Photo: Barry Brecheisen
Pollstar Live! 2017 - VIP Panel
No longer satisfied with a photo with an artist and a souvenir laminate, concertgoers now find available a wide range of perks for their money, including luxe camping and suite facilities, gourmet food options, VIP lounges and other options in addition to the traditional swag.
Moderator Lynne King Smith of Ticketforce led a wide-ranging discussion between concert, festival, ticketing and sports execs to find out what does and does not work in a rapidly changing environment.
For example, Latitude 38’s Justin Dragoo and his crew curate a VIP experience at BottleRock Napa Valley that includes a private lounge, wine tastings and gourmet food that one might expect in California’s famed wine country.
But BRNV goes beyond its own data to find out what experiences might attract package buyers.
“What works at BottleRock is if there’s a customer who typically goes to festivals but who is spending a lot of money on experiences,” Dragoo said. “We looked at golf tournaments, charity auctions, the Grammy Awards. We find things that are in their lives that can be transferred to the festival environment.”
Of course, VIPs also want to make a connection with their favorite artists, so meet-and-greets continue to be a mainstay. But even those are taking on a new look, with many artists giving real quality time to those willing to buy in for something special, like a private pre-show party and acoustic performance.
Dan Berkowitz of CID Entertainment pointed out that access is a critical but sometimes tricky area for artists.
“Access is a base of packaging, along with a great experience. People crave an authentic connection with an artist they love. Some artists are very comfortable with the meet-and-greet; some are not. Some artists would love to spend three or four hours doing that, but others don’t.”
He suggests that “access” can be enhanced with exhibits, such as a traveling memorabilia museum of artist-curated items, at which artists can appear to talk about “stuff from their own closets.”
“It creates a connection without doing a meet-and-greet,” Berkowitz said.
Luke Bryan has no problem with the meet-and-greet, and sometimes performs private acoustic shows for fans two hours before his shows. He has also expanded the VIP experience into destination events, including a multi-day trip to Cancun, Mexico, that includes an outdoor concert and plenty of time for 5,500 fans to make connections with Bryan as well as each other. With an explosion in ancillary revenue and options, pricing and availability of VIP packaging is something of a moving target.
Promoters must take care not to over- or under-price premium ticket packages, and consider dynamic pricing for different levels of premiums. In the sports world, great seats isn’t enough.
CAA’s Ety Rybak said access to players and a private area of the stadium or arena is important there, too. “You may have 81 home games a year in baseball,” Rybak said. “Unless your team is really winning, it’s hard. You have to raise the bar and be creative. Fan responsiveness is huge in sports. Many of them you see on a nightly basis. Getting fan interaction and feedback is important. Sports has other assets; for instance, Yankee Stadium and Lambeau Field sell themselves.”
At all levels and across all platforms, though, fan satisfaction is Job One whether it it’s in making sure packages are correctly priced or providing stellar customer service.
“We cater to the uber fan; the tremendous fan of the artist,” said AEG Live’s Marc Feinberg. “There are two things that they want: A great seat, and backstage opportunities.
“Laminates, parties, and merch are all great but meeting the artist and a great seat are important.”
In agreement is Future Beat’s Andrew Tenenbaum, who added, “Packages do best when they have a great seat attached. When an artist doesn't want to do business with a very big package or there's not enough time to build a program out, we’ll offer an upgrade and it will go on a shopping cart on our site.”
But whether a VIP event is five-day cruise and concert package, or tour of the venue, it’s paramount to make the fan who buys the package feel VIP.
“Quality and customer service must be 100 percent because the fans is, by definition, paying the premium price,” Tenenbaum said. “That fan is paying more than everyone else and has to be dealt with correctly. We provide 24/7 customer service and treat them with white gloves. The fan must believe they are getting value and never getting gouged.”