#IEBA2017 Recap: Linking the Fan Experience to Value


AJ Boleski, INTRUST Bank Arena

Michael Marion, Verizon Arena

James Rasmussen, Sacramento Kings / Golden 1 Center

Taylor Shomaker, AC Entertainment


Moderated by Angela Miles Powell, Ticketmaster


Powell and her panel of experts considered the fan experience and shared real life examples of eliminating pain points and creating “wow moments.”


Excitement Begins with the Announcement and the On-Sale

“I think a lot of us started out in this business as fans,” said Powell. “So this resonates with all of us – how we can help create a better experience? We are going to talk about the end-to-end experience, first with the announcement of the show and the on-sale.”


Boleski: “We really try to hype the announcement. We did Paul McCartney this summer and we were able to use the front of the Union Station to serve tea and crumpets. The mayor was there, we flew a British flag on the train station, and we had a band play. We all marched out, played the video, and made the announcement. It was amazing how many people were talking about that show. We are challenged by promoters to make our on-sales different. It is easy to do with Paul McCartney, but how do you do it with other ones? We try to do things in the lobby box office. There may be only ten people at the box office for on sales now but we decided we’d get cardboard cut outs of the acts. I know it sounds very simple, but we get so much from it. They cost a couple hundred bucks. You use it for the on sale and people get their picture with the artist. You leave it up to advertise the show at every other event. The night of the event, we put it in the marketing booth and people take pictures with it. Then, we give it away on Facebook after the event. We get a lot of use out of that cardboard cutout.”


Marion shared a story about creating a beach and serving non-alcoholic margaritas to the people in line for a Jimmy Buffet on sale. “That initial ticket buyer is important.”


From the festival perspective, Shomaker discussed working hand-and-hand with the ticket provider to create a streamlined, fewest-clicks process and providing the most information possible so fans experience the event in a positive way. “From the time they buy their ticket, it is all about giving the fan as much information as we possibly can to make sure that they don’t have questions when they leave their house to come to our event. This includes arrival routes, camping and day parking info, RV and onsite tent rental, shuttle schedules, and more. There are so many options for our festivals, especially at Bonnaroo. We have to make sure that our fans have the information that makes their experience the easiest and best. Our website is robust and diverse.”


Event Parking

Shomaker: “If it is a camping festival, we have to make sure we acquire the proper land for everybody who is coming. We send parking passes in advance with tickets. On the parking passes, we give directions and a map that shows them where they are going to park and how they are going to get there. For an event the size of Bonnaroo, we work with local authorities to make sure we have proper traffic patterns from all directions. In addition to the parking pass, we include ‘ticket inserts,’ which include a lot of what we have on the website. This information is distilled into a trifold or a bifold that gives them a snapshot of info and directs them to a location on the website where they can find more information if they don’t feel like they’ve got what they need on that pamphlet. Again, for us it is about getting as much information in their hands as possible then directing them to where they can ask questions and get answers.”


Powell asked Rasmussen about the reserved parking offerings at his one-year old venue. “We are in the heart of downtown Sacramento. Our previous arena was a couple of miles out of town and we had our own parking lot. It was no problem getting in and out. That arena was open for about 30 years, so Sacramento and surrounding areas knew what that experience was like. Going downtown was bit unknown. People go downtown where there are a lot of parking garages, but the fear is there is no parking. The city of Sacramento partnered with us on an app called Parking Panda, which allows guests to reserve their parking spot ahead of time at a preferred rate. It took out the mystery of ‘Okay, I am going to get downtown, where am I parking?’” Golden 1 Center also designated areas for rideshare companies to drop off and pick up.


Boleski also fights the no-parking fears in Wichita, and they too partnered with the city to create a parkdowntown.org website that features specific maps for every event at INTRUST Bank Arena. They have quarterly meetings with the city, county, downtown development, and the parking lot operators to ensure that communication is always open and that everyone is on the same page.


