Golden Tickets

Ticketing
Chris Aurilio is a funny guy. His workday centers on comedy, development of the next generation of comics, and teaching people the art of on-stage comedic performance. Aurilio is the general manager of an improv club called The PIT in New York City.

But along with nurturing up-and-coming talent there is a less funny side to Aurilio’s job. As The PIT’s general manager, he is sometimes required to perform some rather mundane tasks.

On occasion, managers, such as Aurilio, have been known to get involved with handling the business side of the theatre—selling tickets, managing the box office, and providing directions to wayward guests.

“My philosophy for giving back to the community is it’s the price you pay for being here on earth.”— Jack Lucas, TicketsWest/West Coast Entertainment

To eliminate the mundane duties of its staff, The PIT management team decided to find a company to take over all of the ticketing and box office duties. It didn’t take long to learn that most ticket brokers were eager to take their business as long as The PIT was willing to commit to paying high commissions. For The PIT, agreeing to compensate a ticket broker based on commission—when the average ticket sells for US$8 and the most expensive tickets only fetch $15—was a deal breaker.

Then The PIT team met Steve Butcher, the chief executive of Brown Paper Tickets, a Seattle-based ticketing firm. After listening to The PIT’s needs, Butcher made a shocking offer: Brown Paper Ticket would charge the theatre a flat fee of $0.99 for every ticket sold.

Butcher sweetened the deal by agreeing to man a 1-800 number 24-hours a day to take ticket orders. He also agreed to provide telephone support in three languages, and build and maintain a back-end to The PIT’s website so customers could place orders online.

The cost for the additional services: $0.

“We call our business model, ‘Not Just For Profit,’” Butcher says. “We are in business but we also want to make a big difference in the world. We want to be more than ‘just’ a best-of-breed ticketing and event registration company. Our ‘Not Just For Profit’ business philosophy is simple: We ask for the lowest price, and take the lowest margins in the industry while offering the highest level of service. We purposely leave money on the table. In short, we give more and take less.”

Before you conclude that Butcher is naïve with his business practices, consider this: Brown Paper Tickets generates a $100 million a year in revenue. It has 85 employees and five offices. The company sells tickets to 200,000 events annually, and since it was founded in 2001, the company has sold 20 million tickets in 27 countries.

Days of Service

Partnering with venues and giving back to the community isn’t limited to Brown Paper Ticket. Live Nation, too, supports numerous charities and community projects around the country.

The company makes some of its biggest charitable contributions to breast cancer research, St. Judes Medical Center, and local food banks. Some of these relationships go back more than 20 years, so the ties and commitment between the organizations is long-standing.

One of Live Nation’s most significant partnerships is with the National Football League (NFL). On one Sunday in October, which is breast cancer awareness month, the company and the NFL team up to donate a portion of that day’s ticket revenue to the American Cancer Society for breast cancer research.

Many of the company’s 10,000 employees commit to “days of service” where they donate time to better their communities. As an example, in several cities employees spend time at schools replanting gardens and beautifying the surrounding area.

The charities and community projects that the company elects to support is ad hoc, according to Jacqueline Peterson, senior vice president of corporate communications for Live Nation.

“Sometimes, it’s a senior manager who has a project that is near and dear to his/her heart and the company will support it,” Peterson said. “Other times, the causes are near and dear to the musicians the we promote, and sometimes it’s the record company that asks Live Nation to support a cause. Primarily, it’s the artists and record companies that have the most influence [on our corporate giving strategy.]”

Revitalizing Communities

But before you get the idea that Butcher and the folks at Live Nation have cornered the market on giving back to their partners and communities, consider Lynne Smith, Jack Lucas, and Dave Brucick.

Smith heads TicketForce, a Phoenix-based ticketing agency. She sits on the board of the League of Historic American Theatres (LHAT), whose mission is to provide resources and make connections between performing arts professionals to help historic theatres function more efficiently.

“The theatres, which were built in the 1920s and 1930s, were significant because they were located in the centers of town, where people went for their entertainment,” Smith said. “But as the theatres fell into disrepair [people started heading to multiplex’s in the suburbs]. As the historic theatres have been restored, you can see communities become revitalized, with more restaurants and retail shops moving into the area.”

She points to the Tampa Theatre, in downtown Tampa, Fla., and the Proctor’s Theatre, in Schenectady, New York, as examples of the impact LHAT can have on a community.

The Tampa Theatre was built in 1926, and when it opened, people would stand in line for hours to see a movie. The theatre was nearly torn down in the 1970s, but civic leaders were convinced that one day the theatre would lead a revitalization of the surrounding area. They were right. Today, the theatre hosts more than 600 events including first-run films, classic movies, and corporate events, and its resurgence has led to other businesses moving into the area.

Schenectady’s Proctor’s Theatre has a long and storied history. It was once a Vaudeville House, and in 1930 was chosen to host the first public demonstration of TV. For years, it served as cultural center of Schenectady’s downtown area. In the late-1970s, the theatre fell into decline, but due, in part to the efforts of LHAT, the building was saved.

“Renovating The Proctor’s was significant because it revitalized the surrounding area bringing business and restaurants to the area,” Smith said. “The theatre brought Schenectady’s downtown back to life.”

“There have been times when I’ve needed help, and it feels good to be on the giving end, to be able to do something for someone else that’s been done for you.”— Carla Winfield, TicketForce

The revitalization of theatres around the country is only part of Smith’s commitment to inner city areas. She and her staff are equally committed to providing assistance in their hometown of Phoenix. The TicketForce staff regularly collects clothing, food, and toiletries, which are donated to women’s shelters, kids who have suffered from autoimmune diseases, and the local Lupus Foundation.

