Ticketmaster EVP Justin Burleigh Talks The End of Paper Ticketing

We asked Justin Burleigh, exec VP of product at Ticketmaster, to agree or disagree with the following statement: “In 12 months, there will be no more paper tickets.”  He was happy to respond that we are not that far off.

Burleigh is spearheading Ticketmaster’s latest venture, Presence, a platform that, with 10 million users so far, is shifting TM’s usership to a fully digital platform.  We were one of the first to talk to Burleigh about Presence, but it has come to the forefront in the past two weeks with a recent partnership with the NFL, which will implement Presence for the 2018-19 season. The ticketing system will include concerts at NFL stadiums.

True, it may be years before paper tickets disappear. Secondary ticketing platforms will have their say, and there are laws in various states that require paper tickets.  Plus, as one recent NFL Thursday showed, technology can be buggy. Plus, some people still have flip phones versus smart phones, and others want to buy four tickets to hand out to their friends. On and on.

Yet, a recent promo event at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor was 100 percent digital and a representative for the venue told Pollstar it worked flawlessly. And Live Nation Chairman Michael Rapino made it clear during the recent third quarter report Q&A that fully digital ticketing is on its way

Ticketmaster Presence
– Ticketmaster Presence

Burleigh has been with Ticketmaster for about two years. Before that he worked with Salesforce and spent a decade at global engineering firm Bechtel, running innovation and mobile technologies.

“We are looking at the last 12 months of paper tickets.”  How far do you want to go with that?

I’m happy to take that journey with you. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the course of having the privilege to work on several different initiatives or products in my career that are relatively disruptive, it is that change takes time.

But I agree with you in the sense that I agree that we’ve reached a tipping point in the industry for a myriad of reasons where we want that statement to be true as soon as possible. That narrative syncs with the way we live our lives now, which is almost entirely digital.  Do I think all paper tickets will be gone in the next 12 months? That’s an interesting statement.  I think we will be well on our way by then to the genesis of that transformation.

Yet, “there will always be somebody that will insist on a piece of paper in their hand.”

When you talk about that demographic, the reason for what I would classify as “the quickening” to digital is that, a few years ago, you could look at that demographic, as you said, and you’d always have somebody that’s set in their ways and they want their paper.

Yet, a few years ago my mom had a flip phone even though the iPhone had been around for a while. Now she has an iPhone and she takes Uber and she gets groceries delivered to her doorstep. She lives the app economy. She’s been retired for a long time and she’s well up in her years but even she has embraced things you would never have thought would happen with that demographic. 

I think that perception is beginning to wane.  I think now you have children of aging boomers and grandchildren of aging boomers, and they’re all connecting through those digital surfaces whether it’s Facetime or the messages they send back and forth, or texting or Instagram or Facebook. They almost teach each other how to coexist across those generational barriers.  It’s fascinating to watch, at least for me.

If we could narrow down Presence to one term, what would it be? An app, a scanning system?

I’d call it a platform. Like any platform, it manifests itself in many components. There’s a fan base component and Presence continues to evolve. We’ve had it on the market for over a year now. We started ramping into some very large venues in our ecosystem.

There’s certainly a business component, which is a platform that our clients count on to know the entry instrument the patron is presenting, which in the past would be a paper ticket or PDF printed at home. Our clients want to know if what the patrons are presenting at the door is valid and verified.

Presence started as an iteration of the same paradigm that’s existed for 20 years: Go up to the door, show someone the ticket, they point a Star Trek gun at it, a laser comes out, it goes beep and you’re on your way. Presence was the next generation that we refer to as “access control.” We started with the original paradigm, rewrote it from the ground up.

Justin Burleigh
– Justin Burleigh

Along with that comes tools and instrumentation, then real-time dashboards. If you’re running a venue, you see a map of your seats. When Justin presents his ticket to the usher, and the usher uses Presence, I literally see Justin’s seat on the map light up. I know that Justin has entered the building. Our clients love that they can see their buildings fill up in real time.

Then there is the fan-facing side of Presence.  You present your digital ticket to an usher holding a handheld unit.  We validate the ticket and then the handheld unit or turnstile will turn green, it will say welcome, and you’re on your way.

With some of the partnerships we’ve done, like with Apple recently, we’re taking that experience to the next evolution of the digital ticket, which is really a nearfield ticket. My phone is my ticket, the same way I use Apple Pay to pick up a prescription at Walgreens, or buy my coffee at Starbucks.

If I have a piece of paper and can photocopy it, and sell it fraudulently multiple times, that’s bad for the fans, the industry, and it creates friction. When your ticket lives on your device, we have a new surface where we can communicate with you. We’ll use that fabric to tell you things, to make that journey better. If we know an offramp is closed, we could tell you not to take it. We could say “There is no line right now at Gate B.”

What’s the education process? How does a patron get introduced to Presence?

We don’t want you to know it’s Presence.  Every day you buy coffee, go shopping, pick things up at the store. More and more, people are using their digital wallets for that. With Apple Pay, you just tap it. We wanted the ticket to be that same way. Consumers don’t have to learn a new behavior. “This is where my boarding pass is, this is where my Walgreens card is, and this is where my Ticketmaster ticket is.”

Approaching it that way, it’s not a confusing, new skill. It’s just an expectation. That’s why we started partnering with Apple to make it predictable.

What about the readers who have Android devices?

Presence will support IOS and Android equally. We’ve designed the platform to be ubiquitous. It works with both.

Anything else?

I think the “provocative statement” at the beginning is the right one. We’re happy to be on that journey.