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- Lisa Walker, Senior Vice President, Business Development College Athletics, Eventellect (Moderator)
- Maureen Andersen, President & CEO, International Ticketing Association (INTIX)
- Anthony Esposito, Vice President, Ticket Operations, Atlanta Braves
- Rick Thorpe, Deputy Athletics Director, External Engagement, University of Arkansas
On Wednesday, with more than 800 registrants on its virtual forum, LEAD1 Association (“LEAD1”) hosted a webinar for its member institutions, the second of three for its “Reopening Venues” series. The panel, moderated by Lisa Walker (Senior Vice President, Business Development College Athletics at Eventellect), featuring Maureen Andersen (President & CEO at the International Ticketing Association (INTIX)), Anthony Esposito (Vice President, Ticketing Operations at the Atlanta Braves) and Rick Thorpe (Deputy Athletics Director, External Engagement at the University of Arkansas (The U of A), discussed some of the strategies in ticketing for the return of college sports.
Andersen opened the panel by emphasizing that “one-size-fits-all” will no longer be acceptable policy for college sports fans. In other words, athletics departments will need to be flexible in terms of catering their specific ticketing and game-day policies for various segments of fans. A 65-year-old fan, for example, may have different needs than a fan in their mid-20’s based upon possible risks and concerns related to COVID-19. In addition, “no refund” policies may be a thing of the past as fans may no longer accept vouchers as reimbursement for being uncomfortable to attend a live sporting event.
Athletics departments may also need to provide greater flexibility with respect to season ticket packages (i.e., opportunities to defer payments and/or provide full refunds) and implement various new policies for game-day operations (such as scheduling timed entries into venues). Andersen further stressed the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on college sports’ ticketing policies (for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), frequently updates its guidance). For instance, what happens in game one of fans’ return to venues may look vastly different than games two and three based upon lessons learned as venues reopen. Finally, Andersen highlighted that every segment of the live entertainment industry should look to each other for guidance. Countries outside of the United States, like Australia, for example, have developed technology and live entertainment risk mitigation strategies that college sports can use as guidance.
Esposito then used Major League Baseball (MLB) as an example with respect to the ticket purchasing and gate entry experiences. Fans who purchase tickets online, for example, may be asked to sign a health waiver, essentially assuming the risks of attending a live sporting event. Securing tickets at the box office may also change with potential cashless-only ticketing policies and changes at will call (because of fan concerns regarding touching paper ticket stocks and envelopes). Gate entry policies may also change such as venues establishing temperature checks before fans enter stadiums. For instance, tented areas will likely be established by entrance points for any fan’s temperature above a certain threshold. Depending on the situation, fans with a temperature above that certain threshold, could then be brought into an air-conditioned environment for further evaluation before a final determination regarding entrance into the venue. In addition, in-venue staff will likely be required to wear masks and fans will be prohibited from sitting in aisle seats to maintain social distancing (for fans walking down aisles). It is also worth mentioning that Esposito’s, the Atlanta Braves, will likely only sell individual game tickets, while possibly granting priority purchasing to current season ticket holders.
To round out the panel, Thorpe highlighted the importance of maintaining trust with college sports fans and reiterated the need for evolving ticketing strategies. For example, Thorpe’s, the U of A, has frequently updated its fans regarding the status of ticketing and created flexible deadlines for renewing football season tickets (such as creating customized payment plans and extending renewal deadlines). Thorpe also underscored that in all decision-making with respect to reopening venues, the health and safety of its fans is always prioritized (in this regard, the U of A predicates all of its venue planning based upon federal and state medical guidelines). With respect to Olympic sports, for example, the U of A will reserve all seats to maintain social distancing. At the same time, the U of A, will still attempt to maximize fan access by exploring alternative fan experiences and maximizing the number of fans who attend games this season (such as by offering partial season plans).
Please Note: Part Three of LEAD1’s “Reopening Venues” webinar series, entitled “Navigating Changing Behaviors in Sports Fans During COVID-19,” will take place on Tuesday, June 30th at 1:00 PM EST. This webinar will feature Michal Lorenc (Head of Industry, Ticketing and Live Events at Google) who will compare real-time data to help the college sports industry better understand fans’ readiness to return to sporting events, as well as how the sports industry can evolve in a post-COVID world.