Carla Winfield, a customer service representative with TicketForce, runs the social programs on behalf of the company. In the past, she’s been on the other end of receiving donations and said that the role reversal has changed her life.

“It feels good to give back to those who are less fortunate,” Winfield said. “There have been times when I’ve needed help, and it feels good to be on the giving end, to be able to do something for someone else that’s been done for you.”

Winfield said that the commitment to renovating theatres and helping the local community are characteristics that distinguish Smith from other CEOs.

“I describe it as her humanity,” Winfield said. “She’s very compassionate (perhaps because she has all daughters), she’s open, not judgmental, and very humble.”

Company Culture

Serving the community is a huge part of another ticketing company’s culture, and is so important that it is one of its four core values (service, simplicity, tenacity, and results).

“The Triangle has been an incredible place for Etix to grow over the last 15 years, so we are honored and humbled to be able to give back,” said John Moss, director of marketing for Etix. “Additionally, because many employees have specific charities that they’re personally involved in and passionate about, Etix employees are given one day per year where they can donate their time and give back.”

Serving the community is also very important for the team at its digital marketing agency, Rockhouse Partners, located in Nashville, Tennessee.

“All of us across both teams feel a need to contribute and give back, and it’s an added value that we get to do so while representing both Etix and Rockhouse Partners,” Moss said.

Etix employees participate in community and philanthropic activities at least once a month.

“The month of November was dedicated to raising money and awareness for FA [Friedreich’s ataxia] through Team FARA,” Moss said. “Team FARA is a cause that is close to our hearts as one of our most tenured team members, Client Services Director Matt Price’s daughter was diagnosed a few years ago.”

“Etix employees are given one day per year where they can donate their time and give back.”— John Moss, Etix

Etix also works with Habitat for Humanity by building houses.

“It was our second build this year,” Moss said. “We’re also hosting a Winter Coat Drive where we’re donating winter items to the Salvation Army of Wake County. Additionally, for the last few years, we’ve partnered with the IAFE to sponsor their Dream Big and Seeding Change initiatives. We partner with many fairs and festivals around the country, and it is exciting and humbling to help out in any way we can.”

Another activity Etix takes part in is volunteering at the Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro, North Carolina. The organization is a non-profit wildlife sanctuary with the mission to save and protect wild cats in captivity and in the wild.

“Volunteering at Carolina Tiger Rescue is hard work, but it’s gratifying to know our efforts were for the benefit of a great local organization that sets the standard for sustainable and responsible animal rescue,” said Paul Kelley, operations coordinator at Etix, on the company’s blog. “The perfect team-building experience!”

Enriching Lives

In Spokane, Jack Lucas of TicketsWest/West Coast Entertainment, was looking for a way to expose students to the arts. He approached Dave Brucick of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 93, the local staging union, about sponsoring an on-going program that would give kids the opportunity to attend live theatre events.

Local 93 members thought it be a great opportunity, Brucick said, when Lucas proposed the idea.

“The entertainment industry exists because of support from the community,” said Brucick, president of the union. “We thought it just was the right thing to do. We feel that we may be helping to groom a whole new generation of theatre-goers. To us, it was a win-win.”

Brucick said that the program’s goal is to give young people the opportunity to enrich their appreciation for the performing arts.

“With this program, we are able to help them experience live professional theatre, often for the first time,” Brucick said.

Many of the attendees are from local high school drama departments. Because of the program, some have developed an interest in either performing or working behind the scenes. They’ve learned about potential careers during backstage tours and Q&A sessions with IATSE members.

Brucick said the students have always been appreciative of the opportunity to learn something new.

“We always receive hand-written thank you notes from the various groups that attend,” he said. “Over the years, the number of letters has amounted to hundreds. The vast majority is genuine and heart felt with kind words of thanks and a real appreciation of what we have done for them by making tickets available.”

Lucas said that the Spokane student program is one of many community programs that TicketsWest/West Coast Entertainment undertakes per year. On occasion, he said, a venue will ask the company to add a small surcharge to the price of a ticket to help fund a renovation. In addition to assisting venues with raising money for remodels, the company donates funds throughout the year to organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and encourages employees contribute time to local organizations.

“My philosophy for giving back to the community is it’s the price you pay for being here on earth,” Lucas said.

He sits on the boards of Lilac Services for the Blind, Goodwill, and Big Brothers Big Sisters, among others.

“I’ve been part of the Lilac board for over 25 years,” Lucas said. “For me, it is so self-rewarding to reach out to a segment of the population that is small in nature, but is so deserving of time.

“My mother-in-law is blind and she is very typical of what we see out in the field,” he continued. “She was very comfortable in her own surroundings in her own home so she didn’t leave the house very much.”

Over time, Lucas convinced her to get out and socialize. She has since become a vice president of Lilac Services, and now has a rich, fulfilling, and busy social life. Lucas said he sees similar success stories happen all the time through his work with Lilac Services.

Remember, it’s the partnerships between ticketing companies and community groups that make vast social changes possible.

“We seek out and find ways to do whatever we can to help. I know, it’s not an ordinary way of doing business,” Butcher said. “It’s like being a good neighbor who is inspired to do something when they see a need. I say, don’t ask anybody, just take care of it.” FM