The live events industry is faced with one of the toughest challenges in its history after being all but shuttered since March 2020 and continues to face major uncertainty.

The Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR) said in an article that the industry must begin to commit to practical solutions for the future and invest in intuitive, simple customer-centric solutions that build confidence in the sector once again.

The self-regulatory body and approved dispute resolution body for the UK’s live events ticketing industry, which co-operates with many industry organisations as well as the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), has detailed what customers can expect when attending live events in the future, including ID verifications, pre-event health checks and on-site validation.

Jonathan Brown (pictured below), chief executive of STAR, said in an article: “The COVID-19 pandemic is the newest of many tests the live events industry has faced in recent years. Yet whether it’s dealing with the rise of secondary ticketing via consumer education or working to prevent security breaches through cutting edge tech, the sector continually responds with ingenuity and innovation, whilst never losing sight of the customer’s needs.”

Here’s what STAR and its members predict moving forward…

Identity verification

As the contractual link between events and customers, ticket sellers must process customer data in order to verify entry to events. However, knowing exactly who every person attending an event is has always been a challenge – this is because a buyer can purchase multiple tickets but only produce one data trail, leading to ‘ghost’ customers. If a customer buys direct from a box office, rather than online, there may be no data trail at all.

While it has always been the job of ticket sellers to drive database growth, experts agree that ‘ghost’ customers may become a thing of the past due to new industry standards that will be expected to be adopted. If live events are to return at full capacity, venue owners will need to ensure safety measures are watertight in order to instil customer confidence. The requirement to be able to identify every visitor attending an event may mean it becomes necessary to ensure a direct relationship with every single attendee, not just the lead booker.

Frédéric Longatte, chief executive of SecuTix and TIXnGO, said: “Delivering live events will look very different in future, therefore venues need to be thinking how they can get ahead of the curve and what technology solutions can help them to do so. The ability to provide customer data for every event attendee will be vital for venues who hope to reopen, helping to provide a safe and responsible environment for fans to enjoy live experiences.

“Unlike other platforms, TIXnGO is a fully digital, mobile solution that identifies every fan in the venue. Using secure blockchain technology, TIXnGO allows purchasers to assign tickets to other attendees, creating a unique, encrypted ticket for smartphones that is validated at the venue, removing the risk of counterfeit tickets and simplifying the process of transferring or reselling tickets.”

Pre-event health checks

Across the industry, there have been speedy developments by many ticketing companies and software suppliers to meet the new requirements outlined by Government for events to go ahead safely. Tactical solutions such as social distancing seating algorithms and timeslots to manage entrance flow have been developed and deployed promptly to enable venues to open their doors and bring audiences back where they have chosen to do so.

One crucial requirement has been for venues to maintain records of customers to support NHS Test and Trace and help limit the spread of COVID-19 by assessing customers’ likelihood of transmitting the virus before entry. In some cases, venues have opted for a simple online form to be filled out. In others, venues have called upon software providers to integrate the process into the customer check in process. For example, ticketing solution TixTrack has combined the self-declaration process with an online check in facility for Nimax Theatre venues, requiring customers to confirm that they have not been exposed to the virus before their digital ticket is issued.

“We were happy to work with our client to develop an automated COVID-19 self-declaration form that helps to keep Nimax Theatres’ customers and staff safe, and allows theatre goers to enjoy live experiences once again.”

John Pinchbeck, business development director EMEA, TixTrack Inc.

Many other products are being created by industry suppliers that offer similar solutions. Despite this, none can offer 100% protection from an individual transmitting the virus on a client’s premises – by its nature, self-declaration relies on an individual’s sense of moral duty to provide truthful and accurate information.

In the future, experts believe venues may require more rigorous checks, potentially linked to a negative result following rapid testing or proof of immunity following a vaccine. Despite recent debate in the news about whether it is too early to talk about methods of providing proof of vaccination, some ticketing providers are planning how they might facilitate entry to venues based on a kind of ‘health passport’ which acts as an individual’s permit to attend events.

On-site validation

Long queues are never good for the customer and venues often spend considerable time and resources keeping them short. However, entering a venue may become more complex in future due to the enhanced level of checks needed.

Rapid testing has been hailed as the key to festivals being able to take place again by some such as Festival Republic director Melvin Benn. Other industry leaders agree rapid testing could help the return of live events and are focusing on the logistical and financial implications in the adoption of this approach to ensure there is minimal impact on the customer experience.

Guy Dunstan, managing director of the NEC Group Arenas, said: “News of rapid tests and vaccines provide a warm glimmer of hope that the industry can begin the journey back to live again in the new year, yet there are still hurdles to overcome.

“In terms of rapid testing, we are currently talking to some of the leaders in this field and assessing the technical feasibility and how this will work with our ingress management as this is a complex operation, especially when dealing with a large number of people.

“If, in future, it becomes a requirement for venues to check an individual’s ‘health passport’ alongside their ticket we will need to ensure that this extra step in the ingress process works seamlessly when managing the entrance flow.

“We are yet to establish which solution will work best for the live event industry, but whatever the future requirements, any new measures introduced will need to be thought through carefully. Not only do we need to ensure our venues are safe and compliant, but we need to ensure the customer experience is still at the heart of how we apply those processes.”

Steve Rich, founder of website Theatremonkey.com, which reviews theatre shows from the perspective of an audience member, argues that although attending events will be different in the future, customers are likely to embrace the changes and enhanced checks. He said: “Audiences are already used to bag-searches on arrival. More recently those that brave ‘socially distanced’ performances have accepted fixed entry times, temperature checks and distancing with phlegmatic grace.

“Once better science-led solutions are implemented, allowing wearing masks and social distancing to be relaxed, event going should feel almost normal again. Enhanced checks on entry should worry few, being taken aside for a quick test will reassure others. If venues can communicate that things are back to normal and even safer, we should see a very quick return of trust.”