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International Ticketing Report 2021: New products and services

The International Ticketing Report is a one-off annual health check on the global ticketing business, with emphasis on the sector’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The past two years have been turbulent for the business, but with consumer demand for live events now at an all-time peak, the challenges of fulfilling the most packed event schedule in history will test ticketers to the hilt.

Staffing, vouchers schemes and refunds, demand, consumer behaviour, communication, new products & services, secondary ticketing, pandemic lessons and recovery are among the challengers addressed by industry-leading experts in this extended report.

The report, originally published in IQ105, is in lieu of the International Ticketing Yearbook – a standalone global guide to the live entertainment market that will return in 2022.

IQ will publish sections of the International Ticketing Report over the coming weeks but subscribers can read the entire feature in issue 105 of IQ Magazine now.

To read the previous instalment of the report on communication, click here.


Event Genius & Festicket CEO Benjamin Leaver notes that the pandemic shutdown created additional time for individuals and companies to develop new products and services – time that ticketing service providers the world over have been exploiting.

“One of the biggest takeaways for us is the accelerated embrace of technology in the industry, from digital ticketing to contactless access and cashless payment systems,” Leaver says. “Although the adoption has been quicker because of the pandemic, we strongly believe the change will benefit the industry in the long-term.”

AXS director of ticketing, Paul Newman, agrees. “The last 18 months have afforded us the opportunity to accelerate the development of a number of initiatives that would have otherwise taken far longer to implement,” he says, citing AXS opening up its mobile ID technology to other ticket agents.

“Taking notice of the feedback from the customer sentiment surveys we have undertaken; we have introduced venue iconography and other features into our purchase flow to give returning customers the information and reassurances they seek to return to live events.”

Weezevent CEO, Pierre-Henri Deballon, says: “Over the last 18 months, we have essentially worked on the relaunch: the challenge was to ensure that the teams were ready for the relaunch and that the product was also ready. To do this, we worked on international development by buying the company PlayPass.

“We also reworked our capital structure by buying out the shares of Veepee, which was a shareholder of Weezevent, in order to be completely independent. This makes us one of the few truly independent European players in our sector.”

“The last 18 months have afforded us the opportunity to accelerate the development of a number of initiatives”

It’s also been a time for acquisitions at Dice, which bought Boiler Room, as well as completing a $122m (€105m) funding exercise.

“We built-out our live-stream offering working with 6,400 artists on quality streams; we developed and rolled out a completely new client tool with collaboration from our partners; we made massive design and functionality improvements across our app and website; and we opened up a new HQ in New York,” says Russ Tannen of Dice.

On a B2B level, Leaver says, “We developed our Ticket Management Portal [TMP], which allows event organisers to be fully track-and-trace compliant by collecting all attendee details. The TMP also allows fans to easily share tickets with friends, as well as letting organisers seamlessly communicate with all eventgoers rather than solely lead bookers.”

Fair Ticket Solutions’ founder & CEO, Alan Gelfand, meanwhile, says, “We have spent the time evolving our identity-based platform to include a pre-clearance tie-in of the health requirements to activate all types of ticket formats.”

And in Hong Kong, Total Ticketing‘s Martin Haigh tells IQ, “We have developed a global distribution system allowing us to ingest ticketing inventory from a large number of inventory holders and redistribute it to hundreds of agents, managing CMS, sales, invoices, credits. This allows for massive increased discovery.

“Alongside the ongoing development of our ticketing software, we have also created Total Streaming to give promoters the ability to mix and match in person and streamed sales through our platforms and to geofence viewers and enforce a single-viewer-per-link on our streams.”

“We took this moment to take our business global”

Mark Yovich says the pandemic pause allowed Ticketmaster to fulfil long-held ambitions. “We took this moment to take our business global,” he says. “Our goal was to unify across the globe as a single team with a single mission – to innovate and build one incredible experience for fans and clients wherever they are in the world.”

“CTS Eventim has used the time of the pandemic for numerous strategic initiatives to emerge even stronger from the crisis,” reports chief operating officer Alexander Ruoff. “These include product developments. Among these, our digital ticket EVENTIM.Pass stands out in particular.”

Taking the opportunity to “make ticketing more seamless for both the promoter and customer,” Skiddle’s head of marketing, Jamie Scahill, says. “Over the last 18 months, we’ve launched our beta Promotion Centre to current promoters, built from the ground-up.

“[It] provides new features such as bulk-editing events, bulk-embargoing events, new dashboards, embed-listing widgets for promoters and more. We’ve also introduced a DIY payment plan builder for promoters to have greater control over the payment plans they want to offer to customers.”

Not to be outdone, Richard Howle says The Ticket Factory is close to completing an overhaul of its payment systems, offering increased security for customers when they are booking online.

“We have also installed a brand-new telephone system in our dedicated contact centre. It’s becoming increasingly rare in the ticketing industry for this kind of personalised interaction – and it’s something we’re committed to and really value as a business,” says Howle.

 


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International Ticketing Report 2021: Staffing

The International Ticketing Report is a one-off annual health check on the global ticketing business, with emphasis on the sector’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The past two years have been turbulent for the business, but with consumer demand for live events now at an all-time peak, the challenges of fulfilling the most packed event schedule in history will test ticketers to the hilt.

Staffing, vouchers schemes and refunds, demand, consumer behaviour, communication, new products & services, secondary ticketing, pandemic lessons and recovery are among the challengers addressed by industry-leading experts in this extended report.

