Festival tickets: Lessons learned

Festival Tickets

Not every festival is a triumph. What is important is that you apply the lessons learned from less than stellar results to future events. This edition of 'The Business of Fun' looks at beer festival gate efficiency issues, past and present - something any festival operator can learn from. Plus, some best practices for using barcode wristbands to help funnel lines.

"Long and cold line delays"

Previous installments of ‘The Business of Fun’, a series for festival operators, looked at highly successful events. This installment looks at issues that can arise when things take a turn for the worse. Such a focus is not to dwell on the negative, it is to inspire pragmatism and acknowledge the valuable business lessons to be learned.

Last week in Morristown, New Jersey, the highly anticipated Big Brew Festival was held at the National Guard Armoury. The inaugural event experienced some issues at the admissions gate that some attendees said spoiled the fun. While the event was a success overall, the hiccups caught the attention of Jake Remaly:

The organizer of Saturday's Big Brew Beer Festival at the National Guard Armory in Morristown has posted an apology for "long and cold line delays" that kept some paying customers from attending the inaugural event.

Allison Kohler, the second generation owner of JMK Shows and Events, said Tuesday a "technological nightmare" involving malfunctioning ticket-scanning equipment caused major delays at the entrance on Saturday evening.

The event Facebook page was taken down after a deluge of negative comments that were abusive, not productive and in some cases not true.

Remaly goes on to report that standard procedure for admittance was put aside in order to compensate for the gate efficiency issues.

Toward the end of the event, tickets were accepted without being checked and are being sent to the ticket equipment company to see whose tickets were turned in. Those who write in about having to wait in long lines could be eligible for reduced price tickets to future events, but those cases will be handled on an individual basis.

To the festival operator’s credit, an apology was issued that strikes the correct tone for any mea culpa.

An excerpt from the apology address the issues at the gate directly:

“For those of you that experienced long and cold line delays but somehow stuck it out and managed to attend the festival, please also email us [and] we promise we will try to do our best to make things up to you in the future. As with any new venture mistakes are made and lessons learned. We are not scammers or a fly by night operation. In fact we have grown up in this area and look to provide fun and entertainment to those in the community along with raising money for a local charity.”

Quick action, both at the physical location and through social media, helped the festival operator contain the situation and maintain control of the public sentiment.

The admirable handling of the issues at the Big Brew Festival are in stark contrast to another beer festival in Austin Texas.

Acrimony in Austin

Held in March 2012, the Austin Beer Fest was an ill-fated event that is still being talked about to this day. The event was touted as a festival that would “give the audience quality entertainment while they learned about new beer.” That intent took a turn for the worse early on as thirsty ticket holders arrived in droves hours before the gates were scheduled to open. Long lines began to form, as would be expected for a popular event, but never moved as the event start time came and went. Andrea Grimes wrote a detailed account for Eater.com:

Settle in with the festival's Yelp page and commiserate with sad and angry beer drinkers who convened upon the Travis County Expo Center hoping for cold beer and nice times. What they got was expensive, small drinks and long, long lines.

So many lines! Hurry up and wait...lines to get in, lines to get the free mug and shot glass, lines for food/drink tickets, lines for beer tastings. Speaking of tastings--five, flimsy jello shot cups? Really? Did I mention some of the vendors ran out of beer...and it was 3:30.

The Austin Culture Map also chronicled the issues from the business perspective of festival ticket sales:

As anger mounts in the wake of Saturday’s Austin Beer Fest, with the organizers pointing fingers and some attendees threatening to sue...The Austin Beer Fest website said “tasting tickets” would be sold for $2 each and would be good for one 2-ounce sample. A 12-ounce cup of beer could be had for three of these tickets.

But attendees are claiming that the $2 tickets weren’t being sold. They could only find $1 coupons that were good for 12-ounce beers, at the rate of 7 tickets per for most pours. So after using up the six “tasting tickets” that came with admission, an attendee (with 12 ounces of beer under his or belt), could get 12-ounce beers for $7 a pop.

General admission was $25 in advance and $35 at the event. A $200 “VIP All-Access Pass” was also sold. That’s why a lot of people are angry — after spending $10 to park and up to $35 (or even $200) to get in, plus another $7 per beer, they feel like some promises were not kept.

The festival operator did, eventually, issue an apology, but note that the tone is not the same as the one set by the Big Brew Festival in New Jersey.

“To watch as arrogance, unprofessionalism  and unavoidable modifications made by others slowly chew away at the most crucial of details in the idea is a feeling that is truly heart-shattering.”

The inefficiency at the admission gates should have been an early warning to both attendees and the festival operators. In contrast to the quick action in New Jersey, the issues at the Austin event cascaded into a bad experience beyond the long lines to be the beginning of the end for the festival. As of this writing, the Austin Beer Fest official website and all social media channels have gone dark.

Festival tickets & barcode scanners

They say hindsight is 20/20 and festival operators may recognized the commonality in both events - long lines. The video above was shot by a beer festival attendee and it shows a wait of more than two hours just to get into the event.

ThunderTix Barcode Scanners

The best practice for keeping wait times to a minimum is the use of barcode scanners at the gate. Of particular note for beer festivals, which require the attendees present I.D. with their ticket, is the multi-tasking made possible by barcode scanning. Staff can operate the scanner, while glancing at the date of birth on the I.D. in a single step - greatly reducing gate processing times.

The ThunderTix plan for festivals offers industry leading functionality including support for the most popular handheld barcode scanners. Our technology not only provides for improved gate efficiency, and thus less time waiting in line, it also increases security. When tickets are scanned, the database record is updated, making the ticket invalid for use at any other gate. Should a duplicate ticket be presented, the staff member scanning sees a ”DUPLICATE” message along with the original ticket buyer’s name and order number.

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