Olympic Ticketing a success

Posted in Ticketing with tags , , , on September 16, 2012 by richardhowle

I fear that many won’t agree with me when I herald the Olympic ticketing operation a success. As I have stated before, ticketing is never popular – it is a necessary evil, a process that people have to undergo to gain access to events, but would never choose to, one that can be frustrating and expensive.  Even when someone is successful in getting the ticket that they want for the price that they are happy with, they often won’t think positively about the whole process of booking them in the first place. Of course the unpopularity of ticketing is heightened the more high profile or desirable the event.

The problem that ticketing has is that, in an environment of high demand and low availability , there are always going to be people who are disappointed who then think that the process is unfair. Add into the mix that one of ticketing’s primary purposes is (usually) raising revenue and the result is an emotional cocktail of complaints and recrimination.

So it is in this environment that I stick my head above the parapet and say that I think that LOCOG did a good job of ticketing the London Olympic and Paralympic Games. I recognise that many won’t agree – and I understand why. But this is why I think it has been a success.

The challenge was enormous, to sell over 11.5 million Olympic and Paralympic tickets for events, including some that many in this country hadn’t heard of, and at the same time meeting ambitious £600 million revenue targets.

The results 8.7 million Olympic tickets, and 2.7 million Paralympic tickets sold. It is well documented that the Paralympic’s were the best ever attended, exceeding revenue targets http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19500185  but more tickets than ever before were sold for the Olympic Games. Who can forget the sell out crowds for the morning sessions in the Olympic Stadium? Unprecedented,  even for a popular event like athletics.

We should consider the numbers:

2000 Sydney – 6.7 million tickets

2004 Athens – 3.5 million tickets

2008 Beijing -7.5 million tickets

2012 London 8.7 million tickets

This is why I say the Olympic ticketing operation was a success. Their primary goal was to shift tickets and meet revenue targets .They certainly achieved that and, whilst revenues for the Olympic Games haven’t been released, I would be amazed if they hadn’t met their targets after achieving these numbers.

The next goal was to sell these tickets securely and to prevent the kinds of fraud and ticket touting that have been experienced in other Olympic cities. With the help from the Met Police’s Operation Podium and some beefed up legislation, this was largely achieved.  Yes there were some high profile exposes and there will be probably more unveiled in years to come, but on the face of it the Games have passed without any ticketing scandals. Operation Podium arrested 92 people for touting during the Olympics and in the years building up to the Games have helped clean up the whole of the whole of the ticketing industry.

Open seats. Well this is the area where it could be argued that the Olympic Ticketing operation wasn’t successful. With so many people who wanted to, unable to get tickets many think it was unforgivable that there were sometimes swathes of open seats. There are a number of issues here. First of all, as people who work in ticketing will identify, you can sell the ticket but you cant force people to come. We have all looked at seating plans satisfied with a sold out house, only to walk into the auditorium to see rows of empty seats. There are always reasons, the coach party that broke down, the people who got the wrong date etc etc.

For the Olympic organisers so much of the inventory was out of their control, when Olympic officials, National associations or sponsors say that they are going to use their tickets, when they pay for them , those in charge of ticketing have to take them at their word. If those people don’t turn up, what can be done? This is a problem not caused by LOCOG but by the rules and regulations, agreements and policies as laid out by the IOC. These issues have occurred at games after games and will happen again at Rio unless the IOC changes its policies. In the 21st Century, is it really necessary for tickets to be sub allocated to individual National Associations? In this internet age surely there can be one global portal so that ticket sales can be managed centrally, ensuring that tickets are available where and when there is demand?

The other cause of open seats was what we, in the entertainment ticketing industry, know as House Seats. House Seats are seats that are always held back until the last moment for a variety of reasons ranging from dealing with problems/mistakes to accommodating  that last minute VIP. In my experience it always takes a few performances to get house seats right, how many should be held and when they should be released – but eventually the demands even out and everyone gets into a pattern. Unfortunately LOCOG didn’t have the luxury of a few performances to get it right, the spotlight fell on them immediately. From what I understand there were a couple of significant reasons why this was a problem for LOCOG. Firstly many of the seats were taken by coaches / officials who over a morning might be visiting three of four different events, requiring a seat at all of them, but only using it for part of the time. Secondly many of the areas that these seats were located were in accredited areas which, from a security point of view, made it problematic to sell to members of the public. It is to their credit that LOCOG sorted out these issues quickly and that after the Wednesday of the first week there was very little talk of open seats.