The report, originally published in IQ105, is in lieu of the International Ticketing Yearbook – a standalone global guide to the live entertainment market that will return in 2022.

IQ will publish sections of the International Ticketing Report over the coming weeks but subscribers can read the entire feature in issue 105 of IQ Magazine now.

To read the previous instalment of the report, Changing Landscape, click here.


Covid redundancies have hit the sector hard and numerous experienced employees have taken the decision to pursue other career paths rather than return to their former roles. Nonetheless, HR teams have been working overtime to ensure companies are ready to service the needs of their clients.

“While events were paused, we had a huge amount of work to do processing rescheduled shows, helping clients manage the workload, and taking care of fans,” says Mark Yovich, who presides over Ticketmaster, the world’s market-leading live entertainment ticketer.

“At the same time, [Ticketmaster’s] technology teams were able to work at an incredible pace rolling out new features almost weekly, like our Smart Queue technology that effectively manages demand for busy on-sales, which fans are loving.”

He adds, “Thankfully, we were able to take advantage of the many furlough schemes around the world and, as we return to live, our team is building back stronger than ever.”

“While events were paused, we had a huge amount of work to do processing rescheduled shows”

At Europe’s biggest ticketing company, CTS Eventim, chief operating officer Alexander Ruoff tells a similar story. “It is a principle of the company to stand by our employees, even in difficult times. At the same time, we benefitted greatly from government support programmes in various countries. [And] with the restart of business, we started hiring in key areas of the company.”

Weezevent CEO Pierre-Henri Deballon reveals the rollercoaster ride the company has endured in terms of personnel. “We were around 70 [employees] in 2019, then this number dropped to around 60 during 2020, since we made the choice not to replace people who decided to leave the company,” he tells IQ.

“Then we went back up to almost 90 in 2021 with the acquisition of PlayPass, which is also a player in the event cashless industry. By 2022, we expect to be at least 125, if not more, depending on the activity and recovery in our sector.

Turning to governmental assistance, he says, “Support-wise, we benefited from […] the partial unemployment [scheme] set up by the French state, which covered part of the salaries of the teams who were not working during this period, and we supplemented their wages.”

“H.Kong’s zero Covid policy has meant we have experienced little in the way of lockdowns affecting people’s ability to work”

Furlough programmes differ massively around the world, as highlighted by Total Ticketing sales director Martin Haigh from his Hong Kong office. “We were able to receive a small contribution from the government towards salary costs, although this was far below what most developed countries offered through furlough and similar schemes.

“Hong Kong’s zero Covid policy has meant we have experienced little in the way of lockdowns affecting people’s ability to work, although there has been little activity in the events sector generally due to the various restrictions resulting from the zero Covid approach.”

That allowed Total Ticketing to retain its entire team from 2019 to present. “In fact, we have made some new hires over this period to support our ongoing investment in developing our suite of software and products,” says Haigh.

“This has left us in a strong position as we have retained the skills and knowledge that we have developed in our teams over the years.”

“Since lockdown lifting in 2021 and consumer confidence being at an all-time high, we are back to a period of growth”

In the UK, Skiddle’s Scahill notes the impact that lockdowns had on the business, including the closure of its Manchester office. But with the UK reopening for events, things are suddenly looking much rosier.

“The majority of our staff were on either part-time or full-time furlough during the pandemic while business was down and Skiddle claimed £430,000 [€509,000] via the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. However, since lockdown lifting in 2021 and consumer confidence being at an all-time high, we are back to a period of growth as our team is now 65 staff members and we are now hiring at pre-Covid rates and recruiting for a number of roles.”

Indeed, that scramble to restaff is universal across the territories that are fortunate enough to be back. “We are a relatively small team in the AXS London office, the majority of which we managed to retain throughout the pandemic – albeit up to approximately 50% were furloughed at various times,” says director of ticketing Paul Newman. “Today we are back to a full complement of staff, as well as actively recruiting for a number of new roles within the business.”

Russ Tannen, president of Dice states, “By the end of the year our team will be 350 globally – and growing fast. We have headquarters in London and New York and offices in Los Angeles, Paris, Milan, Barcelona, and Samara.”

 


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The future of contactless payment systems

To get the obvious dark joke out of the way, most festivals literally went cashless in the pandemic-stricken calendar of 2020/21, and not for strategic reasons. But now, after the better part of two years on pause, the survivors are gradually returning to a changed world in which actual cashless systems, once a matter of preference for live events, seem destined to become the standard.

As shows and festivals come back online around the world and begin to thrash out solutions to Covid safety, staff shortages, visitor flow, and our own increasingly cash-free habits, cashless and contactless options are a must-have, whether based on RFID, mobile pay, barcoded tickets, or some hybrid of the above.

“I think [cashless] was maybe 30% before the pandemic,” estimates Event Genius founder Reshad Hossenally, “and now it’s probably close to 80%-odd, maybe more.”

Nor is this likely to be a temporary shift. “In the festival world, the biggest change we are going to see when everyone is back is that cash and tokens will be out,” says David De Wever, CEO and partner at Antwerp-based PlayPass.

Before Covid, cashless festivals weren’t always to everyone’s taste – an NME column from 2018 was unambiguously entitled ‘We need to talk about cashless festivals, because they f***ing suck’ – but things are different now.

“Cash is no longer a preferred payment method, as cashless systems allow for a cleaner and safer experience for everyone”

The pandemic isn’t over yet, but event management technology – of which access control and cashless systems are just the most visible applications – will certainly be an important tool in the process of piloting the live business back out of the wilderness.

