Talking Tickets 19 February 2021: PSLs! Broadway or the West End! The Australian Open! 'No Refunds! No Exchanges!', And, More!

Year 2 Episode 21

Hey, y’all!

How are y’all hanging in there?

Friends of the newsletter, podcast, and all-around great friends to me personally: Angela and Richard are getting married in Australia this weekend. I’m sorry to not be able to be there, but they’ve promised an incredibly big 1-year anniversary party for next year!

Congratulations you crazy kids!

If you like the newsletter, please share it with a colleague, co-worker, or friend that might enjoy it or find it useful as well!


To the tickets!


1. FC Charlotte is the first MLS team to sell PSLs:

I do a full breakdown of the topic on my blog.

The thing that got my attention was the justification for this decision. Survey data from 18 months ago!?

This got me on a marketing research bender and I was already heading down the road because my piece this month for the ALSD focuses on market research as well. I even spent 10 minutes doing a podcast mini-episode with a lesson on market research.

All I’m saying is blame my marketing professor for teaching me about market research!

Back to the story, this whole episode brings to light a few things on data and research that we need to keep in mind as we head forward.

First, the data you had from before the pandemic is mostly useless.


Because we have had significant disruption to our lives. It is likely that we are going to see changes in behavior after the pandemic that people can’t predict right now due to the combination of a public health crisis, mental health challenges brought on by the pandemic, and financial challenges we will have to overcome.

So, you can’t think that the data you used before the pandemic is going to guide you after the pandemic.

Second, any research you are doing today is only going to be useful through the end of the pandemic.

This is an entirely unique situation that will mean that the data we collect now is likely only going to be useful while the pandemic is going on. There will be some stuff that carries over, but a lot of the data won’t.

Once things open up, we will be able to look at actions in their proper context again and that will eliminate the need for studying what people say they are going to do.

Third, if you were behind on data…good news: you aren’t any longer. Because almost everyone is starting over from zero and if they aren’t looking through that lens, they are likely to be falling behind once the pandemic is over.

Now is the time for you to rethink your data strategy and the way you do research.

That’s the good news!

The key point is that Charlotte’s sports fans might have had a good experience with PSLs in the past. But the disruption due to the pandemic is meaningful enough that there is a lot of risk in going to market with a strategy that hinges on fan sentiment not having changed due to a pandemic and the issues created by it.

For y’all that are thinking about how to get answers or data now, try to use the method called, “Backward Market Research”. It originated in the 1980s by a professor at Georgetown, Alan Andreason.

The simple version is this:

One, understand the question you want to answer.

Two, figure out how you want to show the answer. Meaning graphs, short answers, long answers, etc.

Third, design a survey around the first two answers.

You can start using this now, but just know that the information you receive may not be useful for long.

It is the nature of life during a pandemic.

2. The West End will come back before Broadway is one major prediction from a Broadway producer:

I was unsure if the headline on this story was clickbait or not.

But I read this piece and Kevin McCollum’s reasoning is pretty sound. Broadway houses are mostly smaller, our willingness to wear masks has been spottier than other places, and we are a litigious society.

What these stories about timelines and possibilities remind us of is the need to be customer-focused because a lot of things are likely going to open pretty rapidly, folks will be overloaded with options, and we will all be stressing about generating demand for our products and services.

One thing that came to mind this week when thinking about this is the need for arts organizations, teams, and the arts to confront is who do they want their audiences to be. (This applies to any part of the entertainment business, TBF. I’ve had a few of my partners come to me with this exact question from around the world.)

One of the ways that organizations hamstring themselves is by spending too much time and energy on segmentation by demographic data: race, sex, age, zip code…whatever.

These are terrible ways to do segmentation because in this method you come up with the example that Machine Gun Kelly and Prince George want the same things because they fit the same demographic band.

Segment based on behavior first and use demographic data as a segmentation factor if it is meaningful and actionable.

The second thing is to recognize what changes will be long-term and which ones will be short-term.

Like we are seeing with the Covid testing in NYC to go to games and is being mentioned with regards to the West End, testing, masks, and other security measures are likely to only be necessary for the near term, eventually, many of these measures will fade away.

Invest where you must in the short-term, but really look at where you need to invest for the long-term.

Because the trend in a lot of places was ugly and despite growing revenues, declining real attendance and ratings were a bad trend line. Invest in cleanliness, warmness, and people because those are investments in building better connections with your customers.

Finally, you are going to need a strategy!

Winging it isn’t going to work.

Having no plan and calling it “agile”, again, not going to work.

Just hoping you can go back to the way things were…not likely to be successful!

A refrain from the past few weeks is the two questions from Roger Martin. Today, we will jump back on the 3 questions I rely on so heavily:

  • What is the value you want to create?