But it was disappointing. Experience from previous Olympics showed that this would happen and it is a shame that LOCOG appeared to be caught on the hop by this and that they didn’t have procedures in place from the start to deal with this. I had imagined that they would have had some sort of returns scheme whereby members of the public could purchase tickets if they hadn’t been occupied within, say, 20 minutes of the start time. But it is easy to judge from afar without knowing the full logistics of such a scheme.

So with only that one negative, I am going to award LOCOG 9 out of 10 for the Olympic Ticketing Operation. I think that Paul Williamson (Head of Ticketing)  and the team did a terrific job and have set a very high standard for Rio to follow. Hopefully, Rio will get better support from the IOC, who do need to look at and bring up to date the whole global distribution of Olympic tickets and help make the next olympics another Olympic triumph.

The reality of pricing theatre tickets

Posted in Theatre, Ticketing with tags , , , on September 4, 2012 by richardhowle

Making the headlines yesterday was the announcement of the new season at the Donmar Warehouse and the introduction of a new ticketing initiative.

Concerned that the Donmar’s reputation for being always sold out meant that people wouldn’t even try to book tickets and the effect that that was having on audience development, they have devised a scheme whereby tickets will be made available at £10 for every performance.

Not a new concept, the upcoming Grandage season at the Noel Coward theatre made headlines recently with a similar pricing initiative. The difference at the Donmar is that those tickets will only be made available for sale two weeks before the performance, thus helping to quell the myth that it is impossible to get a ticket at the Donmar without booking months in advance.

It is a great initiative that helps kill two birds with one stone, (of course it is much easier for the subsidised and small Donmar to do this than it is for other venues) and they should be applauded for making the hard decisions and being innovative.

This does, however, cause a problem for the commercial sector, because by offering tickets at £10 it establishes a market price that it is completely unsustainable. For the theatre going public that don’t distinguish between the subsidised and commercial sectors it misleads them into thinking that all venues / productions should be priced similarly and that those that aren’t are profiteering. But look at the Grandage season, I hear you cry, that is a commercial venture offering £10 tickets – but that was a classic case of smoke and mirrors. The cheap price that stole all the headlines allowed them to post some of the highest ticket prices for plays in the West End virtually unnoticed.

Producing commercial theatre is an expensive business, the hiring of the theatre, the cost of cast, production staff, equipment hire, licensing, royalties, advertising and marketing all add up. The amount of money it costs just to open the doors each week can be staggering – before you even begin to recoup the cost of mounting the production, let alone making a profit .

Let’s think about the maths.

A top musical in the West End can have weekly running costs of around £250,000 (yes a quarter of a million pounds a week, just to break even). Let’s imagine it is playing in a 1,500 seat theatre at 70% capacity (this is the average across all SOLT theatres over a year). That means the production is selling 8,400 seats per week. Divide the running costs by the number of tickets sold and you can see that, in order to break even, the production has to sell each ticket at an average net ticket price of £29.76 each. And remember that is a net price. Adding in VAT and the various ticketing and credit card charges produces a gross average price to the public of nearly £40. Just to break even.

It is disingenuous when commentators deride theatre producers for being greedy, for cynically squeezing out future audiences by expensive pricing, because all the producers I know and work with spend a lot of time agonising over ticket prices and ensuring that they are affordable. Don’t get me wrong I am not suggesting that they are all altruistic (although many are), they are working in a commercial world and want to price their product to sell.

Which is why for an average musical you will find 30-40% of tickets priced at below a break even price. There is a real recognition of the expense of theatre tickets, the need to make their product attractive and the need to not price themselves out of the market.