According to recent research, 63% of fans have greater event health and safety concerns than before, and 66% of fans are more worried about venue hygiene [source: Performance Research]. Meanwhile, the most mature markets are well along the road of phasing out cash, with hard currency in Sweden down to 9% of transactions in 2020, against 14% in the Netherlands, 23% in the UK and 28% in the US [source: McKinsey].

It all adds up to a major opportunity for cashless specialists, many of whom offer ticketing, access, marketing and travel within the same system, and whose technology easily flexes to encompass any number of testing and vaccine
passport options. Where festivals have returned in 2021, the majority have come back in cashless form, usually in tandem with some form of digital access control – whatever the particular situation has required.

“As a result of the pandemic, we’ve seen a huge increase in demand for our solutions,” says Jason Thomas, CEO of global cashless provider Tappit. “Cash is no longer a preferred payment method, as cashless systems allow for a much cleaner and safer experience for fans and staff. RFID solutions work perfectly for festivals, but we’ve seen a real increase in demand for our white-label mobile pay solution, which works for events and venues with their own app or digital ecosystem.”

But while certain markets in well-vaccinated nations have bounced back to life, 2021 has not been quite the wholehearted return to action we were all hoping for – even if early signs were good.

“We’ve seen a real increase in demand for our white-label mobile pay solution”

“Around April, May, suddenly everyone was active,” says De Wever. “At that stage, a lot of them needed proposals for Covid testing and all different kinds of extra technology. Then it went quiet for a bit, particularly the big festivals.”

Most of those big festivals decided against risking a 2021 return, and even now, with pockets of events carefully raising the curtain again, just about everyone in the event technology business has seen too many false dawns to indulge in too much unvarnished optimism.

“What we have seen this year is some of the mid-sized festivals are trying to have an edition, depending on the country,” says De Wever, speaking in late August. “UK, Belgium, France is busy at the moment, but apart from that, it is still really flat in a lot of countries. We are just watching what is happening at each national level, and we also have some promoters who are taking the initiative themselves.”

One such example is Barcelona’s Cruïlla festival at the city’s Parc del Fòrum, which decided to proceed in July, safeguarding fans with an antigen testing regime made possible by PlayPass’s RFID system.

“[Cruïlla director Jordi Herreruela] decided he was going to test everybody, every day, no matter what,” says De Wever. “The procedure was that people had to create an account and buy a test for each of the days they were going to the festival. When you arrived at the festival, you swapped your ticket for an RFID wristband and took a test.

Intellitix saw its 2020 calendar wiped out and executed a quick pivot, developing a Covid-screening and assessment tool

“The company doing the testing linked the ID with the barcode on their tests, and when you got the results back after 15 minutes, that was linked with the wristband. Then you could scan the wristband to see if it was valid and if the result was positive or negative.”

This year’s patchy albeit largely cashless revival comes on the back of an extremely lean period in which, like so many other companies in the live space, the survival of the key cashless players was far from guaranteed.

Most also count sport as another key market, and consequently found themselves hit hard across several sectors. Like many others, Intellitix saw its 2020 calendar wiped out and executed a quick pivot, developing a Covid-screening and assessment tool.

“2020 was getting it into the hands of the essential businesses, making it work for construction, manufacturing, food processing, retirement homes, schools, healthcare,” says Milan Malivuk, chief strategy officer at the Toronto-based global provider.

“But the reality is, as busy as we have been with that, we are very keen to get back to what we do. So, we are obviously trying to bend over backwards to make things happen, but not to the point where we are willing to cobble together some half-assed deployments that aren’t going to be successful.”

“We were in a growing industry where every year you could expect growth and suddenly it was completely finished”

PlayPass and its French rival Weezevent announced a merger in March 2020, retaining both brand names but creating a 100-strong team with offices in Antwerp and Paris, as well as Canada, Switzerland, Spain, and the UK.

“We were in a growing industry where every year you could expect growth,” says De Wever. “And suddenly it was completely finished, and we lost 90% of our revenue, so that was quite confronting. And like a lot of businesses, we started to evaluate the best options of how we make sure we can survive this, and how we can become stronger after.”

The two companies had been in discussions before the pandemic, De Wever reveals, but the tempest of 2020 focused the need for mutual support.

“We had already had some discussions with Weezevent before. For my part I always considered them the biggest competitor. A lot of companies claim to be a European leader, and I don’t think there was one, but now… let’s wait until 2022, but I think we can say we are in a position to be the European leader.”

The immediate function of modern event technology this year has been to help get the show back on the road in difficult circumstances. But the deeper promise of such technology manifests itself on several fronts. As well as timely safety capabilities, it also potentially offers better experiences, shorter queues, and transactional efficiencies in a sector that, as most festivalgoers can probably confirm, could sometimes do with them.

“We are quite optimistic that Covid has pushed technological advancement in a sector that typically is slow to change”

“What Covid has done, in our opinion, is to accelerate something that was coming already – this attitude of ‘what’s the quickest and easiest way to transact?’ That’s the expectation now,” says Sam Biggins, commercial director at UK-based food and drink ordering app Butlr.

“We are quite optimistic that, although Covid was a terrible thing, it has pushed technological advancement in a sector that typically is very slow to change. Music venues have been operating in almost exactly the same way since their inception. Same with festivals. I don’t think the first Glastonbury will have been very different to Glastonbury these days, in terms of technology at least.”

