Festival Ticket Sales Strategies – The Business of Fun

festival ticketing software

"The business of festivals, and event planning in general, can be a very rushed and stressful endeavor." That stoic quote may echo the feelings of many festival planners no matter the size of the event. There are different ways to operate festivals in order to increase attendance - one being to operate under an umbrella, the other is to break out and "go it alone." In this new ThunderTix series, 'The Business of Fun', we look at the results of two different festival ticket sales strategies.

The Business of Fun

The Association of Irish Festival Events (AoIFE) hosts the annual 'Business of Fun' conference for all of the various Gathering festivals. Gatherings are for people of Irish decent returning to Ireland for tourism and to celebrate their heritage. There are hundreds of individual Gathering festivals operating under the "umbrella" of the AoIFE. The Business of Fun conference is described as:

The definitive festival and events conference with streams that will cover all aspects of producing successful festivals and events. This is where the art, people and business of festivals and events converge.

The AoIFE conference serves as an idea incubator as well as a universal resource for festival organizers to learn about the latest developments in ticketing technology, equipment and government underwriting.

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Government underwriting plays a more important role in the business of festivals than one might think. Established festivals that need to expand because of their popularity often reach out to a city or state for help. Governments are very open to helping festival organizers since the influx of spending by attendees benefits the city/state as much as it does the event organizer. First-time festivals can also benefit from government underwriting via a Request For Proposal (RFP). A well written RFP may be required as part of the festival permitting process or it may be submitted in the context of getting government underwriting.

Strategic planning for a new or expanding festival should start with a review of the government underwriting resources available. When writing an RFP, thought should be given to the strategies of merging with another festival or, the opposite approach, breaking out into a new independent event.

Merging Under One Umbrella

Each of the Gathering festivals are linked together under a common theme and share Irish government resources. The Gatherings vary in size from small 100 person family reunions to huge outdoor events with attendance in the tens of thousands. No matter the size of each Gathering, the government of Ireland treats each one as an equal player for underwriting in the larger context of tourism for Ireland. The government underwriting includes financial resources, of course, but also advertising and marketing.

The umbrella approach used by the Gathering can serve as a model for other festivals not wanting to "go it alone" against competing festivals. For example, a specialized food festival could merge with another under a single umbrella and divide available resources equally. Should a popular BBQ festival find attendance has reached a plateau it can merge with the Chili cook-off held in the same city. Event dates may need to be adjusted but that is where the RFP comes in. Cities and states have historically approved underwriting requests for festival mergers because doing so maintains the same revenue levels while opening up calendar dates for additional events. Cities must distribute precious resources (police, sanitation, etc.) in conjunction with each festival, so if three festivals can be merge into one, all the better.

Festival ticket sales strategies for merging events include the popular colored wristband system. Each festival may have its own unique ticket pricing but use a common colored wristband system supported by the ticketing software to be used. The BBQ festival merging with the Chili cook-off can also offer an "all access" ticket, for universal access to both events, with a single metallic gold wristband.

Breaking Into Two Festivals

The polar opposite approach to festivals merging under an umbrella is when a single festival breaks out into multiple specialized events. An example of this is the Sundance Film Festival and the Slamdance Film Festival.

Both events run concurrently in Park City Utah and both are celebrations of film. Sundance was first, beginning in 1995, as a way for the film industry to cultivated new upcoming talent outside of the studio system. Sundance matured and eventually became so popular that some patrons felt it had lost its "outsider" point of view. That sentiment was the impetuous of the Slamdance festival which broke away from the Sundance festival in 1996.

Just like the Gatherings in Ireland, Sundance and Slamdance operate in close coordination with the local government. But unlike the Gatherings, city resources are not shared as the two festivals are in competition for patrons, each with their own goals and ticket strategies.

Being the larger of the two festivals, the Sundance ticket system offers a wide array of options and packages. Sundance ticket types represent the needs of the all the different attendees with pricing, length of stay and professional stature being very well served.

Since Slamdance prides itself on being independent, its ticket system is of a smaller scope with just four types (all access, industry, student and "local"). Note that both festivals have a "local" ticket option. This special ticket type is a result of city council meetings held to discuss the needs of Park City residents. Residents already pay sales and state taxes, so they are offered a special lower ticket price than what is available for out-of-town visitors.

Software for Your Festival Ticket Sales Strategies

Even though the Slamdance Film Festival is a smaller event, its manager Kelly Calligan feels the pressure for it to be as much of a success as its big brother Sundance:

The business of festivals, and event planning in general, can be a very rushed and stressful endeavor.

One aspect of festival planning that does not have to be stressful is the ticket sales strategy - but only if the correct ticketing software is used. ThunderTix can serve the needs of individual festivals merging under one umbrella or ones breaking out on their own to be a new stand alone event. Color wristband systems, tiered ticket pricing, gate control with handheld barcode scanners and, of course, online and in-person box offices are all supported in our Festival plan. The sooner you have your festival ticket sales strategies ready, the better!

What do you think? Should festivals seek out underwriting and operate under an umbrella with other festivals? Or should the go it alone and stay independent? Let us know in the comments below!