Hollywood Throwdown: Ticketfly Targets Ticketmaster with 400% User Growth in LA

By Michael Carney , written on September 12, 2012

From The News Desk

Once conceded to large incumbent platforms like Ticketmaster, the online ticketing space may more up for grabs than at any point in recent memory. Fresh off a stout $22 million Series C round in July, three year old startup Ticketfly is announcing some impressive growth in one of America’s largest markets: Los Angeles.

Ticketfly sets itself apart by offering its event promoter and venue customers marketing tools in addition to simply a ticketing platform. These tools include advertising analytics and marketing tools as well as “write-once-publish-everywhere” social media publishing capability. The company built its name in live music venues of 200 to 2,000 person capacity, but is expanding into comedy, performing arts, sports, and larger events.

The one market where the company is really blowing the doors off is Los Angeles. In mid-2011, Ticketfly reached a tipping point in the entertainment capital of the world and, over the last 18 months, has seen 400 percent user growth through signing 30 new venue and promoter customers. Among these new clients are local staples including The Troubadour, Echoplex, Hollywood Forever, the Glass House, Village Voice Media, the Los Angeles Blues Soccer Club, and The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire.

According to the company, 85 percent of these new LA clients were won away from hometown company, and industry 800 pound gorilla, Ticketmaster. The company has found that its clients grow an average of 16 percent in the first year after switching, with the largest success stories experiencing growth above 70 percent. In general, Ticketfly users outgrew their industry as a whole by a factor of five from 2010 to 2011.

Although the company does not release specific financial results, it was recognized in May at the San Francisco Business Times’ Tech & Innovation Awards as the region’s fastest growing company with 4,484 percent revenue growth from 2009 to 2011. Given the size of its latest financing round, it’s fair to assume that gross revenue numbers are healthy as well.

The Ticketfly story isn’t entirely about LA, but CMO Gannon Hall explains that ticketing and live events are a hyper-local experience for event venues, promoters, and attendees. For this reason, the company regularly compartmentalizes growth strategies and subsequently its performance analysis both geographically and by event category. According to Hall, Ticketfly will release similar analysis on additional markets beyond Los Angeles in the near future – expect similarly impressive results.

Ticketmaster isn’t going to concede an inch of this market without a fight, but despite its dominant appearance, the incumbent has a number of things working against it. First, it faces the typical innovator’s dilemma that confronts all mature, dominant technology companies. For example, the undisputed market leader inexplicably has struggled to offer the value-added, modern marketing and event promotion tools that Ticketfly users both love and have proven generate results.

More pressingly, Ticketmaster is (since 2009) a subsidiary of Live Nation, which itself is among the world’s largest event promotions companies. By virtue of this relationship, small, independent event promoters and venues are dis-incentivized to use the ticketing platform owned by their chief competitor. Ticketfly has used this apparent conflict of interest to its advantage in winning customers away from its rival.

Further, Ticketmaster is clinging to a business model of nickel-and-diming its clients in the way that only a dominant leader can. It’s service fees are on average 40 percent more than Ticketfly’s and it charges additional nuisance fees for print-at-home tickets, something Ticketfly unilaterally opposes.

Conversely, the biggest objection that Ticketfly hears from its potential clients is the old cliche, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.” In other words, it’s safe to go with the known quantity and risky to bet on the up and comer. With an ever-improving product, and now quantifiable data that backs up its effectiveness, the company may soon find less and less resistance going forward.

Ticketfly is focusing on a number of key areas of growth which it hopes will maintain the current momentum going forward. In July, it announced its Reserved Seating feature, which opens up 70 percent of the advanced-ticket market which it has up until this point not been able to serve. Additionally, the company is using a portion of its latest funding round to expand aggressively into new event categories and geographic markets – initially domestic, but likely international further out.

Finally, the company hopes to one day challenge Ticketmaster and Live Nation on their home turf of major professional sports and headlining concert tours. Ticketfly will no doubt need several more quarters worth of double- or triple-digit growth before it’s ready to be considered in the same category as Ticketmaster. But, given where the industry was just two years ago, the fact that we can even consider that possibility is remarkable.