And for promoters, efficiency isn’t the only win to be had here. The promise of teched-up festivals is that they belatedly offer promoters the opportunity to know their customers, learn from their movements around the site and create opportunities to communicate, preview, reward, and strategically market to them.

“We have been doing this since 2010,” says Malivuk. “And the reason people have used us is because they want to know who is inside their event – for marketing, for the ability to re-engage, build brand connections, the ability to improve traffic flow inside the event. And it’s about facilitating cashless transactions and speeding them up, gathering more data and increasing the average spend per person, typically by 30% to 40%.”

Tappit’s Jason Thomas agrees. “In this market, the solution that will provide real value is one that can go beyond simply delivering cashless functionality, to provide a frictionless fan experience and enable event organisers to understand each and every fan – connecting what they bought, when they entered the venue, when they left and how to maximise this,” he says.

“Providing real-time data to deliver real value for organisations will make the difference between success and failure”

“Data is the most valuable element of the cashless solution, and as we work with our clients throughout the process, we help provide insights and ways to make events even more profitable. Making consistent connections between a fan or consumer and ensuring you know their preferences is crucial in building strong brand loyalty. Providing real-time data and insights to deliver real value for organisations will make the difference between success and failure.”

On the one hand, some operators note that avid data capture isn’t necessarily the way the wind is blowing in the wider world. “We were on the BBC recently and it was all around data-less ordering,” says Biggins. “Some solutions will mine users’ data and it’s ludicrous and it’s intrusive. You don’t need someone’s date of birth to place an order. We are of the opinion that the less data you take, the more seamless the experience.”

But for broad-ranging event management systems, suggests Hossenally, a restrained data-driven approach, deploying closed-loop systems that enable organisers to bank all the data generated by their events, offers benefits on both sides.

“With the onsite experience now, there’s a lot more that can be enabled that promoters didn’t really think about before, because they didn’t have the technology solutions to do so,” he says. “It’s a real opportunity to be able to create that full end-to-end journey, from the company buying the ticket to accessing the event to paying onsite.

“It’s about understanding that customer and having a 360-degree view of their spending habits. It’s not necessarily all about Big Brother but how, in order to generate more revenue, promoters have to give more to the customers in the form of a better, more tailored experience: rewards, loyalty, all that sort of stuff that promoters couldn’t really do before.”

“Now with 5G, you can have 150,000 people in one place and have reliable connectivity”

Gradually, other barriers to seamless operation are being removed, too, including the perennial difficulty of networks for mobile solutions. “We have held off on releasing a mobile solution for a very long time, purely because network infrastructure wasn’t there,” says Malivuk. “But now with 5G, you can have 150,000 people in one place and have reliable connectivity.”

Intellitix acquired a mobile-first company called CrowdBlink in January 2020, on which it has built “a lightweight version of Intellitix, with a ticketing solution, access control, and cashless.” The future, Malivuk suggests, isn’t necessarily increasingly complex systems but more accessible ones, aimed at smaller events.

“Intellitix has always been a no-brainer for events over a certain size,” he says. “But we always also had a lot of demand from events that want what we do but the numbers don’t make sense. CrowdBlink doesn’t do everything Intellitix does, because that’s kind of the enterprise option, but for smaller events that just want to sell tickets, scan people in, conduct transactions but at a lower price point – that’s what this is for.”

As a dedicated payment system, UK-based Butlr also has an ambition to strengthen the technological hand of those it works with, which includes independent festivals and up to 700 venues. At Brighton’s On The Beach, Butlr displayed QR codes on posters and screens around the event, which allowed customers to order using their phones and receive a push notification when their order was ready to collect.

“We had four members of staff, compared to 50 on the main bar, and we were responsible for 50% of the takings,” says Biggins. “We want to avoid those scrums at the bar, five-deep. In my opinion, those should be a thing of the past. But as with all things, it takes time for adoption.”

“We want to avoid those scrums at the bar, five-deep. In my opinion, those should be a thing of the past”

At festivals of the future, he says, Butlr plans to spread its PickUp points around a site. “So rather than having one big bar miles away, we will have points really close to the stage. You scan a QR code, choose a PickUp point, and pick up pre-made drinks. That’s our vision of the future and we are starting to do it now.”

The wider future, of course, is a carefully managed return to business, as events attempt to gauge demand in a market where they haven’t drawn an audience in eighteen months or so. For cashless technology, the picture is a combination of the highly ambitious and the very down to earth.

“In five years from now, I think we can expect truly immersive and customised event experiences,” says Thomas.

“The launch of ABBA’s live event experience has shown just how creative events can become. Connected devices and 5G will all create the perfect environment to deliver a unique and tailored event experience for each and every fan. The right cashless solution will connect the fan’s experience to their purchasing preferences. Delivering deep and meaningful engagement can be endless, and the connection between brand and consumer will continue to grow stronger.”

And then there is the down-to-earth side.“I think there’s core tenets that are fundamentals, like, can we make it more invisible?” says Malivuk. “That’s the future of it – being less obtrusive. That’s where everyone’s interests align. If you improve the festival experience, that’s where you are going to see more revenues. Just make it suck less to buy things onsite. If you focus on that piece, everything else follows. Make all those steps that suck, suck less.”

 


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Cashless leaders Playpass and Weezevent merge

Leading European cashless payments companies Weezevent, based in Dijon, and Playpass, headquartered in Antwerp, have merged.

