At the International Ticketing Association's annual conference held in Salt Lake City in early February 2009, Event Innovation Inc. launched a stored-value ticketing program that may revolutionize how consumers access live entertainment events and how event administrators target, attract and retain consumers.
Event Innovation's service combines the Web-based InForum platform with the stored-value Ovation card.
The platform allows sports franchises, concert promoters and performing arts groups to track more closely who is going to events and generate detailed information about them. The card gives patrons access to a social network that enhances event experiences and facilitates purchases at venues and surrounding businesses.
According to Ron Dinwiddie, President and Chief Operating Officer at Event Innovation, the InForum platform is an enterprise application that allows event-based businesses to communicate directly with fans. "Maybe I'm going to a hockey game but the time changes from 3 p.m. to noon," he said. "What a better way to communicate from the venue to all their attendees if they actually know who all their attendees actually are, which today they don't."
Consumers sign up for the reloadable, closed-loop Ovation cards online, thereby establishing a database on particular consumers who attend particular events. InForum's attendee relationship management system then tracks consumer behavior. Event businesses can leverage that reporting to drive attendance by offering past event goers promotions, discounts and so forth to get them to return for the next game or concert.
The Ovation card provides event attendees access to a community "to engage with other members about their event experiences, as well as make connections with those people, transfer tickets electronically from my account to their account," Dinwiddie said. "So, if I can't go to the event, or maybe if I have an extra ticket, I can easily invite you and transfer the ticket electronically to you.
"And now since you're an Ovation member and you have the Ovation card, you use that card to gain access to that event." But the service does not restrict cardholders to using the Ovation card for single events or venues. Dinwiddie said the card can be utilized for performances or games provided by all organizations set up on the InForum platform. Technology agnostic
Dinwiddie noted that event businesses do not have to upgrade either their already existing hardware or software to accept Ovation cards. The cards come with mag stripes and bar codes, which makes the cards adaptable to whatever point of service hardware systems event businesses already have in place, Dinwiddie said.
But the cards are not embedded with radio frequency identification chips because contactless systems have not yet been widely deployed. "If we tried to implement near field communication or smart cards, think about the kind of capital expense venues would have to go through in order to set up their venues so they can accept this newer technology," Dinwiddie said.
The Washington, D.C.,-based software maker and program manager was founded in 2007 by Dinwiddie and Stephen Gilfus, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Event Innovation. Previously, Dinwiddie worked with Gilfus at Blackboard Inc., a firm that enables universities, schools and government entities to conduct classes online. Blackboard, which was founded by Gilfus, also provides stored-value campus identification cards.
Dinwiddie and Gilfus shared a passion for sports. But when they went to events, they realized how outdated ticketing technology had become. They recognized the opportunity to modernize event ticketing with a stored-value card system.
"We knew that, based on our experience of not only building out fantastic Web applications for higher education but building out true campus card systems, we could provide a technology that allowed venues to truly identify their patrons and customers," Dinwiddie said.
Dinwiddie acknowledges that other ticketing companies have a stored-value component to their programs, which he calls a "static stored-value capability." For example, a customer might pay $80 for a $50 ticket, Dinwiddie said. After $50 is deducted from the ticket at entry to the event, the individual has $30 left to spend. But if all of that $30 is not spent at the event, the individual loses the remaining balance.
"If you really want to improve the business through cutting edge technology, you really have to take the whole piece," Dinwiddie said. "And that's the reason that we're addressing both the consumer and the venue side at the same time through the single platform.
"You have to look at both models, both the experience from the attendee side and what interests them, and why do they want to sign up for Ovation? Why would they want to join a social network? What benefits do they get out of doing this? And from the venue side, what benefits do they get out of it."
Dinwiddie believes Event Innovation's solution is ideal for corporations. Corporate representatives often entertain potential business partners by taking them to sporting events.
"Think about how much money the corporations spend on just managing the suites and season tickets that they own, trying to find out how they can divvy up these tickets to their employees or to customers," he said. "And then how do they make sure that the people they are giving the tickets to are actually going to the event?
"When they are setting up meetings at the actual events, where they want their salespeople engaging potential customers, they know they are taking place as opposed to these tickets ending up on the street with scalpers."
Dinwiddie jokingly claimed that is the only downside to Event Innovation's system; it may eat into the profits of scalpers.
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