Marion added, “I think about the security measures that are in place now. We learned that when we told people to get here early, we weren’t being specific. Some people think they’re early if they arrive at ten minutes ‘til 8pm for an 8pm show. Now we send an email that says ‘Be here at 6:30pm or you may not get it.’ That info is on our website too. I’m sure most of you have scalable websites but, if you don’t, make sure that you do because everybody is looking at your website on their phone now. Again, our website has all of our security measures right there. We also include traffic and construction info and any lane closures in our email blast to ticket buyers. Taking advantage of your email list is very important.”


“The Vibe Room” and “The Vault”

Powell acknowledged the movement to encourage fans to arrive early to clear security and asked about new VIP experiences for fans to enjoy prior to the event. Marion: “Last year, we took a space on our concourse behind the stage, put up some nice tables and chairs, built a bar, and put in some TVs. We dubbed it ‘The Vibe Room.’ You can buy a Vibe Room pass for $20 a show. It is not early entry, but there is a special entrance. You check into the Vibe Room – it has its own bar and we provide a few free appetizers. We get a couple of the most popular pieces of merch in there. The capacity is around 200. We put that on our site as an up-sale. I copied this idea from the folks in Houston and Nashville. We have since sold a sponsorship so it’s going to be the Miller Lite Vibe Room. It is an opportunity for people to feel special. We have been hearing a lot about the VIP experience for a while, especially with everything the sports teams have rolled out. Secondary markets don’t have a sports team, but there are ways to provide this kind of space. It has worked well for us and we can make a few extra coins.”


INTRUST Bank Arena is home to minor league football and hockey teams. They opened an under-utilized premium lounge to all the season ticket holders and host a happy hour there one hour before the game. They also formed a venue excellence committee that consists of employees across all departments who look for opportunities to improve the fan experience. Boleski: “We took a hot dog stand, which was the slowest concession stand in the venue, and created a craft beer bar. Ten local breweries are represented there now. We added 100 seats on the concourse. People want to see the show but they also want a place on the concourse to drink a beer and have something to eat. We also needed a pre-function place – we were getting all these requests for VIP events and had nowhere to put them. So we took a storage room and we converted it to what we call ‘The Vault,’ which ties into our bank name. If the artist isn’t using it, we use it as an extra bar for anyone with a floor ticket. We are all looking for more space on the floor to serve beverages.”


Rasmussen’s brand new building boasts three event-level lounges for floor guests only – one on each side of the floor with 350-capacity each. They also have a ‘Lexus Lounge’ with 350-capacity. “We have a lot of cool areas around the pre-function,” said Rasmussen. “We have the ‘Bud Light Junction.’ We also have the ‘Sierra Nevada Draft House,’ which is behind the stage so it’s good for Kings game, but not for concerts. We carry our own beer, made in Nevada. It is only available in the arena and it is one of our top sellers.”


Shomaker joined in, “When we go into a city with a festival, we try to highlight that city and really bring a local flare to our festival. For example, in Louisville at Forecastle, we have ‘The Bourbon Lodge,’ which is basically a bourbon trail inside the footprint of our festival where we highlight local Kentucky bourbons. For us, it is all about creating a place for fans to not only to see music, but also enjoy themselves at a different level. We have found that these are the things that fans gravitated to. Our Bourbon Lodge is extremely well-trafficked and is basically another headliner, for a lack of a better term, for our festival. To be able to have something like this at each of our events is really important to us. And we have really cool sponsor activations. We do things like a free rock wall – fans hangout and climb for a while if there isn’t a show that they want to see. Or they can come in early because doors open 1½ hours before music. It is all about really cool sponsorship activations that draw fans when they aren’t seeing music.”


Commitment to Community

Powell pursued the commitment to community topic by asking, “All of you mentioned community and all of you mentioned talking to city officials. James, one of your big goals is to be green and to be community-focused. Can you talk a little bit about that and do you think that has shaped the way fans view the arena?”


