First hire for new UK ticketing apprenticeship
NEC Group’s the Ticket Factory (TTF) has become the first employer to participate in an industry first ticketing apprenticeship, jointly developed by the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR) and National College Creative Industries.
The one- or two-year course – first mooted in July 2016 – teaches apprentices to “provide a high-quality service to customers within the ticketing industry”, including skills relating to customer service and working to industry regulations.
TTF’s first hire under the scheme is 21-year-old Melissa Halling, who upon completing a one-year apprenticeship will be the first-ever recipient of the snappily named ‘apprenticeship standard in customer service practitioner – ticketing’.
Richard Howle, director of ticketing for the Ticket Factory, comments: “We are proud to support STAR and the National College Creative Industries with this initiative in welcoming the UK’s first ticketing apprentice to the team.
“We hope that this apprenticeship will open doors for many young, talented individuals”
“We operate in a rapidly changing world, where customers demand the best, and our team is passionate about driving new ideas and being at the cutting edge of innovation. Ticketing is a brilliant industry which requires a broad range of skills and expertise and is full of opportunities.
“We are delighted to welcome Melissa, whose enthusiasm and desire to learn is infectious, and we hope that this will be the start of a long and successful career in ticketing.”
“Our focus was to create a new apprenticeship that would lead to a valuable industry qualification, plus one that would add real value to the employer,” adds STAR chief exec Jonathan Brown. “Centred on real work competencies demonstrated in a real work environment, the aim is to drive quality and consistency through both on-the-job and off-the-job training.
“We hope that this apprenticeship will open doors for many young, talented individuals and support them in forging an exciting career in this fast-paced and creative industry.”
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TTF appoints new director of ticketing
The Ticket Factory (TTF) has hired ticketing industry veteran Richard Howle, most recently of Really Useful Theatres Group, as director of ticketing.
Howle is tasked with expanding the technological capabilities of TTF, owned by UK venue operator NEC Group, and improving the user experience for both clients and ticket buyers.
In addition to a four and a half-year spell as Really Useful Theatres’ commercial director, Howle’s 18 years’ industry experience includes spells as head of box office/ticketing and international sales director at marketing agency AKA Promotions. He is also a director of the governing council of the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (Star).
Phil Mead, NEC Group’s managing director, says: “Richard’s appointment will serve to further strengthen the offering of the Ticket Factory in an increasingly competitive marketplace. It has a unique partnership with the NEC Group Arenas, and with Richard’s direction, the businesses will be able to work even closer together to provide a seamless experience for clients and customers alike.”
“I am looking forward to building the Ticket Factory brand at this pivotal point in the company’s history”
Stuart Cain, formerly TTF’s managing director, departed the company for Ricoh Arena in September.
Commenting on his appointment, Howle adds: “I am thrilled to join the Ticket Factory and to bring my experience of running in-house ticketing operations to the role. It is a company I have long admired with a well-deserved reputation for delivering excellence.
“I am looking forward to building the Ticket Factory brand at this pivotal point in the company’s history, having just celebrated its tenth anniversary. Over the past decade, the Ticket Factory has established itself as an industry challenger in a highly competitive, fast-moving industry and has an exciting future ahead.”
NEC Group, which manages Arena Birmingham (15,800-cap.), Genting Arena (15,700-cap.), the National Exhibition Centre (NEC), the International Convention Centre (ICC) and Vox Conference Centre, all in Birmingham, posted 17.9% growth in revenue in its 2016–17 financial results.
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Phil Mead: 10 things I’ve learnt in 10 years
Phil Mead’s first memorable gig experience was witnessing Bob Dylan play at the then-NEC Arena in Birmingham. Fast forward 36 years, and he’s recently celebrated ten years as MD of arenas for the NEC Group.
Having transformed the business in his time with the group, Mead has overseen two redevelopments, multiple naming rights partners, and has seen new attractions built and hosted countless events, paving the way for NEC Group’s arenas to become premier destinations on touring routes. We caught up with the man himself to discover what he’s learned during a decade at the top…
1. It’s a team effort
The first lesson was learnt well before Mead arrived at the NEC, in his first venue job at a 1,500-seat entertainment and sports centre, where he quickly realised one of the most important components of arena management. “Everyone, from the rigger, the stage builder and the steward to the event manager, the marketer and the box office assistant, are all equally important, and only when working in harmony can great events be delivered. Moreover, those on the front line generally have better ideas to improve the offer than you – so listen!”
