Inside sports business
Troy Kirby has been a fixture in sports-ticketing management for years and quickly can spot a game-changer.
The Olympia-raised director of ticket sales at UC Davis and creator of the industry’s acclaimed Tao of Sports podcast sounded downright giddy while discussing a deal between Major League Soccer and SeatGeek that thrusts the online resale exchange into primary ticketing for the first time.
SeatGeek becomes the official ticketing partner of MLS and is developing an integrated software platform to be available to all teams starting in 2017. Sporting Kansas City is the first MLS squad to sign on and make SeatGeek its primary ticket vendor.
By next March, Sporting KC will be able to sell tickets via SeatGeek software over a multitude of online websites and mobile applications beyond the team’s official site. Sporting KC fans also can resell, buy or exchange previously purchased tickets on any third-party website without fear of fraud or the team cracking down on them.
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Other teams are expected to join SeatGeek as their individual ticketing deals expire. The Sounders, like many MLS teams, are locked into a primary sales agreement with Ticketmaster that has multiple seasons remaining.
But the broader MLS-SeatGeek arrangement could nonetheless overhaul the traditionally adversarial relationship between teams and resale brokers and exchanges and do away with different ticket prices for “primary” and “secondary” market sales.
Kirby calls the deal “groundbreaking” in that it gives far more people the power to buy and sell tickets and authenticate them for security purposes. New York-based SeatGeek is extremely mobile-friendly, meaning Sporting KC and other MLS teams signing on can sell tickets via Amazon, Uber, Airbnb or any smartphone application they choose.
“It opens up the marketplace,’’ says Kirby, a sought-after speaker at national ticketing conferences who previously ran ticket departments for Seattle University and Eastern Washington. “This is something that should have been done a long time ago. It’s like having a Starbucks and not only in a single store location, but the grocery store, or the mall or airport. It gets your product out there in far more places to far more people.’’
For years, leagues and teams envious of brokers profiting off their games treated resale companies with the same distrust lions typically reserve for hyenas.
They tried to consolidate power by limiting their “primary” ticket sales to lone partners such as Ticketmaster and via team websites. And they obstructed “secondary” or resale markets by spreading the fear of fraud — preventing anybody but their exclusive resale partners from using authentication software to determine a ticket’s validity.
But lately, it has become tougher to tell teams and resale companies apart.
So-called “dynamic pricing” by teams in all sports has blurred the lines between primary and secondary markets. Teams have marked up single-game tickets beyond face value and occasionally at even higher prices than resale brokers.
SeatGeek software now will list all primary and resale Sporting KC tickets side-by-side, allowing for one-stop comparative shopping. Kirby predicts this will cause the team and brokers to adjust pricing accordingly to avoid being the most expensive.
In other words, primary and secondary prices could become virtually identical.
Indeed, the SeatGeek deal seems a concession by MLS that turf battles with resellers are pointless and prevent teams from selling as many tickets as possible. Sporting KC president Jake Reid, who rose through the team’s ticketing office, says the lines between primary and secondary sales are already mostly indistinguishable.
“I think teams sometimes overestimate what the primary market and the secondary market means to fans,’’ Reid says. “Fans just want to buy tickets. They don’t really care who they’re buying from. They want to make sure it’s a good deal.’’
Reid said the goal is an enhanced experience where fans can download tickets off multiple sites in a few smartphone taps and gain stadium entry via a pre-authenticated bar code. Allowing authentication of all tickets sold via SeatGeek software on third-party websites such as StubHub, eBay, TiqIQ or TicketNetwork is a major element to the deal.
The NFL, for instance, has long warned the only guaranteed way to buy authentic secondary-market tickets is via its NFL Ticket Exchange resale partner. That’s helped the NFL drive traffic away from rival resale platforms.
But Sporting KC fans soon can resell on any platform, with that authentication software universally applicable.
“We live in a world where people are constantly on their phones,’’ SeatGeek co-founder Russ D’Souza says. “They go to different apps, different websites. It doesn’t make sense to have tickets only live in one location rather than be distributed wherever the user is.’’
D’Souza hopes the “open platform” enables MLS tickets to reach more eyeballs and encourage “spur of the moment” purchases.
Also, selling tickets via non-traditional outlets offers increased business possibilities. A tourist shopping a flight to Kansas City on Kayak.com could be simultaneously offered Sporting KC tickets for that travel period.
Ticketing director Kirby figures other leagues will follow MLS, with the gate-driven NHL likely next.
“The alternative is just the old model where a team sales guy makes a hundred phone calls per day and tries to sell tickets that way,’’ Kirby says. “That’s not how it works anymore.’’
We’ll see how well this new arrangement works starting next year.
But if it does, sports ticket sales as we know them will never be quite the same.