Rasmussen replied, “Absolutely. 90% of our food and beverage is sourced from within 150 miles of the arena. Sacramento is surrounded by agriculture and we are very much a rural market, in that not a lot of our population lives downtown. And that’s what part of our project is all about – renovating the downtown area and making it an urban core. The buy-in from the local community is key. Most everyone knows somebody who is sourcing our food and beverage. We are also 100% solar powered. We get 15% of our power from our roof solar panels and we purchased a solar farm about 50 miles away. It is not about Golden 1 Center – it is about Sacramento and making it the next great American city. The local community really sees that we are trying to make Sacramento awesome. The Kings organization tries to give back as much as possible. First, it was just with development – we built the arena, we opened a hotel, and we are now opening retail and restaurants in the area. Also, there’s the community impact. I think the community service hours, combined from all employees, is over 10,000. It’s all eyes on us and we really want to empower the community to be better. It’s more than selling them a ticket.”


Boleski: “We do a lot with ticket donations. We try to never say no to a ticket donation, as long as it is a non-profit group. On average, we give $4,500 worth of tickets a year to non-profits. In the slower summer months, we focus on community events. We have got some good ideas from our folks at SMG. We started a dodgeball tournament two years ago. We had 23 teams last year and this year we had 46. We look forward to next year and our goal is to get to 64 teams, that magic number. We host ‘Wingapalooza’ in the summer as well. 25 restaurants are involved in that event and it sold out two of the three years. We do it on our arena floor and cap at 2,000 people so it is not over-crowded. It helps from a traffic standpoint and from a content standpoint. But it is all about those community events.”


Marion: “We stole that ‘Wingapalooza’ idea from AJ. We actually drove up to Wichita to see how he did it. We hosted one this year and it was very successful. I think that is part of why we are always trading ideas.”


Shomaker: “For us, it is all about highlighting what the city has to offer. We have been fortunate enough to work in some really cool historic cities that have a great aspect to it, whether it’s culinary or arts or history. We want to go in and work with the local authorities and the local CVBs to really understand the heartbeat of that city and highlight that inside our event. We are not only producing an event that fans really enjoy from a musical standpoint, but they are also getting to experience the city while they are at our event. We want to make sure the city feels like they’re partnered with us. If we don’t have the city’s buy-in, the event struggles. We go into those cities that are excited about having something like this in their market.”


More “Wow Moments”

Powell charged the panel to further discuss venue excellence committees that encourage customer service. From the ticket taker to the box office staff to the concessioner to the usher, all staffers should feel empowered to make decisions and help fans.


Boleski responded, “We brainstormed ideas on how we can stand out and provide that extra-special customer service. We handed every single employee a book called Raving Fans. We created an excellence committee, gave all the ideas to them, and asked them to come up with ways to engage guest. It doesn’t always have to be an expensive idea. For example, we created a chalkboard – it is massive. We put it in the plaza or in the lobby and we just write a simple message. By the end of the night, it is full. We tie in a lot of drink specials – you come to see George Straight and we’ll offer an ‘Amarillo By Morning’ drink – just to make it special. It really is about the details and that is what this committee has been able to do. Otherwise, who is going to focus on that stuff? Who focuses on better signage or a You-Are-Here map in the concourse, those kinds of things. It doesn’t really fall into one category or one department.”


Golden 1 Center has a guest services team with a director, manager, and assistant manager – a full-fledged staff dedicated to making what they call “wow moments.” Rasmussen said, “We subscribe to the Disney ‘Elevate’ program, and we treat our guests above and beyond. We have ‘Wow!’ chips for our employees – poker chips that have a number on them. If a manager sees a frontline staff member doing something great, they give them a Wow! chip and they enter it into a raffle. They could win parking in the loading dock or a 32” TV or an autographed jersey. It is that positive reinforcement to drive home the idea that this is what we want to represent to our guests. We did something special for our Chance the Rapper show. Chance the Rapper wears a hat with the number 3 on it. We purchased 100 of these hats and gave them to all of our frontline staff – in the grand entrance, all the security on the barricade, and all the security back of house and in his dressing rooms. Anywhere Chance would go, he saw the hats. When the fans came in the building, they saw them too. Chance announced he had a show coming at 9am. At 3pm that same day, we went on sale. We sold out within 23 hours. For his first arena tour to have that kind of incredible sales – we said ‘Okay, this is an artist we want to bring back here, a lot.’ We also realized how excited the fan base was for the show. So, we were treating the guest who bought a ticket and also the guest who rented our building. Both are very important to us.”