2 & 3. When you see a market opportunity, verify it with consumer research – and seize it
Shortly after joining NEC Group, Mead saw an opportunity to transform the venue box office into a national ticket agency predicated on a market entry that took venue box-office customer service levels into the agency business. Market research through consumer focus groups not only validated this premise, but they also came up with the name The Ticket Factory.
“Out of the eight names put forward to the focus groups my preferred choice came seventh! The Ticket Factory was the clear favourite by all the focus groups, so there is lesson three: you may spot the opportunity, but let the consumer tell you how it should be positioned.” The Ticket Factory was launched just nine months after Mead’s arrival at NEC Group.
“You may spot the opportunity, but let the consumer tell you how it should be positioned”
4. Take advantage of new business models
After ticketing, the next big step was to recognise that despite a strong market position, the NEC Arena needed a transformation to enhance the customer experience beyond the show itself.
“Local authority funding of the scale required based on economic or cultural benefit alone was no longer the order of the day as the public purse tightened. Neither was it viable to increase venue rentals for promoters to such an extent that £29 million could be paid back. We therefore turned to a combination of the sponsorship market (as this took a step change after O2’s deal with the Dome in London), plus faith in enhanced revenues from food and beverage and hospitality if the right quality offer was presented.” Both paid off, and in 2009, the LG Arena (now Genting Arena) was born, with every aspect of the venue seriously improved.
The same philosophy was applied to create the Barclaycard Arena where £26m of funding was a viable investment to be paid back from improved profitability primarily from retail catering, hospitality and sponsorship. Mead believes that not only do you have to look towards new business models to raise funding, but also have faith that the quality of offer will drive revenues well beyond previous arena spend per head.
Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 74:
NEC Group profits up 58% in 2016–17
NEC Group, the operator of five of the UK’s leading large venues, has posted a strong set of financial results for the 12 months ending 31 March 2017, its second since being sold by Birmingham City Council.
The Birmingham-based company, which also owns ticket agency The Ticket Factory (TTF) and caterer Amadeus, reported revenue of £157.7 million – up £23.9m (17.9%) year on year – and earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of £50.4m (including valuation gains of £2.6m on investment properties), an increase of £18.6m (58%) on the previous year.
“This has been an exceptional year, building on the strong maiden results the group posted 12 months ago,” says NEC Group CEO Paul Thandi. “As part of our transformation agenda, we are implementing an exciting and focused strategy which starts with a deep understanding of the needs of our customers and visitors. That understanding is in large part obtained from the insight we draw from data. We invest our resources to address those needs and improve the experience of our customers and visitors, and we can see the benefit of that approach in the significant levels of new business we have secured.
“We are not content to stand still. We will continue to deliver against our proven strategy while broadening our business through a focused leisure strategy to give our visitors more compelling reasons to visit. This includes two visitor attractions to be delivered by Merlin Entertainments at our NEC and city-centre sites in the next 12 months and new long-stay content such as Dinosaurs in the Wild, which we hosted at NEC this summer.
“We are progressing other planned developments on our NEC site within the context of our wider campus masterplan, and we will continue to extend our footprint through winning third-party venue management contracts and by securing new external opportunities for Amadeus.
The initiatives we have recently implemented and those planned … provide us with confidence that our businesses will continue to grow strongly”
“We are continuing to invest in our venues to improve the visitor experience, with a particular focus on digital technology. That investment will supplement our already exceptional capabilities to draw insight through the analysis of customer data.
“We are proud to be a central part of the West Midlands’ visitor economy, and look forward to our growth in scope and activity enhancing further the regional economy and its national and international profile.
“We are at an early stage of our strategic development. The initiatives we have recently implemented and those planned, allied with the profile of contracted forward bookings across the group, provide us with confidence that our businesses will continue to grow strongly.”
NEC Group manages Arena Birmingham (15,800-cap.), Genting Arena (15,700-cap.), the National Exhibition Centre (NEC), the International Convention Centre (ICC) and Vox Conference Centre, all in Birmingham.
The two arenas welcomed more than 1.4m visitors in the last financial year, with event highlights including Adele, Justin Bieber, Drake, Black Sabbath, the Horse of the Year Show, BBC Sports Personality of the Year, Strictly Come Dancing and Cirque du Soleil.
