comcast-Spectacor, the parent company of Global Spectrum.

How do you use digital or social media to sell tickets?

Saadeh: We use social media to leverage all of our events and it is part of the overall marketing strategy in promoting shows here at Barclays Center. By providing exclusive behind-the-scenes content for followers across our social platforms, they get an up-close-and personal-look at the fantastic talent coming to Brooklyn. Our shared content is an interactive accompaniment to the live entertainment at Barclays Center, and nothing beats experiencing that first hand.

Allen: Twitter is an invaluable platform that really works for us. It worked particularly well for the Prince shows that took place here in May. With only a couple of weeks to promote the shows, we were able to make use of the hashtags already in use to bring our posts into the conversation. Our initial announcement worked so well that it led to the venue trending on Twitter in the Manchester area that day. After creating this buzz at the beginning of the week, the initial show date sold out very quickly and a second date was confirmed that afternoon.”

Schwartz: For Marvel Universe Live! at the Wells Fargo Center [in July], we implemented a splash page and a website takeover. On the splash page, to entice visitors to our website, we embedded video with a link to buy tickets. If someone clicked through or tried to bypass that video to visit our website, we had banner ads on both sides of every page, thus the “takeover.” A visitor to our site couldn’t miss the branding of the Marvel show. Combined between the splash page and the banner ads, we did more than 500 tickets to the Marvel show without a cost.

Korn: While digital and social media have become an integral part of every marketing campaign we run, our marketing team continues to look for the most innovative ways to reach consumers. We currently rely heavily on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to not only share show information and ticket on sales, but to offer our fans exclusive content regarding artists and our venues. A recent example of the power of social media is when One Direction sold out Madison Square Garden in under 10 minutes [in late 2012], only utilizing social platforms through the band, the promoter and venue.  We’ve had other similar success stories with Dispatch and Conan O’Brien.

Schwartz: We’re [also] using a lot of infographics. We see the views on infographics are triple than what we see on sharing stories. They’re easily consumed and they’re much more shareable. Instead of just text, we show these images with a pre-sale code or offer. When you click to gain access code to the presale, a visitor has to fill out a form and we capture their data [email address]. We’re selling tickets and increasing our database at the same time while measuring all digital channels which we can place value on the data we’re collecting.

DiMaurizio: With webtracking scripts and marketing automation technology, we can track viewers behaviors and use that to market directly to them. For events, when past purchasers leave tickets in their cart, after 24 hours, we send them an email reminder that there are still tickets in their cart. If they are on ticket pages, then leave our site without purchasing, they get served banner ads on other sites, reminding them to visit the event pages they left prior.

Zeidman: Our social media staff is incredibly active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They’re always researching the ideal time to run contents and sweepstakes, and what platform is best to run those sweepstakes on for a particular event. A good example would be Katy Perry, where we ran a sweepstakes on Facebook to coincide with the on-sale in January. Granted, Katy is really hot right now and both shows are sold-out on Sept. 19 and Sept. 20. Our social media team found that it was successful to help promote the on-sale and ticket sales by running sweepstakes the week of the on-sale. That way we’re not just hitting various followers with “buy now,” but we’re actually saying “enter now” — and if you don’t want to win tickets, buy this weekend. So it sort of softens the hard sale and gives our followers and those fans of those artists to win a pair of tickets, and engage socially and share with other followers as well. Some of the promoters in the last year have started to include ticket giveaways for the venue’s social media as part of their standard marketing campaign. We believe that proves there’s a value for the venue’s social platforms.

What trends do you see shaping the arena business?

Zeidman: One of the things you’re seeing that affects the business of arena management right now is that there are a tremendous amount of stadium shows. There are more stadium shows this year than I’ve ever seen in my 25 years in the business. It’s cyclical. You’re finding a lot of artists right now that can actually fill stadiums — not only once but doing multiples, like a One Direction. I’m hoping the trend moving forward is not trying to put everyone into stadiums, because that has a tremendous amount of impact on arena shows. One of the [other] trends is that there are a lot of people asking us, ‘What more can you do for us?’ We’re coming up with ways to use our marketing assets and our social media more. We believe that sets us apart from other venues in our marketplace. For instance, we can tap into our teams. We have four teams that play here [NBA’s Lakers and Clippers; NHL’s Kings; and WNBA’s Spark]. We can cross-promote with them. We have [the surrounding restaurant and entertainment district] L.A. Live and our hotels that we can cross-market with. We believe that will hopefully set us apart from other venues in the Southern California marketplace.

Saadeh: My perspective is that we need to continue to develop more content at the arena level. We have known this for some time, and last year’s touring results prove that the industry is getting stronger and moving in the right direction. However, there is still more that can be done.

Allen: Social media is a big factor, as it provides another way for promoters and agents to assess artist popularity in addition to ticket and record sales. The pre-sale also seems to becoming more important than the official on-sale, as everyone is trying offer an advantage to their loyal customers.

Abate: The need for robust wi-fi systems in facilities is a growing factor and trend.

Richman: Comcast-Spectacor, the parent company of Global Spectrum, and owners of the Wells Fargo Center is adding 300 Wi-Fi hotspots in the arena in time for the 2014-15 National Basketball Association and National Hockey League seasons. Additionally, Comcast-Spectacor has plans to develop the Wells Fargo Center into a technology showcase for Comcast’s technology platforms for what the company can provide in other arenas and stadiums throughout North America.

Korn: Madison Square Garden provides not only unforgettable moments in entertainment and sports, but the arena also features unparalleled culinary experiences and exceptional customer service [which is increasingly important to arena fans]. Award-winning chefs such as Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Andrew Carmellini have created food and beverage pairings for ‘The Signature Collection’ that are exclusively available to attendees of Madison Square Garden events.

What can your fellow venue executives learn from your success?

Zeidman: Los Angeles is a big market. There are a tremendous amount of venues to play here. So some of the things we look at is how often the artist has played here recently and what other venues they’ve played here recently. But we’re in constant contact with the managers, agents and other promoters and bookers to see who’s touring and what they would do within our marketplace.

Saadeh: The key is to do your research. Speak to other colleagues about what shows they are doing and if they are successful in their markets. I spend a lot of time speaking to venue bookers, promoters, agents, managers and event producers on projects they are working on. New York is a unique market. Many of the musical acts that play smaller venues in other markets can play at the arena level in Brooklyn. New York — Brooklyn in particular — is sophisticated with its music knowledge, and we find that there is great support when artists play live here.

Allen: Phones 4u Arena is in the fortunate situation to be a must-play city when visiting the U.K. We have spent the last 19 years building this reputation and 2014 will be the 10th year in a row that we have sold over 1 million tickets. We do everything we can to make sure we don’t miss out on any tour that comes our way, by working with promoters on sensible routing and having great marketing and operational teams that are willing to offer the same high standards to every show irrespective of its size or prestige.

Jones: Know your market. Understand the demographics and trending tendencies. It’s the basis for all decision making. Have a highly creative and talented marketing department that is fundamentally integrated with the box office. These two spheres must have highly efficient and effective communicative functionality. A successful event maximizes the integration of marketing and box office initiatives. They are symbiotic and any failing within the communication stream will have direct, immediate negative repercussions on ticket sales. Have the ability and knowledge to take calculated, reasonable risks. Venues increasingly eat what they kill. It is necessary in today’s world to have the skill to acquire events, understand which events to acquire for your market and know how to successfully produce those events.

A version of this article first appeared in the Sept. 13 issue of Billboard.