  • Who is your customer?

  • How will you reach them?

Can you answer those questions with any clarity?

If not, do you have a plan to start figuring out the answers?

P.S. The question about the VAT tax break in the UK is still ongoing. In the past I’ve been supportive of the idea because I’m a throw things at the problem kind of guy, hailing back to when I studied political science at the University of Alabama and learned about FDR and his strategy with the New Deal.

This debate is a perfect example of the need to understand the goal you are attempting to achieve and devising a course of action around tackling the real problem. As I’ve been studying the idea further, I’m not sure if keeping the VAT at 5% is the ultimate solution if we aren’t using it to solve for the right problem.

3. The Australian Open had fans and it was a reminder of the power of people:

50% for a few days meant that around 30,000 folks could attend the Australian Open in person.

Let me tell you, that is one of my bucket list events because my lady and my son love tennis and they made me start playing with them during the summer of 2020.

Me, I just love events and hanging out with people.

For me, this is the reason I keep doing stuff around events, sports, and culture: love of people and the ability to bring people together for once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Looking at what I have put down so far, I guess this week’s theme is Market Orientation: getting the customer’s voice into your business or being customer-focused.

Same thing!

This whole endeavor that we’ve dealt with over the last year of lockdowns, shutdowns, closings, etc. has reminded a lot of us about how important people are.

I imagine I’ve shared this story before and I can’t remember the guy’s name that hired me at the Seattle Theatre Group when I first moved to Seattle and didn’t know anyone, but he said, “I’m hiring you because you have a friendly face and I think our guests will love you.”

Having come from nightclubs, I knew the power of people and throwing a good party.

Ask any ex-girlfriend of mine and she will tell you a) how much of a jerk I was, but b) how much I loved getting people together.

I still love it!

That’s what’s been missing from our lives for the past year. We haven’t been able to celebrate together, cheer, and sing!

The immediate challenge we are all confronting is bringing fans back. We need it to save our businesses and careers. But we also need to rebuild the relationships with our customers and fans that might have been fraying before the pandemic.

Ricardo Fort posted this earlier in the week:

It is a good question to ask.

I’m not advocating for letting folks in for free because I have done the research necessary to know that papering the house is a bad idea.

But I am advocating that all of us that touch the industry in some way be more thoughtful about how we market and sell the experiences to fans because as the article at the top mentioned, the spreadsheet crowd had turned everything into a cold number and that had stolen some of the joy of sports.

At the same time, if everything is arbitrage, speculating, hedging, and maximizing, the same thing happens to the product in the stands as well.

4. NASCAR returns and they have a marketing problem:

NASCAR had an ugly year last year with the Bubba Wallace story.

As 2021 starts, NASCAR is hoping to turn the corner and paint a picture of new energy and focus around the sport.

I’ve been to races in the past and they are fun and exciting in a way that compares favorably to other sports so when I saw the talk of NASCAR’s marketing challenge, I paid attention because if it is a marketing challenge you are dealing with…there is a solution.

The product is pretty fun! So it isn’t the product!

The key part of the piece is the need for a new marketing strategy to attract minorities viewers is brought up.

Let me repeat this for the umpteenth time today: segmentation by demographics is a bad way to segment a market. And, it turns your targeting efforts into a waste of time.

The article lists a number of ways that NASCAR can reach out and create a more larger and more inclusive audience like by doing things like bringing in new team owners like Michael Jordan, educating minorities, and bringing back a dirt track in Bristol to replicate the golden days of track racing.

All of those may or may not be good ideas, I don’t know for sure. And, without doing the proper research neither does anyone else.

They sound like tactics over strategy…and that’s a no-no.

I’ll go through this quickly.

The first step is to focus on the customer and the market as a whole. Do some research, understand what the customers like and don’t like, want and don’t want.

From there, draw up a segmentation of the market based on behavior. There is a great tool I use called the “meaningful/actionable” grid that helps figure out what matters and doesn’t in your segmentation.

Target some big juicy segments that have a lot of opportunities.

Then, position yourself in one of two ways: “about” or “against”. Meaning, what do you stand for or what do you stand in opposition against?

An example, for my 2021 positioning I’m positioning myself and my marketing work around the idea that your marketing and strategy should be focused, effective, and profitable. I stand against folks that are spewing tactic-driven buzzwords and BS that steer you away from profitable marketing.

Now, create a strategy with funnels for the different things you sell like tickets, merchandise, camping, even getting folks to tune in on TV.

From there you can go into all of these things that are tactics like ownership, playoff systems, etc. Because they will help you deliver on the strategy.