The new Playpass-Weezevent group comprises six offices with more than 100 employees and 1,200 event clients, including major festivals such as Lollapalooza (Paris, Berlin and Chile), Rock Werchter, Main Square (pictured), Hellfest, Rock en Seine and Austria’s Frequency and Nova Rock. The companies, which have a combined annual turnover of over £400 million (€466m), also provide cashless solutions for sports brands such as Formula 1, Red Bull Air Race, Paris St Germain FC, Lausanne FC and the World Darts Championship.

It is hoped that by joining forces the firms can make NFC (near-field contact) wristbands and cards as ubiquitous for payments at UK festivals as they are in continental Europe.

Post-merger, Steve Jenner of PlayPass and Olly Goddard of Weezevent jointly head up the group’s UK and Republic of Ireland division. The deal will also lead to the expansion of the companies’ offices in Paris, Madrid, Antwerp, Lausanne and Montreal and their in-house development staff.

Paying tribute to Playpass co-founders David De Wever and Dale Hofkens, Weezevent’s CEO, Pierre-Henri Deballon, says: “David, Dale and their teams share the same passion and vision as Weezevent for delivering a world-class cashless experience, and after eight years of healthy competition the time has come to form a new team that is stronger, more ambitious and more confident than ever.”

“The return to a normal post-Covid situation will accelerate the adoption of cashless everywhere. This is about being ready”

De Wever adds: “Our two companies are highly complementary and the consolidation of our expertise and experience now makes it possible to form the leader in cashless event solutions. The return to a normal post-Covid situation will accelerate the adoption of cashless everywhere. This is about being ready for the market while continuing to innovate.”

Last year, says Goddard, “promised a much wider adoption of cashless technology at events before our industry was put into lockdown. Though this natural progression was interrupted, we are looking forward to a productive 2021 and beyond, and our merger with PlayPass will put us in an even stronger position to deliver what consumers want and events need.”

British festivals planning their return this summer using the group’s cashless technology include Standon Calling, 2000 Trees, Black Deer, ArcTanGent, Lakefest, Neverworld and the inaugural UnLocked Festival.

“As a competitor we have always held the utmost respect for Weezevent, in particular the strength of their technology, team and commitment to improving the visitor experience,” adds Jenner. “To join forces with them at this time is a really exciting opportunity for us, our clients and the UK’s live events industry, placing us in a much stronger position to not only help the sector get back on its feet faster, but to emerge stronger than ever.”

 


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Eurosonic partners with PlayPass

Eurosonic Noorderslag (ESNS), Europe’s largest showcase festival for emerging talent, has partnered with cashless payment provider PlayPass.

Festivalgoers, delegates and artists will be able to make payments at all 42 ESNS locations using an NFC wristband, mobile wallet or payment card. All payment options will be accepted on a single, PlayPass-provided point-of-sale device.

Each attendee will be issued with a personalised, electronic wristband upon registration at the event. Funds can be loaded onto the wristband via PlayPass self-service top-up kiosks or the Payconiq mobile application for visitors from the Netherlands and Belgium.

PlayPass will also invite event organisers attending ESNS to take a behind-the-scenes look at its technology and operations.

“We are very proud to become a partner to Eurosonic Noorderslag and are extremely excited to be showcasing new capabilities at such a prestigious event”, says David De Wever, CEO and co-founder of PlayPass.

“We believe that the features we are presenting at Eurosonic will be a true game-changer for the live events industry”

“We believe that the features we are presenting at Eurosonic will be a true game-changer for the live events industry and we look forward to showing promoters how they can yield significant gains, both financial and in visitor loyalty, through intelligent use of our technology and the invaluable data it generates.”

“ESNS believes it is important to lead the way in innovations in the music industry,” says Dago Houben, managing director of ESNS, which first introduced cashless payments in 2013.

“It is now time to make the next step and improve on every aspect. With the state-of-the-art system that PlayPass provides, we feel confident improving the quality of payments and services on all levels and for all involved,” adds Houben.

ESNS 2019 attracted over 42,000 guests from 44 countries, including 4,100 conference delegates and representatives from 423 festivals. The event showcased 342 acts across more than 40 stages.

The 35th of edition of ESNS will take place from 15 to 18 January 2020, with a special emphasis on the Swiss music scene. Conference tickets are available here at the late rate of €365.

 


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PlayPass hails record summer for cashless & RFID at UK festivals

Cashless and NFC specialist PlayPass has enjoyed a record-breaking summer, operating at over 250 events across 22 countries over five continents and processing 12.82 million cashless transactions, worth €78 million euros. Globally, 2019 has seen the company grow its event roster by 40%.

The UK has seen the sharp end of this growth curve, with a 400% increase in events embracing the company’s solutions to improve their visitor experience, increase spend per head, operate more efficiently and eliminate fraud.

This year saw PlayPass deliver more than 80% of all commercial UK cashless and RFID festival activations, reinforcing its position as the market leader and building on a solid four-year track record for reliability in festival fields. While many implementations focused on going fully cashless, some events used the technology to combat accreditation fraud, while others wanted to create a more immersive visitor experience. One even used it to help people climb up walls!

Here, Steve Jenner, PlayPass’s UK managing director, relays his ten proudest deployments from the UK’s biggest summer of RFID yet, in order of delivery date…

Some events used the tech to combat accreditation fraud, while others wanted to create a more immersive visitor experience. One even used it to help people climb up walls

1. We Are FSTVL, 24–26 May, became the UK’s first major festival to successfully go fully cashless. A flawless RFID operation provided a fast, queue-free experience inside the event, attended by 70,000.

Steve Durham, director of We Are FSTVL, says: “We were delighted to partner with PlayPass – they gave us the confidence to say ‘we can do this’, and the feedback we’ve had from the public is that it was super-easy and super-smooth.”