On the expo side, meanwhile, new events included Automechanika, Destination Star Trek and the UK Games Expo, which join existing exhibitions Spring Fair, Crufts, the BBC Good Food Show and gaming festival Insomnia, while the group has also invested in the Bradford Odeon, a new mid-sized venue expected to open in 2017.
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Ticket bots: Hidden menace or red herring?
While ticket bots – automated software used to hoover up concert tickets to then resell – remain legal in most of the world, the last 12 months have seen official sentiment in several major markets shift towards prohibition.
The state of New York was the first to criminalise the usage of bots, with legislation introduced by Carl Heastie and Marcos Crespo providing for up to a year in prison for offenders. The Canadian province of Ontario followed suit in September, and the US as a whole outlawed bots in December with then-president Barack Obama’s signing of the Better Online Ticket Sales – or Bots – Act into law.
The vast majority of those working in the live music industry agree on the need for a ban on bots – including, tellingly, secondary ticketing giants StubHub and Ticketmaster (Seatwave, Ticketmaster Resale, TicketExchange, Get Me In!) – but there are concerns among some anti-touting activists that a singular focus on bots could detract from the conversation around what they see as a fundamentally broken ticketing market.
Speaking to the UK parliament committee on ‘ticket abuse’ earlier this month, Rob Wilmshurst, CEO of Vivendi Ticketing/See Tickets – which recently launched its own face-value ticket exchange, Fan2Fan – said he believes bots have been a “red herring” in the debate over secondary ticketing in the UK. “We’ve added more technology to thwart them [bots], but we don’t see conversion rates dropping,” he told MPs.
Similarly, Adam Webb, of anti-secondary campaign group FanFair Alliance, responded to the US’s bot ban with a note of caution, highlighting that the legislation was “supported by companies who run secondary ticketing services, and who benefit directly from mass-scale ticket touting”.
Are ticket bots, then, a straw man on which the big secondaries are happily pinning the blame for headline-grabbing $3,000 Adele tickets, or could a global ban on bots actually be effective in eliminating price-gouging in the secondary market?
“Bots aren’t the only way tickets end up on the secondary market”
Reg Walker, of events security firm Iridium, says any legal initiatives aimed at combatting bots “can only be a good thing”. He concedes that while there are “systemic problems in the ticket industry as a whole”, including ticket agencies with a “foot in both camps” (primary and secondary), “any legislation that goes any way towards levelling the playing field must be welcomed”.
Walker cautions, however, that “legislation is only as good as the amount of enforcement that goes into supporting it”. A major problem with the law in the UK, he tells IQ, is that the onus is on secondary sites themselves to report attempts to buy tickets using bots: “Is there any incentive to report bot attacks when the same company may well end up, by intention or inadvertently, being a net beneficiary of that activity?” he asks.
The chief executive of the UK’s Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR), Jonathan Brown, agrees on the importance of ticketing sites reporting all bot attacks. “Bots are certainly one way that touts get hold of tickets, and it’s great that there is action specifically on this issue,” he explains. “However, we have always said that this also needs to go alongside far greater understanding and technical defences against such attacks – and, of course, a need for attacks or suspected attacks to be reported.”
Legislation targeting bots is a “great first step”, says Ant Taylor, the founder and CEO of Lyte, which powers the new ‘fan-to-fan’ ticket exchange from Ticketfly, a supporter of the bot ban in the US. “The public has experienced longstanding frustration from not having access to tickets for their favourite artists, or having to pay exorbitant prices to do so.”
Taylor highlights the importance of fans genuinely unable to attend a show having a “viable technological alternative”, such as Ticketfly/Lyte, to resell their ticket. “We’ve integrated Lyte directly with a primary ticketing company,” he continues, “so their venue and promoter partners now have complete control of the fan experience. This keeps the money in the hands of those who contribute to these incredible live event experiences and away from scalpers who purely profit off them.”
Patrick Kirby, managing director of recently launched white-label platform Tixserve, cautions that overemphasis on bots could lead to a spike in “low-tech” crime such as counterfeiting. “An unintended consequence of the ban on bots might be an increase in the fraudulent duplication or counterfeiting of tickets, which is a low-tech activity when tickets continue to be paper-based,” he tells IQ.
