StubHub Music launches, aims to be the ticketing- and discovery-minded "LinkedIn for fans"

By Michael Carney , written on June 2, 2014

From The News Desk

StubHub has long played the role of Red Sox to Ticketmaster’s Yankees – a formidable and well-respected competitor with but a fraction of the pedigree. But looking ahead, it may not be the 800-pound ticketing giant that StubHub's eying in terms of competition. With today’s release of StubHub Music, the eBay-owned ticketing platform revealed its ambitions to stand alongside Facebook and its fellow social networks.

“We think there’s an enormous opportunity to build the LinkedIn for fans,” says Ray Elias, StubHub Head of Social Commerce (and former CMO). “Consumers don’t have the capacity for another social network for humblebragging, but they do have capacity for more utility.”

Unlike Facebook, or even the new music-centric MySpace, StubHub is seemingly well positioned to build out a music focused social network. Given its current offering – and its close relationship with sister eBay-subsidiary PayPal – StubHub has the ability to close the transaction loop like few others. This means the company won’t need to rely on modest-by-comparison advertising revenue to justify its social ambitions. In this way, it’s actually closer to Apple’s ill-fated Ping platform launched alongside the iTunes store – but hopefully with better results.

StubHub Music will offer music fans a local discovery experience geared toward surfacing events around their favorite artists and those that they have yet to encounter. The platform will analyze a user’s existing music tastes and preferences based on their on-device music library and purchase history to make personalized recommendations. Music fans can also interact with one another inside the platform, sharing and engaging with content around their favorite artists and making plans to attend live events. Initially, the experience is bare bones, featuring artist bios, venue info, and basic social sharing tools, but the plan is to build ever-richer experiences over time. Longer term, StubHub plans to incorporate additional logistics and planning features, according to Elias, and eventually to duplicate this offering outside music.

The emphasis on music is a new one for StubHub, a company that has long been associated more strongly with sporting events. This is a deliberate shift, according to Elias, who says, “We have driven a huge concert audience over the years, but this consisted mostly of sports fans crossing over, not pure music fans. Core music fans have been somewhat turned off by us as a perceived sports brand. We want to see how a dedicated music offering resonantes.” At launch, the product will be available in San Francisco only and will later expand across the US and eventually to all global StubHub markets.

Currently, StubHub (like Ticketmaster and nearly every other competitor) is a place where consumers head when they want to buy tickets to an event they already know about. Save for the occasional marketing email, no major ticketing platform is geared toward discovery today. Elias’ forward-looking StubHub Labs group aims to change that.

Unlike sports, which follows a predictable schedule – the same few local teams in the same few local venues with all dates all published at the beginning of the season – music is a more dynamic category that really lends itself toward unearthing the unexpected. That said, StubHub plans to add more social and discovery experiences to its sporting events business as well, such as highlighting unique aspects like rivalry games, marquee pitching matchups, promotional giveaways (bobblehead night), and so on. But music will be the primary battleground in this fight.

“We know that we can merchandize events much better, much like the way it’s being done today in traditional ecommerce,” Elias says. “This is inherently a social space and, while there’s lots of buzz about social commerce, I think it’s a stretch to think that most verticals will be able to accomplish that. It’s really about being able to offer an end-to-end experience – I think social commerce will come from the commerce industry, not from social. People typically go to concerts in groups of two to four – we think we’re well positioned.”

Ticketmaster may own the “head” of the ticketing category, but the “body” and the “long-tail” remain up for grabs. Put more clearly, people still head to Ticketmaster first to buy tickets to a Britney Spears arena show – although StubHub sees its fair share of secondary sales for these premium events – but medium and small venue events are where the opportunity is. That’s true, not only for ticket sales, but also for event discovery by fans. And unlike Ticketmaster and other primary ticket brokers (meaning those that sell initial release tickets), as a secondary platform, StubHub is able to be artist/team- and venue-agnostic.

“We believe the future of ticketing isn’t primary or secondary, it’s a blend,” Elias says. “There’s a lot of distressed inventory out there in the industry and a lot of frustration with the current system. It’s nice to be able to say 'my concert sold out in 2 minutes,' but that’s really BS. The best tickets never go on sale to the public – it’s all about control. But we see that starting to change.”

StubHub Music is not without competition. On the music-specific front, consumers may already be using Songkick or Bandsintown. For more general event discovery, there are platforms like Superb, UrbanDaddy, Thrillist, and others. But, ultimately, all must link out to StubHub, Ticketmaster, or another marketplace for booking – often at a fee. If StubHub Music can nail the end-to-end experience, it will be a compelling offering for consumers.

At 14 years old (and 7 years post-acquisition by eBay), StubHub is hardly one of tech’s rust belt companies. But it’s no longer a nimble young startup either. Elias’ Labs group is an effort at reintroducing some of that innovation and energy into the company, with StubHub Music promising to be the first of many new offerings.

"At one point we were a small scrappy startup that moved fast and took risks. At some point, like others, we became conservative and started sticking to the things we were good at and not innovating,” Elias says. “Now, in many ways, the market has moved past us. My thinking in this new role is let’s get this out there – something that’s been on our shelf for a while – and see what happens. When you’re running the core business these things sound like nice-to-haves. But when you’re in the weeds, like I am currently, [products like StubHub Music] are things you need right now.”

StubHub has never been the type of high-engagement social product that people spend lots of time with. The goal, in most cases, is to get in, get your tickets, and get out as quickly and inexpensively as possible. Changing that perception won’t be easy, but it will be at the core of Elias’ effort to make the company the destination of choice for fans – not just of music, but all types of live entertainment. With that in mind, the company will measure success in large part based on the engagement and virality of the StubHub Music product.

“We disrupted the industry once and were a great alternative. Now we’re a place to start,” Elias says. “But there’s lots more competition today in the secondary ticketing space, and fans deserve better experiences. We think StubHub Music and similar experiences around other events verticals is the answer.”