2. Black Deer, 21–23 June, contracted PlayPass to take the festival fully cashless as well as using the staff accreditation system. As well as giving visitors a hassle-free experience, the country and americana festival went on to smash previous UK records for online pre-event top-ups and reported a significant spend-per-head uplift. The increase in service speed took some traders by surprise, including Pizza of Dreams, who sold out of stock during the event.

Chris Russell-Fish, Black Deer’s operations director, says: “I’m delighted to say that it’s worked brilliantly. We’ve had no queues, the system has been easy to use – far better and more secure than dealing with cash – and our spend per head has been significantly higher than last year. We’ve had great feedback from the audience, traders and bar managers and I’m sure we’ll look to enhance it further next year.”

3. Smoked & Uncut, 15 June, 6 July, 27 July. With capacities ranging from 3,000 to 5,000, this trio of sold-out one-day shows with an older audience demographic experienced a solid uplift in spend per head, going fully cashless for the first time.

Lotti Eagles, head of marketing for Smoked & Uncut: “Using PlayPass’s system benefited both the customer experience and our experience as organisers. Queues at bars and food stalls were reduced and it has allowed us to far more accurately track spends, which meant we could be far more prepared ahead of the next event, as well as use this data to guide our plans for 2020.”

“The data mine that we’ve got, that will enable us to run the event more efficiently from an accreditation point of view, is mind-blowing”

4. British Summer Time, 5–7 July, 12–14 July. We rolled out our crew management and access control systems to eliminate the risk of accreditation fraud on all six Hyde Park shows. Several thousand crew working onsite were issued with secure RFID wristbands encoded with their professional credentials, which were scanned at back-of-house checkpoints, where security was paramount.

5. 2000trees, 11–13 July. After a highly successful leap to cashless last year, yielding a reported 24% increase in bar spend, the award-winning 10,000-capacity Cotswolds punk-rock fest added our crew accreditation system for year two. Through fine-tuning the cashless operation, they were also able to achieve another sizeable uplift in spend per head.

Festival director Brendan Herbert on the accreditation system: “Through this, we’ve learned so much about our event and all the crew, press, VIP guests and artists that come here. The data mine that we’ve got that will enable us to run the event more efficiently from an accreditation point of view is mind-blowing, so we’re already very excited about using it next year to put new ideas into practice.”

6. Bluedot, 18–21 July. One of the proudest, most exciting projects in my career, this was our biggest UK operation of the summer, with over 500 devices in the field and a team of 14 on site. It was also a huge year for Bluedot, having sold out its expanded capacity of 21,000 and celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing. It was the perfect moment to go fully cashless, and – as a festival themed on space-age technology – it was important that the tech was used for more than just cashless convenience.

Enter the ‘Mission Log’. Conceived by Bluedot’s creative team, this used our new gamification services for the first time in the UK to give visitors a more immersive festival experience. RFID scanners mounted in upright podiums around the site enabled visitors to check in at over 400 attractions, including live performances, talks, exhibits and sponsor activations. After the event, they could log in to the Bluedot website using their wristband ID to view their ‘Mission Log’, reliving their personal experience of the event with links for deeper content. It was a big leap for Bluedot and undoubtedly a giant one for festival-kind.

“Through rain and shine, wi-fi and power outages, even a gate stampede, our technology and operational crew have proven to be highly resilient, flexible and reliable this summer”

Bar operator Marc Daly, of Field Vision, says: “Working with PlayPass at Bluedot saw our transaction speed increase, queues reduce and ancillary costs reduce. We had less security on site as no physical money needed to be transported or counted. Our risk of theft reduced to almost zero, and our build and de-rig times reduced as less equipment needed to be set up and distributed. The PlayPass team were always efficient and easy to deal with and I look forward to working with them next year.”

7. Neverworld, 1–3 August. The festival formerly known as Leefest levelled -up this year with an attendance boost to 6,000 and a fully cashless site. Every ticket came pre-loaded with £26 of cashless credit, meaning that 100% of the audience had money on their wristbands as soon as they were through the gates. The result was a queue-free experience from start to finish and a highly successful transition to cashless.

Brian Meredith, from Neverworld’s board, credited PlayPass’ onsite team who, he says, were “just great and could not have been more helpful”.

8. These Walls Are Meant for Climbing, 10–11 August. We went from green fields to London’s Westfield shopping centre for ‘It’s Bigger’ agency, adapting our tech for this action-sports fest hosted by outdoor clothing label the North Face. Interactive climbing experiences, alongside live music and DJs, saw our handheld scanners built into the top of ten climbing walls.

A thousand participants each day were issued removable RFID wristbands so they could log their climb by checking-in when they reached the top. Using our new gamification services, this triggered an automated email containing a special offer voucher from the North Face they could redeem in the high street.

“We look forward to continued success with our existing UK clients and introducing many more events to the benefits they can attain with our solutions”

9. Lakefest, 8–11 August. A major onsite cash theft in 2018 prompted Lakefest’s organisers to make the jump to cashless. Coinciding with a sizeable increase in attendance to 12,000, it proved a highly successful endeavour that was well-received by the family heavy audience.

10. London Dessert Festival, 16–17 August. The capital’s sweetest new food festival, in London’s Old Truman Brewery, went fully cashless with us for its first edition to give customers and vendors a smoother experience and avoid the costs and complexities of cash management. Six thousand visitors were issued RFID cards which they could top up with funds online (in advance) or on site to spend on delicious puddings at 50 stands.