In addition there are group rates, school rates, senior rates, day seats etc – many of which are priced at below break even price – but are done so to make the show more accessible to a wider audience.

The flip side to this is that in order to subsidise these lower rates the top prices are expensive and unfortunately it is these prices that grab the headlines.

Top class commercial theatre is expensive to produce, but it doesn’t have to be expensive to watch, the discerning theatre goer can sit in great seats at reasonable prices for any production
if they can be flexible about when they go or if they can gather a few friends to make up a group.

It is brilliant that the Donmar have done what they have done, I think that producing high quality drama and presenting it at accessible pricing is exactly what subsidised theatre should be doing. But let’s remember that in the commercial world, theatre producers have to play by a totally different set of rules.

Sensibly correct, not politically

Posted in Society with tags on September 3, 2012 by richardhowle

This weekend, staying at hotel in the countryside, I came across one of my bug bears – a low shower. In the way of the modern age, I took to Twitter to protest “another hotel and another shower installed by a midget” I communicated to the world (or at least those few that pay me any attention).

“You can’t say ‘midget'”, I was told by one of my good friends, “should I say ‘dwarf’?” I responded.
No, I was told, in this day and age – despite Dwarfism being a recognised medical condition (or is it a syndrome?) – the word “Dwarf” is also unacceptable.

Two things struck me about this conversation – first of all the phrase “you can’t say that”. Of course I can say that – I had just done so and wasn’t struck down by lightening or thrown into prison. Whether I SHOULD have said that is different matter.

The second thing, is who is it that decides what should or shouldn’t be said. I was told that SCOPE issues guidelines about this kind of the thing. An unelected, unrepresentative private charitable organisation, campaigning on behalf of a section of society with no statutory power is determining how we should communicate with each other.

And this is the key point, this is a communication issue. Words. Words are simple things, communication tools. How they are used is the important factor. Depending on how they are used words can make you laugh, cry, be inspired, teach, comfort, love, abuse, shock and offend. If my tweet was offensive, it wasn’t because of the word “midget”. If I had said “another hotel and another shower installed by a vertically challenged person” would the tweet being any less offensive?

Of course it wouldn’t, I just wouldn’t have been able to fit it into140 characters!

Last week I had a meeting with an education charity who, in the course of the meeting, got themselves tied into a terrible tangle trying to describe people with hearing difficulties. It seems, that the term “deaf” is unacceptable.

This is surely ridiculous. There is nothing offensive or derogatory about the word “deaf”. I understand that it be used in offensive way – but any word can be used in an offensive way. I could find a way to make “kitten” be offensive if I wanted – but that shouldn’t mean that we need to find an alternative way to describe a feline infant.

Of course there are words in our language that are offensive and are meant as such and I am not defending those – what I am asking for is a little common sense. Let’s change our attitudes not our words. If someone wants to be abusive or offensive they’ll find a way of doing it with whatever words are in use, we cannot keep running away and changing the words.

Because, as I said, this is about communication. And in a world that could be so much better with improved communication, let’s not put up barriers to communication. I am of course not advocating free reign to use any term, there are terms that are designed to be, or have become, derogatory and offensive. But I am calling for some common sense, a recognition of the difference between when people are intending to be offensive or when they are describing the great work that they are doing with deaf children. Let us not be subjected to the diktats of single issue pressure groups, but just be respectful of all of our fellow human beings.

Olympics brings no Fringe benefits to Edinburgh

Posted in Theatre, Ticketing with tags , , on August 29, 2012 by richardhowle

Paul and I went to Edinburgh last year for the Festival and had a fantastic time, packing in 9 shows in 44 hours. We loved it and have very happy memories. But we didn’t go this year.
It’s not that we didn’t want to, it’s just with other stuff and the Olympics etc we couldn’t make it work.

Ah, there – you see, I said it. The Olympics, the catch all excuse for 2012.

“where’s my parcel?”
“It’s the Olympics”
“what time does that train leave?”
“it’s the Olympics”
“why can’t I take this bottle of water into the cinema?”
“it’s the Olympics”

The Olympics was a ready made excuse for people not do things that they normally would. And as reported by the BBC yesterday, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t make it up to Edinburgh this year because of the Olympics.

