TheTicketingBusiness’ Lizzie Etherington last month joined over 705,000 ticket holders in attending the IAAF World Championships London 2017 at the London Stadium. She caught up with Head of Ticketing Operations, Georgia Bekyra, to gain an insight into ticketing such a huge event, which went on to be awarded an official Guinness World Record for the number of tickets sold at any IAAF World Championships event. Stealing a few moments away from a hectic working day, here’s what Georgia had to say to TTB…
Tell us about your role at the World Para Athletics and IAAF World Championships London 2017
I am Head of Ticketing Operations, so put basically, my role is to make sure that everyone who has a ticket gets into the stadium and finds a seat with no issues, and if there are issues, that we resolve them on the day. We are also responsible for access control, as well as the ticket office, and we have a team allocated specifically to accessibility issues.
As far as the ticketing system and access control, do you decide that with your team or do you have to work with what the venue uses?
In this case, we went to tender about three years ago. Quite a few companies were interested in it, so we had a formal tender process. Ticketmaster won the tender so they are the software provider for this event.
What challenges have you faced?
I think the majority of them were venue-related issues because it’s a multi-purpose venue. There was football here over the last year, for 9 out of the 12 months, and when it’s in pitch mode you can’t really check anything as the track was covered and we’re talking about a totally different configuration of the stadium in the lower tier. Until late May (when the track was unveiled) we were unsure of the exact sightlines or the exact camera positions. Although we had an idea, it made our job very challenging.
“we had less resources, less people and less money… and we still made it to a world record of sales”
You offered tickets from as little as £12 for adults and £9.58 for kids based on Usain Bolt’s 100m world record, which is really inclusive. How did you come up with this pricing strategy?
We definitely needed a low entry price, and we also worked out that there were three different levels of interest sessions. So, we had different prices for mornings, week nights and weekends. Within those levels, we always had the lowest point between £20-£45, and the highest between £80-£155, leaving plenty of room to play with prices.
The idea with the legend prices – which had ticket prices that mirrored world records from Colin Jackson, Usain Bolt, Jonathan Edwards and Sally Gunnell – was an attractive idea as it gave us stories behind the offer. Those legends were very willing to be involved, which helped with our promotions, because they went out there and talked about the event, talked about themselves and how the records inspired the prices. So it worked on many levels.
You joined TheTicketingBusiness Forum for the last two years. What did you learn?
I’ve attended for two years now, and I always find it interesting, and I am looking to come to the next Forum too because I think we are in a very niche market and industry. You don’t study ticketing, you just learn as you go, so it has a lot to do with experience. To me that element is important because by talking to other people you learn and find out about new ideas and new technologies. I wasn’t in a position to employ any new things, as we had a software provider, but there were topics discussed that I’d never thought of, such as dynamic pricing for example. Discussing things like that are important as, in sport especially, you don’t really hear a lot about it, so it’s always interesting. I’d also have to say that the secondary market content was valuable, I remember talking about it last year with Vibe Tickets and similar companies, and learning what a great job they’re doing and how we can all deal with this.
One of the main problems we have in the ticket office is tickets from Viagogo and similar companies. You can’t avoid them, they’re everywhere, and since there’s no legal framework you end up with countless patrons trying to understand what to do. You try to help but there’s nothing covering you and we had people buying child tickets for as much as £200 when they were only £9.58. You end up feeling bad about it, but being at the Forum, you have everyone in the industry talking about it and you see that some organisations have already done amazing work around it. The Forum is always very interesting.
How did you get into ticketing?
Very randomly, as everyone else I think. I worked in the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004. I studied marketing and was looking for a job after the Olympics and Paralympics and saw a summer job for three months in Panathinaikos F.C. in its call centre for season tickets. I went for three months and stayed for seven years. I’ve now been with UK Athletics for more than five years. It’s very fulfilling, it makes everything worthwhile. These people that fill the stadium in every session have been ‘dots’ in my plans for years in an Excel spreadsheet, and when you see the seats full and people enjoying, celebrating, cheering and clapping it’s just an amazing feeling. I wouldn’t change that for anything. It is hard, of course, but that’s what we do, and you get the rewards as well.
After the Athletics – what’s does the future hold for Georgia?
Good question! I’ve worked for UK Athletics for five and a half years, and my main focus for the last two has been the World Para Athletics and IAAF World Championships London 2017, so in theory I’m going back to what I was doing. I’m still here until 15th September, and I’m still going to be involved with UKA but I’m also looking to do things for myself.
“One of the main problems we have in the ticket office is tickets from Viagogo and similar companies”
Are there any ticketing technologies that you’re excited to see coming in to play or are looking forward to implementing?
Absolutely. I wish we could have implemented some for this event but, of course, you have restrictions with an event of this size selling over 1 million tickets for two World Championships. The most important one for me is simplifying the process. It takes so many steps to do everything, that I would like to see that one system, if possible, which is easy to use, flexible, easy to make changes to, and it doesn’t take a whole team of developers to run a ballot or do seat assignment. From a customer point of view as well, it’s one or two clicks to complete a purchase, not 10 or 15. I’d go for simplicity if possible. Please.
What’s the most important aspect of successfully ticketing an event?
I would say it’s as simple a process as possible from buying the ticket, extending to the whole process; the website, the call centre, the allocation, the emails, getting to the venue, no problems with scanning, and if you do have problems, having a ticket office that can sort it. You want your customers to get to their seat, which is easy to find, and enjoy the event. You want ticketing to not even cross the minds of your customers as an issue. If in the LOC briefings and debriefs ticketing is not mentioned it’s great – it means we’re doing a great job.
Tell us something about the IAAF World Championships 2017 that not many people know.
We did it with less resources, less people and less money than any other event of this scale, and we still made it to a world record of sales and a world record of how many people have come through these doors in such a short time. People assume it’s been bigger in terms of resources and money.
What is your dream event to ticket?
I have to say the UEFA Champions League Final. I went this year to Cardiff and found it an amazing experience. I think it’s the pinnacle of sport in many ways. Possibly the FIFA World Cup would be another one I’d like to be involved, but for a one day event I haven’t seen anything bigger than the Champions League Final, I’d love to be involved in that.