Sports fans in Europe and many other parts of the world may have been left rather jealous last weekend when they saw huge crowds attend Australia’s Grand Finals.

Almost 70,000 people in total were able to attend the bumper weekend of action as the NRL’s Penrith Panthers beat Melbourne Storm, and Richmond triumphed over Geelong in the AFL finale. Some 37,303 saw the NRL final at the 82,500-capacity ANZ Stadium in Sydney, while 29,707 AFL fans visited the 37,500-capacity Gabba in Brisbane.

While Australian sport was postponed for some time earlier this year and then returned in front of empty stands, fans have been allowed to return in increasing numbers since June.

Ticketmaster has played a major role in the return of fans, as a partner of many of Australia’s leading teams and leagues.

We spoke to Ticketmaster Australia and New Zealand chair Maria O’Connor, a pioneer of Australasian ticketing, about how the group assisted sports organisations and fans in the target of safely filling stands once again and the future of ticketing in the post-COVID world…

Firstly, could you tell us about Ticketmaster’s involvement in the return of sport in Australia?

Maria O’Connor: “The AFL season wrapped up with a historic Grand Final that was both thrilling and different in many ways. It was the first twilight Grand Final and also the very first time in its history that the event was held in another state. The Gabba in Brisbane definitely rose to the occasion putting on a brilliant event that Ticketmaster was very proud to have been a part of.

“Over the year we scanned 450,000 tickets and during the finals season, we had more than 130,000 fans scan through Optus Stadium in Perth and The Gabba in Brisbane. A key component of this was to ensure we had clear communication and functioning technology throughout the journey, which was the key to our success.

“The proof has been in the proverbial meat pie as we have seen fans confidently scanning through turnstiles with their mobile tickets at the ready ensuring a quick, smooth entry without any hiccups.”

Have there been any noticeable changes in terms of sales trends and demand?

MO’C: “The adoption of mobile tickets to ensure contact tracing compliance and the response has been overwhelmingly positive, with some matches having close to 100 per cent of tickets forwarded to fellow adult attendees. This was in part due to the intuitive Ticket Forwarding technology being easy to use and our comprehensive communication campaign for both mobile tickets and COVID expectations once at the venue.

“As an additional side benefit some events have seen a +70-per-cent increase in mobile ticket recipients opting into third party marketing. We also noticed that late selling of events hasn’t deterred patrons from snapping up tickets, and really just shows a very healthy appetite to return to live events.”

Could you tell us about the technical challenges of selling tickets in this ‘post-COVID’ environment?

MO’C: “We utilised many of our newer products to ensure the success of finals season, such as our newly released SmartQueue technology. This feature helps ensure fans have a transparent and stable ticket purchasing experience by automatically queuing all sessions just prior to onsale, and then ensuring that consumers are flowed through the transaction process in numbers that allow the system to maintain stability and speed. It essentially removes all the pain points of a high impact onsale, which is exactly what fans want.

“Our new Waiting List technology has also been essential for reduced capacity venues that have multiple shows for the same event/artist. When enabled, in the purchase process instead of getting a “no tickets left” message, fans will be encouraged to sign up to the Waiting List.

“The feature removes the guessing game while ensuring dedicated fans are the first to know when a new show or additional tickets for a sold-out tour or artist are announced. This tool can not only assist in further tour planning, but it also allows us to contact fans about new ticket releases and show announcements as they happen – reducing fan disappointment and also helping our clients sell more tickets to those who want them most.”

On a personal level, how do you feel when you see huge crowds at events such as the Grand Finals?

MO’C: “At Ticketmaster we love what we do and the fan is the reason we’re all here. Fans want to enjoy exceptional experiences that create life-long memories and our goal is to make that happen, so being able to come together again and see fans in stadiums enjoying the magic of live is an incredible feeling and also hugely rewarding.”

How do you see attendance at sport and other live events panning out in Australia during 2021?

MO’C: “Fans expect a different, safer experience and Ticketmaster is leading the way in providing that. The power and flexibility of our platform allows us to pivot, innovate and deploy technological capabilities that will meet the needs of venues of the future.

“We are taking a responsible, reasoned approach in guiding our clients as they begin the process of re-opening venues and welcoming back fans across the live entertainment industry.  This process requires risk awareness, sensible solutions, cautious but optimistic outcomes, and thoughtful leadership.”