Marion agreed, “I think AJ made a good point about the little things. It gets hot as hell in Arkansas in the summer. Instead of selling water, we give it away to the folks who are in line. And people really appreciate that. We have a selfie booth with costumes and items related to the artist. We man it with a staffer. And I think that those extra little tidbits help make the event a little more exciting and fun for folks.”


Shomaker commented, “For us, it is all about from the top, down. The fan experience starts with you! And if you aren’t having a good time, or if you aren’t allowing your staff to have a good time, then the fans won’t either. We try to instill this in everyone who manages somebody on our sites. It is about making sure everyone has the information that they need to be successful and that everyone is enjoying themselves. Security provides the most staff at our sites and we give them a ‘crowd manager document,’ which provides all the pertinent information that a fan may ask – kind of the FAQs document with door times, where to find ATMs, food and beverage information – all of those things. We have a training session to make sure that they have read the info and can answer the questions our fans may ask. At our festivals, our security team is not only responsible for the security and safety of our fans, but they are also on the frontline of customer service. Fans know they can ask them questions. Making sure they have the answers is really important. And, at all of our festivals, we have an info booth. We typically staff them with local CVBs, so they have a lot of information on the city. If a fan asks about a good place to eat dinner after the show, we want them to be able to get that information.”


S.T.A.R. Program

Powell moved the conversation to relocations and asked the panel to share ideas for easing the pain of moving fans. Marion began, “We are a Ticketmaster building and we are able to ‘pre-lo’ people – which is moving them before they get to the show – and message that as ‘You’ve been upgraded!’ We always try to make sure that we are putting them in a better seat. We still have relo situations come up and it’s a pain point.”


Rasmussen agreed, “We do what Michael mentioned for tickets we still have access to – make the exchange before they get to the venue. But for those we don’t, we have the scanner screen pop up ‘Winner!’ The guest will go to the ticket resolution table where the guest experience staff tells them ‘Congratulations! You are so lucky to move downstairs!’ What we are really saying is ‘We didn’t sell enough tickets and thank you for coming.’ This program has received a lot of positive feedback. At our previous arena we called it the S.T.A.R. program, which sounds great for guests. It actually stood for Sleep Train Arena Relocation program. But again, it was the S.T.A.R. program. We have yet to come up with something as clever for Golden 1 Center.”


VIP Experiences

Boleski: “Paul McCartney does a really good job with sound check passes, which are really expensive – $1,500. You stand in back of the bowl and watch his sound check for a couple songs – it is a fair amount of time, it isn’t just one song. He talks to [the fans] and says ‘Thank you for coming. I’ve got a couple songs for you.’ After, fans go back into a lounge. Obviously, this package includes early entry and food and beverage. We just had Imagine Dragons last week. They brought TV screens in road cases and created four different gaming stations. Fans got early entry, there was memorabilia, they had a meet ‘n greet, and they played video games. I guess that is what their audience likes.”


Marion: “As we know, there are so many tiers to the VIP thing. Cher does the museum thing – traveling with different costumes that she’s worn. Those kinds of things seem to be pretty effective because it’s more than just early entry and some food. Jason Aldean does three songs for one tier plus a meet ‘n greet one tier up. We are pricing based on demand. I find that they take up a lot of meeting room space but we make some money on the food and beverage.”


Boleski: “The VIP experience that used to be for 30 people is now for 300. So the storage room that we converted into a VIP room for 100 people doesn’t work anymore. For George Straight, I think, we had close to 400 people. It’s a challenge to find the space, especially when you don’t have an attached convention center with ballrooms and that kind of space. Now, we clear off our concourse and the upper level behind the stage. Some of the lounges that [artists] bring off the trucks are incredible. We take pictures of them all the time because we want to copy them for future use.”


Shomaker: “Artists who put together merch packages have really been successful – fans like to have that thing they’re taking home. To speak to what James was talking about with Imagine Dragons, I applaud an artist who really knows their fan base and tailors their VIP experience around them. I think those are the ones that will be really successful moving forward.”