How’s your ticketing sense of timing?

One of the key questions teams deal with around their ticketing operations, is how long before game day they should start selling tickets.

There are two opposing ways to go about this dilemma: putting the entire season for sale in advance vs. selling one game at a time. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each approach.

When considering putting all tickets on sale on the first day of the season, the clear advantage you get is a long sales horizon. Some games take longer to sell, and having more time to get rid of the inventory, could prove to be quite useful. From a cash flow management perspective, early sales mean early revenue generated.

On the demand side, some fans like to plan ahead, and the ability to satisfy this segment could prove to be critical in the fight against the secondary market. When a buyer tries to get tickets and finds none on the primary ticketing website, the solution would come in the form of the secondary market, buying from season ticket holders or other sorts of ticket brokers who have tickets available from the get go of the season. This is especially important when considering the sports tourism industry, where people like to plan ahead, and find it critical to secure their game tickets before booking flights and accommodation.

Since in many cases, the final games’ schedule is defined by TV demands, the exact day and time of the game are unknown until 10-20 days before game day. In the past, this used to be a reason not to sell early, since fans wanted to know the exact timing before buying a ticket. However, season ticket holders prove that you don’t really have to know the exact time and date. That knowing in advance which game is on which weekend or league round is quite enough to most fans. It could also be a great opportunity for teams to introduce price differentiation with knowledge on game-timing as the excuse – if you buy a ticket before timing has been published, you are entitled for a discount to compensate you for the risk you take, therefore the “early bird price” you pay.

One of the key problems with early sales, where most teams still practice fixed pricing methodologies, is that pricing decisions are being taken too long before game day, thus many of the factors driving demand for tickets, such as performance, the stakes, the weather and others, are still unknown, and cannot be accounted for in the pricing decision making. This either leaves the team with unsold tickets or over demand, in either case, with money left on the table. Naturally, when tickets start flowing earlier into the market, speculators can also intervene by acquiring some of the inventory, in order to resell it for a premium closer to game day.

Considerations around short sales’ horizons are the flip side of selling in advance. You have a much better control over accurate pricing, but less time to sell out. Less tickets are flooding the secondary market, but more buyers are looking for tickets there.

One thing you should definitely try to avoid, is to sell one game out, and yet publish prices for the entire season in advance. It may sound obvious, but most sports teams still use this practice.

The right answer is, as always, somewhere in the middle, trying to get the best of both. If 90% of your tickets are usually sold within the last 3-4 weeks before game day, there’s no reason to start selling sooner, and setting fixed prices too early in the process. Whereas when you do sell early, consider more flexible pricing policies (not necessarily dynamic pricing, btw), to help you anticipate demand and capture the market value of your tickets.

Bear in mind that not all games need the same sale period. You may want to differentiate between your games on this aspect, and assign only a few days for big games, where you may want a sense of scarcity and urgency to help command higher prices, while for other games, you may need a few weeks or even a few months to make sure you sell more. Try to apply a scientific and data driven approach on this aspect of your ticketing operations as well. We’re here to help.