“Professional touts already use other, non-bot, methods of acquiring primary tickets for the secondary market”
Kirby says the effectiveness of banning bots will depend largely on the “extent to which bot operators will seek to circumvent the new legislation. The previous experience of the Tixserve team in the card payments and mobile-airtime distribution sectors is that the targets of anti-abuse measures always look to find creative ways of protecting their lucrative, ill-gotten incomes. Sometimes, it can be akin to pinning down a lump of jelly.”
Walker believes, however, that it’s extremely easy to tell when a site has fallen victim to a bot attack.
“We live in a technological age, and there is an overdependence on computer programs and algorithms to detect this activity,” he comments. Bot attacks are “so easy to spot on primary ledgers”, says Walker – providing ticket agencies actually take the time to look. “We haven’t found a single case, bar one, where a primary or secondary ticket agent has gone to police or Trading Standards and asked them to investigate,” he explains.
“Bottom line: it [banning bots] is not a silver bullet,” comments Adam Webb, who as FanFair campaign manager welcomed plans by the British government to ban bots as part of its implementation of the Waterson report.
“Moves by government[s to] criminalise the misuse of technology to bulk-buy tickets are an important and welcome step,” Webb tells IQ. “However […] not every tout has this sort of software in their armoury. There are many alternative ways to access large volumes of inventory…
“That’s why FanFair, in our response, was keen to give equal weight to the other elements of government’s announcement, particularly the blanket acceptance of Professor Waterson’s recommendations and suggestion of further actions to improve transparency in this market. (Waterson’s recommendations largely centre on proper reinforcement of the 2015 Consumer Rights Act, which obliges resellers to list the original face value, seat/row numbers and any ticket restrictions.)
“Bottom line: It is not a silver bullet”
Kirby adds that banning bots ignores “professional touts [who] already use other non-bot methods of acquiring primary tickets for placement on the secondary market”. In response to bot bans, resellers could, says Kirby, “ramp up the practice of using teams of people masquerading as genuine fans to buy significant amounts of tickets using multiple identities, addresses and credit cards”.
Stuart Cain, managing director of NEC Group’s The Ticket Factory, agrees with Walker that “banning bots is just one part of a much wider story”, but says any legislation “that allows for greater transparency in the market and help to stop fans being conned is a positive”. “There’s still a way to go, but [banning bots] is a promising first step when it comes to the industry finally cleaning up its act,” he comments.
While Walker praises the recent raft of anti-bot measures as “fantastic” – and the recent British legislation, in particular, as having real “teeth” – he warns against the tendency to think of banning ticket bots as a panacaea to sky-high prices on the secondary market.
“The danger is that while we have all this focus on bots and software, the other structural issues in ticketing could be ignored,” he concludes. “Bots aren’t the only way tickets end up on the secondary market.”
Four new ticket agencies get behind FanFair
British ticket agencies See Tickets, Gigantic, Skiddle and The Ticket Factory have signed the FanFair Alliance’s declaration against online ticket touts.
They join fellow ticketers WeGotTickets, Scarlet Mist, Twickets, The Ticket Fairy, Songkick, Active Ticketing and a range of promoters, managers, agents and industry groups in pledging their opposition to “industrial-scale online ticket touting” in the UK.
Adam Webb, campaign manager for the group, which launched in July, says: “There is a clear trend emerging between those who want to tackle industrial-scale touting and those who profit from it, and we are delighted that Gigantic, See Tickets, Skiddle and The Ticket Factory have signed the FanFair Declaration. We will be encouraging more to come onboard in 2017.
“There is a clear trend emerging between those who want to tackle industrial-scale touting and those who profit from it”
“Working together, and with the right political support, our goal is to help recalibrate the ticketing market to make it fairer and more transparent to fans.”
FanFair produced #ToutsOut, a 24-page guide for managers and artists advising how to minimise resale of tickets, in September; a similar guide for consumers is planned for early 2017.
NEC Group turnover up £6m under new ownership
The NEC Group increased turnover by more than £6 million in its first 11 months under private-sector ownership.
The UK venue-management group – which was in May 2015 sold by Birmingham City Council to Lloyds Development Capital (LDC) – saw revenues increase by £6.4m (5%) to £133.8m and earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) by £4.2m (15%) to £31.8m from 1 May 2015 to 31 March 2016, after adjusting for “certain one-off transactions” relating to its £307m acquisition by LDC.
