Archive for Olympics

My 2012 review

Posted in Society, Theatre, Ticketing with tags , , on December 30, 2012 by richardhowle

Everywhere we look there are reviews of the year. So why not join them?

How will history reflect on 2012? Will it be a year to remember in twenty years time. How often do we reflect on 1992?

Well, of course, the outstanding feature of 2012 – the one that will mark it as a year to remember- is the Olympics. As everyone else is devoting hours of airtime and thousands of words to it I will keep my thoughts here brief and simply say that I thought it was terrific. It lived up to all my expectations and then some, proving all the doubters wrong. I was always a great supporter and had faith in our ability to deliver a great games – witness my blog post on 16 October 2010 here.
What I was particularly thrilled about, was the complete conversion of the doom- mongers and nay-sayers who ended up being some the biggest fans of the games (including my partner Paul). One of my favourite moments of the year was in the Olympic stadium as Mo Farrah picked up his second gold of the games in the 5,000 final and the whole place going ballistic. Paul and I hugged with tears streaming down our cheeks. As it died down the man next to Paul said “it’s great isn’t it?” and Paul responded through the tears with “yes, and I don’t even like sport”!

Professionally the Olympics provided some unique challenges in 2012. There is normally a pattern and flow to ticket sales in the West End based upon which we build our marketing and advertising campaigns – but this year the text books were thrown out of the window and we had to be creative and flexible in order to sell tickets in a challenging market. After a strong first quarter, sales fell away, particularly over what is normally the strongest time of the year, the summer and we had to work really hard to get sales. A good final autumn has given an early indication as to what we might expect for 2013 and has helped boost the overall numbers. When the final numbers for London theatre attendance in 2012 are released I expect them to be up on last year and there will be much comment about how the Olympics wasn’t as bad for theatre as everyone said. But closer inspection of the numbers will reveal that this was only achieved by more promotion and discounting as well as a lot of effort. One thing that is guaranteed is that those of us whose job it is to sell London theatre, to drive admissions won’t get any of the praise or plaudits for delivering against the odds. But I know how much work, imagination and passion it took to achieve those numbers. So from a professional point of view 2012 has been a tough, challenging, but rewarding year and I am very proud to work alongside some incredibly talented people.

Politically and socially 2012 has seen a continued move towards society being driven by moral outrage and panic. The scandals have been endless.This is led by a seemingly righteous media, but is in reality about selling newspapers. No institution or organisation is safe and every fault or failing is endlessly picked over until someone or something breaks or another, juicier story is found. The problem with this is that it hides the real issues of our time, the ones that have no right or wrong answers, but have a more profound effect on our society than what a cyclist in Downing Street did or didn’t say to a policeman. What about the recession, the plight or the poor, investment in enterprise, immigration, falling education standards, disenfranchised youth, our role in Europe the fate of Syria etc etc?

And finally personally, it has been another good year. The 30’s are a good decade, a time when you finally become confident and comfortable of who you are. This allows you to take on and succeed with new challenges – for me that meant producing my first play. Green Forms at the Tabard Theatre was a sell out,raised over £10,500 for cancer charity, Maggie’s and was a personal triumph for me, giving me a self belief and confidence that perhaps I didn’t have before. It also gave me the opportunity to work on a project with Paul whose vision and talent made the project an artistic success as well as financial one. It was great teamwork that helped strengthen our personal partnership. Last week we celebrated the 16th year of that partnership, a year that added many more happy memories to our life together from producing plays, happy holidays and watching the Olympics.

2012 has been a really good year and there is much to be thankful for. I hope 2013 proves to be just as fruitful.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year

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  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.

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.