The relentless shift to digital in recent years has forced sports and entertainment operators to pivot to online and mobile ticketing, with physical ticket queues having started to dwindle long before they vanished altogether due to COVID-19.

However, whilst the practice of a customer asking to buy a ticket from an actual person – whether face-to-face or over the telephone – is an increasingly rare occurrence, a stubborn traditionalism has continued to hamstring hospitality sales.

New opportunities

As stadia and arenas seek to entice back fans, with restrictions in major markets finally starting to lift, this reluctance by some operators to embrace e-commerce in hospitality sales is viewed as a risk by Robin Sherry, CEO and founder of Seat Unique, a premium ticketing marketplace.

“As the world of sport and entertainment begins to open up again, the corporate hospitality market offers great challenges and opportunities for clubs and venues over the next year,” he tells TheStadiumBusiness.com.

“Clubs and venues are desperate for B2C sales and they have added a huge variety of packages to appeal to this market, but they are still using B2B sales teams, technology and processes to try and win that market.”

Accessibility

‘Hospitality’ is no longer a term reserved exclusively for the big-spenders. At the time of writing, packages listed on the Seat Unique website for England cricket matches this summer ranged from £85 for a One-Day International against Sri Lanka to £549 for the first day of a Test match against India.

Over the past decade, stadium designers have expanded upon the established corporate boxes to unveil open-plan hospitality areas, enabling multiple tiers to be introduced to the “premium experience” in order to cater for customers with a broader range of spending capabilities.

With hospitality packages being more accessible than ever before to the average fan, allowing customers to explore and purchase packages quickly and easily – and without needing to speak to or email a salesperson – would appear to be common sense.

“Over 80% of ticketing and hospitality traffic is via mobile, so the essential ingredient is going to be digital transformation, to open up access to the B2C market,” Sherry adds.

“But digital transformation is not just about having the ability to buy corporate hospitality online. Digital transformation is the integration of technology into all areas of the process, fundamentally changing how you operate and deliver value for the customer.

“When you are selling online, it allows you to track data touchpoints and improve conversion rates by creating a more tailored experience, so there are benefits for the customer journey, as well as usability and transparency, with easy-to-find prices, details and pictures.”

Big-ticket items

Of course, there could be a perception that top-end hospitality clients expect a service that is literally personal, rather than personalised via online data-driven user insights. Are the VIPs really comfortable spending thousands of pounds, dollars or euros on an experience without hearing a familiar voice on the phone who can assure them that their usual expectations will be met?

“I think there will be a very small percentage – maybe 5-10% – who will need to call people,” Sherry says.

“It’s actually more of a hassle to phone or email than book online. Our largest transaction online to date this year has been £22,000, and we also sell a lot of packages priced at more than £10,000, so even the more premium products convert online.”

Whilst clubs and venue operators are hoping that demand for the top-tier packages will help to mitigate the inevitable financial challenges resulting from the pandemic, Sherry points out that fine margins in a fine-tuned customer journey can lead to big wins.

“Clubs and venues are excellent are driving thousands of visitors to their sites each month,” he says. “They already have the prospects; they just need converting, and by improving conversion rates by as little as 1%, you can double your sales.”

Image: Seat Unique brand ambassadors Sir Clive Woodward (left) and Sam Warburton (right) flank CEO and Founder Robin Sherry