Yes, ticket sales were down by 1% on last year. 1%? As my friend and colleague, Ian Taylor, commented on Twitter yesterday (@IanTix) – I think they got off lightly.

If the West End had only been down by 1% we would all be cartwheeling down Shaftesbury Avenue. For many shows in London the figures were more like 20-30% down on last year. For theatre in the capital, the Olympics were a disaster. Ok , I should acknowledge that it wasn’t for all shows and that the official Society of London Theatres figures for this period aren’t out yet. But at the front line, speaking on a daily basis to producers who saw revenues tumbling – this was not a good time.

But, we were told, theatre will reap the benefit in future years when there will be an influx of visitors to London because of the Olympics. That is of cold comfort for today’s producers whose loss of income this year may mean that they or their shows won’t be around to cash in on future riches.

And this is the important point. The Olympics coincided with some of the most important weeks in the West End year. A profitable time which usually helps to provide investors with a return and generate incomes that can be invested into future productions. This didn’t happen this year.

I am not anti Olympics, I loved them and was always a big supporter of London hosting them.What I am concerned about is the casual attitude that our leaders had to this important industry. An industry that generates billions for the exchequer, creates thousands of jobs and of which the UK are World Leaders.

I am delighted that Edinburgh escaped relatively unscathed from the Olympics, because ultimately by protecting the grassroots, the starting ground for many writers, performers and producers,we have avoided doing real damage to this great industry of ours.

Silly Season

Posted in Current Affairs with tags , , , , on August 27, 2012 by richardhowle

It’s August Bank Holiday. An August Bank Holiday with an uncertain weather forecast. Now whilst it is very welcome after a tough couple of weeks at work, there is always the question of what to do. For me it has been quite productive – I am particularly pleased that I have been able to sort out a few more nagging issues on my new website www.richardhowle.co.uk and learnt a bit more than I thought I needed to about web hosting.

If only the nations media could be a bit more productive in what is commonly known as the “Silly Season”. For this is the time of year where “nothing happens” – the world of politics is quiet – our political leaders are on holiday (hands up if you know that Theresa May is currently running the country – true) and many journalists are away, drinking themselves into a stupor in deepest darkest France.

So how does the Silly Season manifest itself? Well how many column inches and broadcast hours have been wasted on an army office having fun in Las Vegas (despite countless polls saying that the public don’t care)? And this weekend dozens of pointless hours have been wasted by hapless journalists reporting about the sightings of a Lion in Essex, despite it being patently obvious that it never existed.

Why does any of this matter? It matters because of course there are things happening in the world. Important things like the deteriorating situation in Syria, more violence in Afghanistan, significant changes in Burma’s government and the impending nomination of one of the most right wing US presidential candidates we have had in a long time. All of which have the potential to have more impact on our lives than a party Prince and a (non existent) rogue lion in Essex.

With the Olympics dominating the news agenda from the end of July it means that we have effectively been cut off from proper news for nearly six weeks. Did anyone see the story that the UK government unexpectedly had to borrow £600m in July (in July 2011 there was a £2.8bn surplus)?

We have some fantastic journalists in this country and for 11 months of the year we have some of the finest news reporting in the world. As September rapidly approaches, please can we return to these high standards and bring an end to the Silly Season.

New Beginnings

Posted in Uncategorized on August 19, 2012 by richardhowle

Change is a good thing, it helps keep things refreshed and up to date and makes you evaluate why you have chosen to do something. So when Mac decided to discontinue MobileMe and not issue any more updates to iWeb I decided to change things around with my website.

I have been particularly slack in recent times about updating my blog (the last post was in March). But with a new website and a new blogging tool, which means I can update from my iPad – I hoping this will revitalise my blogging.

But it has not been without its tribulations, new web creation software and the new blogging site have all caused their own problems.

Currently I can blog via word press (and this entry was submitted via the iPad app) but my domain is still looking at my old website.

More googling is required methinks……..