Steve Jenner, pictured with the PlayPass team at Bluedot, comments: “Through rain and shine, wi-fi and power outages, even a gate stampede, our technology and operational crew have proven to be highly resilient, flexible and reliable this summer. I’m particularly proud of the positive feedback from our clients, praising the results we’ve achieved on their behalf – for giving their visitors a better experience alongside consistent commercial uplift and improved security across all sites.

“We look forward to continued success with our existing UK clients and introducing many more events to the benefits they can attain with our solutions.”

 


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PlayPass confirms more cashless UK festivals and new capabilities

Brexit uncertainty has not inhibited the independent festival sector’s appetite for investing in NFC technology this year, as PlayPass prepares to deliver its busiest cashless festival season to date. Armed with a powerhouse of new innovations built to enhance sustainability, improve the festival experience for families with children and for integration with mobile apps the company has expanded its festival roster.

Joining the award-winning provider’s rapidly expanding client list, and going cashless for the first time, are the 10,000-capacity Lakefest in the Cotswolds, the trio of one-day festivals Smoked & Uncut, the inaugural London Dessert Festival at the Truman Brewery, and a large, high-profile music festival in the north of England that will be announced shortly.

Others already confirmed to make their cashless debut with PlayPass this year include We Are Fstvl, Black Deer, Merthyr Rising and last month’s triumphant Beat Hotel, which burst out of its original home at Glastonbury to become its own globe-trotting festival – first stop: Marrakesh.

2000Trees, which introduced PlayPass’s NFC cashless and access-control system last year and reported an instant 24% increase in spend-per-head, will be adding PlayPass’ accreditation and crew management solution to the mix this year. Having also been specified by AEG Presents’ British Summer Time in Hyde Park, We Are Fstvl and Black Deer, this system will streamline the registration and onsite management of non-customers and eliminate crew fraud across multiple festivals this summer.

Following a venture-capital fund investment last year and investing in a self-sufficient UK operation, PlayPass has underpinned its advances in the UK festival market with a set of game-changing enhancements to its cashless platform in line with clients’ requests.

New family accounts will enable parents to quickly and easily set up and then manage separate cashless wallets for their whole family group under a single user login.

“2019 is shaping up to be a truly exciting year for PlayPass”

Gamification is a fun application of the technology, allowing events to set on-site challenges for visitors to earn instant rewards that are automatically loaded to their wristband as credits or vouchers, to be redeemed on-site. This could be as simple as encouraging people to enter the gates early, or turned into a Pokémon Go-type game, incentivising visitors to visit multiple locations around the site.

A new click-and-collect system gives improved customer experience when on site and has proven to increase revenue by allowing visitors to purchase up-sells (products and access to premium facilities) before the event, in the same transaction as their cashless credits. These up-sell items can be loaded on to their wristbands and redeemed at an on-site collection point.

PlayPass technology is also helping events enhance their sustainability. At the simplest level the company can provide recycled wristbands, but more complex tech solutions for onsite cup and plate recycling are now available, as well as carbon travel cost offsetting and instantly rewarding visitors for being more green.

PlayPass’s technology is now seamlessly integrated into the leading festival mobile apps, including Aloompa, Greencopper and Buzznog, allowing event-goers to manage their cashless accounts, top-up funds, take part in gamified challenges and earn rewards for being more green, all in-app.

Steve Jenner, PlayPass’s recently promoted managing director for the UK and Ireland, comments: “2019 is shaping up to be a truly exciting year for PlayPass. We’ve grown significantly, been appointed by many renowned UK festivals and introduced new services that will increase both the financial profitability and ecological sustainability of our client events, whilst giving their visitors a much better experience.

“We look forward to a summer of ground-breaking case studies, working with many of the UK’s most progressive and visionary event producers.”

 


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PlayPass promotes Steve Jenner, expands in UK

PlayPass has strengthened its UK operations, promoting Steve Jenner to the role of managing director for the UK and Ireland to address growing demand, as more festivals go cashless with the provider.

Jenner, who joined the company in 2015, will lead an expanded team which includes the appointment of Ben Hirons, formerly of Gorilla and Peppermint and Creative Bars, who will oversee event delivery.

It has also been announced that We Are Fstvl and Beat Hotel will go fully cashless with PlayPass this year. At 55,000 capacity, We Are Fstvl is the company’s largest cashless UK event to date.

Black Deer and Merthyr Rising festivals will also go completely cashless for the first time in 2019. The organisers of 2000Trees festival, which transitioned to cashless last year, reported a 24% increase in bar spend per head, among other gains, and have signed with PlayPass again for this year.

“PlayPass’ proven technology is gaining the trust of a growing number of festivals who can see the benefits to them, their public and their traders”

Jenner says he is “delighted” to become UK managing director and “very confident in delivering the company’s busiest and most successful year to date in the UK.”

“We are looking forward to integrating our technology and supporting these new clients in delivering successful events this year,” comments Jenner.

“PlayPass’ proven technology is gaining the trust of a growing number of festivals who can see the wide range of ever-increasing benefits to them, their public and their traders.”

Jenner presented the cashless provider’s latest innovations to international promoters and production professionals at the ILMC’s New Technology forum this month, with a focus on enhancing sustainability at events and improving the experience for families with children.

 


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Smart money: Put your money where your wrist is

Since bursting onto the festival circuit around five years ago, the popularity of cashless payment technology has grown exponentially, with cashless solutions – usually delivered via an RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip attached to a wristband or festival pass – now a familiar sight at some of the world’s most popular events.

