Testing requirements could lead to a dramatic drop in ticketing sales conversion according to data released from the Events Research Programme (ERP).

Information garnered from test events held in the UK from April showed a 90% drop in conversion rate among those visiting ticketing websites, with researchers suggesting this was a result of increased sales friction.

In the ‘Operational Learnings’ section of the ERP study, released last week following a legal challenge, researchers found that only 1.7% of site visitors bought a ticket, when previously, without testing requirements, their conversion rate was 18%. It added that users were spending an average of three minutes and 15 seconds reading the terms of entry specifying supervised testing requirements.

Researchers also found higher-than-usual ‘no-shows’ for games held at Wembley Stadium. They added: “This may indicate that people received their tickets and then didn’t want to follow through with the home or supervised testing requirements. Tests for pilot events were free; if consumers had to pay for tests, it would be likely to have a knock-on impact on demand and participation, and could exclude or disproportionately impact some demographic groups.”

As widely reported, the data showed just 28 cases of COVID-19 recorded out of the 58,000 people who attended during the first nine events.

However, while some saw the low number of cases as proof that events could be staged safely, the data also highlighted low levels of compliance with rules of attendance. The proportion of participants returning PCR tests varied between 8% and 74% for the ‘pre-event’ (days -1 to 3) test and between 13% and 66% for the ‘post-event’ (days 4-7) test. This “significantly limited the ability to estimate rates of infection after attending events”.

Researchers found that test return rates were higher for the events where tests were posted to attendees and when an incentive, such as the chance to win free tickets, was offered. “The music festival offered an incentive of the chance to win future festival tickets and saw a three-fold higher return rate of both PCR tests when compared with the Circus Presents ‘The First Dance’ (nightclub) event held on the same weekend with an approximately comparable audience in Liverpool,” researchers found.

“Across all events, of the 15% who returned both PCR tests, there were 28 PCR-positive cases recorded, with 11 considered potentially infected before an event and 17 at or after an event. It should be noted that some individuals were potentially infected before an event despite admittance being conditional on a negative LFT result before the event.”

Pilots highlighted “significant issues” in matching event bookings with test results and wider public health data, except in Liverpool, where an enhanced combined intelligence system is already in place.

“This test to ticket matching requirement underpins the testing and tracing infrastructure,” the report said. “Without it, it is impossible to reliably associate attendees’ test results to events and therefore to reliably operate outbreak prevention and control for events. Given some individuals infected before the event were admitted despite admittance being conditional on a negative LFT result, robust contact tracing capacity is necessary.

“Higher levels of audience participation in testing and thorough data linkage with public health surveillance systems are needed to better understand the transmission risks around events.”

The ERP began with a series of indoor and outdoor events allowing limited capacities in April, including the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield and concerts and club nights in Liverpool.

A second phase of pilot events has completed, with group stage UEFA Euro 2020 matches hosted at Wembley, the Download Pilot music festival, the England v New Zealand test match at Edgbaston and Royal Ascot having taken place this month. Research into the events is still being gathered and analysed by the ERP science team.

The third phase of the ERP will include Wimbledon Championships, The Open Championship, and Latitude festival.