In addition to operating Birmingham’s soon-to-be-renamed Barclaycard Arena (15,800-cap.) and Genting Arena (15,700-cap.), NEC Group manages the National Exhibition Centre (NEC), International Convention Centre (ICC) and Vox Conference Centre – all also in Birmingham – and owns The Ticket Factory, event management/consultancy outfit NEC Live Productions and catering firm Amadeus.
The 2015–2016 financial results include, for the first time, contributions from Vox and the new Resorts World leisure complex, operated by Genting UK, at the NEC.
“This is a strong set of maiden financial results for the group under private ownership”
“This is a strong set of maiden financial results for the group under private ownership,” says NEC Group CEO Paul Thandi (pictured).
“We have a clear strategy and the management team is making great progress in delivering against that strategy, having embraced very positively the change in ownership. We have excellent visibility of future trading due to the profile of forward bookings for events and we will continue to invest in and move all of our businesses forward, maximising the opportunities presented by [planned London–Birmingham railway] High Speed 2 and the significant investment in and around our Solihull site that will bring.
“I am very confident that we will, in due course, be posting an even more impressive set of financial results for the current year ending 31 March 2017.”
Twickets launches collection point in Fopp stores
British fan-to-fan ticket resale platform Twickets has launched a Drop & Collect service in Fopp record shops.
The service aims to help concert-goers trade tickets at face value when they can’t attend a show.
Customers first find tickets online, and receive a text alert and email once they are ready for collection. A £2.50 handling charge is applied per transaction that’s added to a standard 10% fee for every sale.
It has arrived in Fopp’s Manchester shop, and will roll out nationally at the music retailer’s nine UK stores over the coming year.
The latest innovation is similar to services offered by the likes of Ticketmaster’s Seatwave, which has collection points near major venues, but doesn’t offer a face value guarantee.
Richard Davies, Founder of Twickets, said he hopes the service will “stop fans losing out to tours and secondary sites selling at inflated prices with exorbitant booking fees.”
“It’s fantastic to be working with highly respected specialist retailer Fopp, and we hope this new in-store service will allow more fans to be able to see their favourite artists without needing to scrimp and save to pay scalpers’ fees.”
He continues: “It’s fantastic to be working with highly respected specialist retailer Fopp, and we hope this new in-store service will allow more fans to be able to see their favourite artists without needing to scrimp and save to pay scalpers’ fees.”
Fopp comments: “We’re delighted that our loyal customers in Manchester can now drop off and collect their gig tickets whilst they shop with us.
“Fopp shoppers are true fans with a strong passion for live music so ethical ticketing service Twickets and Fopp are a great fit.”
Launched in 2011, Twickets is available on web, mobile and social, and has over 500,000 users.
Artists to have used the platform for shows include Adele, Mumford & Sons, One Direction, The 1975, and Catfish and the Bottlemen, as well as UK festivals.
In March, the NEC Group-owned Ticket Factory partnered with Twickets. The deal meant Ticket Factory customers were directed to Twickets’ website for sold-out shows.
TeamRock debuts new ticketing operation
British magazine publisher and broadcaster TeamRock has launched its own ticketing platform in partnership with NEC Group’s The Ticket Factory (TTF).
The creation of TeamRock Tickets will, says TTF managing director Stuart Cain, give the company access to “arguably the biggest rock and metal customer base in the country”, making TTF the “go-to national agent for any event promoter looking to reach rock and metal fans”. TeamRock, which publishes Classic Rock, Metal Hammer and Prog magazines and operates TeamRock.com and TeamRock Radio, has a reach of some six million people worldwide.
The TeamRock Tickets store is hosted on the TTF website and currently offers tickets to, among other events, Bloodstock festival, Bryan Adams’ The Get Up tour and The Who’s (pictured) Back to The Who 51! tour.
“Our audience is built of loyal and passionate people who will soon be able to buy tickets under our brand, meaning we can provide an even better TeamRock experience”
The tie-up continues TTF’s strategy of partnering with well-known brands and builds on exiting arrangements with Barclaycard, Virgin Trains and Uber.
“Our audience is built of loyal and passionate people who will soon be able to buy tickets under our brand, meaning we can provide an even better TeamRock experience,” says TeamRock’s managing director, Tony Dowling. “The Ticket Factory’s technology and systems mean we’ll deliver a reliable service to our customers which will integrate seamlessly with the TeamRock brand.”
He adds: “Their proposition of standing ‘for the fans’, developing their product with a customer-first approach and strong stance against secondary ticketing, aligns closely with our ethos as a credible and authentic media owner.”