Remember, the 4 Ps of product, price, place, and promotion.

So having Snoop Dogg may be a great move to create interest in the sport or it may not…you don’t know without some proper research and building a solid strategy.

Strategy before tactics or NASCAR will find themselves spinning their wheels again.

5. Change doesn’t come easy:

I’ve had this one in my backpocket for a few weeks because I wanted to mention this and never found the right time.

This week is the right time.

I got to talk about change a lot before the pandemic and it was good to share my ideas around change, but to be honest, folks weren’t always listening. The economy was expanding, things were relatively good for most people, no one wanted to rock the boat.

Now we are almost a year into the pandemic or over a year in some places and change has come for us, like it always does.

I know that the past year has been difficult for everyone and it can often feel like we will never see the end of this period.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned the Stockdale Paradox recently, but the story goes I was chatting with Simon Mabb and he reminded me of the story of Admiral Stockdale and how we have to keep pushing. It hasn’t been easy, but Simon’s suggestion has kept me going when things have felt overwhelming this past year.

Here is Jim Collins to explain it:

I’m tagging this story because it highlights the power of small acts to create change. What we are going to need to see on the other side of the pandemic is a lot of people taking small, intentional acts to make a better industry.

Having written a lot of political ads between 2012-2014, I don’t like this slogan, but I’m going to steal it from Joe Biden for our purposes: #BuildBackBetter.

As an example, “do your research”. Hopefully, I’m a help in that each week, but spend some time getting to understand issues that are going to be valuable in getting the industry back up and running.

What are the trends that will impact buying habits? What are the skills folks will need?

What’s something that will stand in the way? “No refunds! No exchanges!” has been Maureen Andersen’s bug for a long time and if I were betting money, being more liberal with refund policies, refund protection, or exchanges is going to be a key in making sure folks come back and feel comfortable buying when things start to return.

“Speak up”…that’s gotten me in trouble over the years, but whatever. If you believe in something, it only counts if you are willing to stand up for it. You don’t have to burn down the house around you, but nothing gets better if folks don’t start taking action to fix things.

“Take yourself out of the equation”: do good things because you can.

I try to do a certain amount of giving back each year and two things I’ve been pretty open about supporting are #IVotedConcerts and the EB Research Partnership.

I’ll admit, a lot of times I do the work because I’m selfish. I have the time, money, and energy to give back and it allows me to contribute in a meaningful way to organizations that are changing the world for the better…and, most of the time I come away wishing I could do more or that I didn’t do nearly enough.

If you don’t know about these things: Emily White created the I Voted Concerts because she wanted to make voting something people were excited about and she recognized that America had a really low turnout rate.

She also is in the industry and recognized that it helped her to help others.

She’s already planning for 2022! If you can, contribute, volunteer, or help in some way.

EB Research Partnership’s CEO is a guy called Michael Hund and he’s a really great guy because he has a passion for helping folks. And, over the last few years, EB Research has used an innovative funding model called venture philanthropy to help scientists get to the verge of being able to cure EB.

It is an awful disease.

This is what we worked on #comesayhi in 2019, but it really didn’t get the chance to take off until Michael and his board and team pulled together a virtual gala with the help of Amazon and a bunch of other great partners.

Watch this video and tell me you can ever stop working to cure this disease, I dare you:

I’m fortunate that Michael allowed me the opportunity to be useful and to learn about how close we are as a society to curing EB which is a gateway to curing other genetic diseases.

If you can, support EB.

I bring all of this up at the end today because I’ve gotten a lot of emails, DMs, texts, and smoke signals from folks that have been dealt a bad hand the last year, they are struggling, and they want to get back to work and they want to get back to work in a way that makes things better.

I’m with you on this.

But I also want you to know that I’m always here for y’all. And, even while we are still isolated or unable to welcome crowds, we can still do good work, we can still contribute, and we can still create change…now and into the future.


Still in DC!

Happy Hour tonight!

Join the crew over in the Slack Channel!

I’ve got an ebook on the Principles of Pricing coming in about 2 weeks! Keep an eye out for the announcement and the release!

Check out what Simon, Cat, Cath, Vicki, and the entire Booking Protect team are working on right now. Some great content, new ideas on relationships and revenue, and much more. The reality is that as we move to the other side of the pandemic, refund protection can be a vital tool in helping folks come back to your events.

My buddies, Einar and Martin and the team at Activity Stream put together a great collection of ideas to help folks recover at the We Will Recover website. I may be taking another road trip with Einar once the pandemic is over but that announcement will have to wait. But check out what Activity Stream is doing to turn data and insights into marketing magic.

Give my podcast a listen, you may not know what I will drop on you these days: case studies, lessons, interviews.