Company: The Stranger
Market: Seattle, Washington
Initiative: Stranger Tickets
Key Executive: Tim Keck, owner, publisher
Summary: The Stranger, one of the most prominent and creative alternative weeklies in the country, successfully entered the ticketing business, harvesting $250,000 its first year, a number it expects to triple in 2012. The Stranger now competes with TicketMaster, offering lower fees and greater promotional capacity to service large events. Stranger Tickets now has more that 50 events on its Seattle platform, and the platform is available to other media companies on a fee per ticket basis.
Challenge: In 2009, The Stranger executive team noted that event sponsorships - a mainstay for alternative weeklies - were becoming less profitable. Cut-throat competition with the Village Voice-owned Seattle Weekly over the years had turned many event sponsorships into a contest of who could give away more for less.
"You get your logo on the wall of logos," Keck says, in addition to some minimal advertising.
So when city's most famous rock club, The Crocodile, wanted to leave TicketMaster, the Stranger decided to partner with the club to develop online ticket sales.
Inhouse developers built the new platform in Gyrobase (the Stranger also has created a CMS and other software).
Once the kinks were worked out selling tickets the Crocodile, they pitched their largest event yet, Bumbershoot, Seattle’s biggest arts event with 80,000 people over a weekend. Bumbershoot added complexity and a development challenge. Tickets would have to be scanned at 12 entrances over four acres of the outdoor music festival, and processed in seconds.
"It had to be bullet proof," Keck said.
Outside developers were called into write code for scanning software that works on the iPod touch. Tickets have individual qr codes, which the scanner reads and sends to the server for the "ok".
Other requirements: The code needed to be encrypted and all the iPods needed to talk to eachother via the server and update quickly. There were also a number of levels of access - since everyone who entered the festival, including security, musicians and vendors, needed to be scanned in first. Finally, internet access had to be controlled by the Stranger. "We could not depend on a third party for an event this big."
Three full-time staff worked on the floor and back-office, manning scanners and fixing any technincal glitches.
At Bumbershoot, The Stranger brand was on all 80,000 tickets plus a revenue share and fees (we estimate in the $100,000 range).
Other major events took note of the success. In addition to the Crocodile and Bumbershoot, the Stranger has picked up Chop Suey, Seattle Interactive Conference and OctoberFest, and now has 50 or 60 different tickets on sale at any given moment.
"When people, as a consumer or operator, have a great experience, that is key," Keck says. "Passing that test is really valuable. This system has good technology, all you need is some successful events and everyonelse wants in."
Keck's best guess is that 2012 ticket sales will be in the $750,000 range.
1. For some events, there is more money from ticketing than in sponsorships. "Last year we were not a sponsor, and it was our best year ever," Keck said. Without the official sponsorship, the Stranger still published its own, unofficial special issue, and sold ads into it. Plus Bumbershoot still buys "a couple ads."
2. Large events have complicating factors. Keck advises to start with a small event, and says he will send his staff to man large events for partnering media companies depending on size, to make sure the technological issues are handled. Minor glitches at Bumbershoot, for example, included the scanning out process.
"When you leave you get scanned out... but people would come back in and system didn't really they had scanned out." Also the WiFi at a certain gate was slow, requiring staff to figure out "why we were not getting the data."
3. Offer more value than TicketMaster. In terms of lower fees, marketing and service, a local media company can provide a better value than TicketMaster - and needs to. "You want to make a difference for an event. We have happy cients. We were able to do lower service fees than tickemaster and have marketing support, so we can sell more tickets."
TicketMaster has been known to secure its contracts with up to $200,000 in advance revenues, making them hard to break. So utilize your relationships to see when major contracts are coming up next time.
4. Partnering will be easier, faster, cheaper. The platform The Stranger uses costs $100,000 to build. "It has to dump data incredibly fast, in a few seconds."
We don't see most local media companies capable of implementing this technology and think an eight month development window is too long in most cases.
5. Indoor is simpler than outdoor. "If you have any kind of controled space, it's easy: Here's the entrance, here's the exit."
The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and MediaExecsTech, developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine, to showcases perspectives from around the world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.