After a bumpy start (including high-profile failures at events such as Download and Hurricane Festival), cashless tech has shed its growing pains and is now common across much of mainland Europe. It’s also fast making inroads into largely cashless-resistant markets such as the UK and US, where event promoters, like their continental cousins, are drawn to its sales uplift potential – 15-30%, according to Payzone – and contactless-native audiences to its security and ease of use.

A French revolution
According to Steve Jenner, UK business development director for Belgium-based PlayPass, Britain is lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to cashless payment take-up – although it is catching up fast. “Outside the UK, it is now uncommon for an event not to use RFID for payments – to the extent that there is very little noise generated by it, with no debate needed beforehand and no audience fuss after,” he explains. “The established systems now work offline, avoiding the well-publicised issues that affected some of the earlier adopters, like Download in the UK and Hurricane in Germany, both in 2015.

“The UK – while later to the party than most other markets – is now catching up rapidly, following three highly successful summers of cashless festival implementations. PlayPass has doubled its overall worldwide growth in 2018, but we have tripled the number of UK events we work with, and are on course to do at least the same in 2019.”

“On the whole, the UK market has not yet switched to cashless,” agrees Pierre-Henri Deballon, co-founder and CEO of Dijon-based Weezevent, which provides cashless solutions for some of the biggest events in France. Referencing Download 2015 – whose cashless-only set-up was criticised by many festivalgoers after it failed on the first day, leading to the reinstatement of cash payments the following year – Deballon compares barriers to adoption in the UK and other largely non-cashless markets to flying: “It’s similar to aviation,” he says. “It’s the safest way to travel but if one aircraft fails then people become scared of flying.”

“The UK – while later to the party than most other markets – is now catching up rapidly, following three highly successful summers of cashless festival implementations”

Weezevent’s system – which, like PlayPass’s, works offline, avoiding the risk posed by an unstable Internet connection – is used by the majority of France’s cashless festivals, says Deballon, which account for nearly three quarters of the French market. “Of the 100 biggest festivals, 70% of them are cashless,” he says, “and we’re doing 95% of them.”

Weezevent was founded in 2008 by Deballon, Sébastien Tonglet and Yann Pagès, and went cashless with its first major client, France’s biggest festival, les Vieilles Charrues, in 2015. “All the other festivals looked at what they were doing, saw how successful it was and decided to switch,” Deballon explains. “Maybe if Download [2015] had succeeded, it would have been the same in the UK market.”

Reshad Hossenally, founder and managing director of UK- based Event Genius, says the market for cashless technology “is always rising. As a relatively new technology, when compared with the likes of online ticketing and traditional access control, there is a big pool of events and festivals that have the potential to make the switch to cashless and benefit as a result.

“Between 2017 and 2018, we have doubled the number of events we have serviced,” he continues, “with lots more events for the winter booked in on top of this.

“As the technology becomes more widely adopted, it is also opening up a broader range of industries. We’ve used our technology at music festivals; food and drink festivals; winter and Christmas carnival events; large-scale clubbing and warehouse events and more, and are targeting even more sectors for 2019.”

“Like all technologies, cashless technology develops at a mile a minute, and the technology used back in 2015 is well and truly a thing of the past”

Hossenally says RFID payment technology has come on in leaps and bounds since the dark days of 2015 – something the company is keen to make clear to event organisers. “What we always try to communicate is that, like all technologies, cashless technology develops at a mile a minute,” he explains, “and the technology used back in 2015 is well and truly a thing of the past. Today the tech is far more advanced, reliable and robust.

“Major failures are often related to networking issues. At Event Genius, we have developed our solution, Event Genius Pay, to be able to run completely offline, mitigating any possibility of downtime.”

Triple threat
It’s easy to see why downtime is such a major concern for cashless events: for festivals, especially – where the trading ‘year’ is compressed into just two or three days – any outage could be catastrophic. “If the system fails, it would have many impacts,” says Deballon. “We service over 200 festivals, and often have maybe 10-20 on any one weekend, and we’ve never had the organiser not being able to sell – if a festival can’t process payments, that’s like a normal business being closed for weeks…”

When it works, however – and it’s worth noting there have been no major festival RFID failures for nearly four years – cashless payment technology benefits event organisers and punters alike. The chief advantages of going cashless, says Jason Thomas, global CEO of Tappit, whose clients include Bestival and Creamfields Hong Kong, as well as several major sporting venues, “can all be summed up in three main points: Firstly, it improves the fan experience. Secondly, it increases revenues through speeding up transactions and significantly reducing fraud. And thirdly, it gives event organisers valuable data and insights.”

 


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Why NFC cashless is the future of payments at events

Contactless is now the leading payment method in everyday life, much to the glee of the banking sector that controls and feeds off it, but live events have a much more powerful – and lucrative – alternative available to them.

NFC technology allows smart event owners to run their own ‘closed loop’ financial eco-system, which leaves the banks outside the front gates and gives the event full and direct ownership of every payment transaction taking place on site, with no middlemen siphoning off the data and charging a commission.

Benefits are concentrated with the event and its visitors rather than a third-party financial institution that has not shared any of the promoter’s risk in putting on the event.

These include:

The world over, progressive event brands are now embracing PlayPass’s NFC cashless solutions and taking control of their on-site economies without a backward glance.

For more information about taking control of your event’s financial ecosystem with a closed-loop NFC payment solution, visit the PlayPass website.

 


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