See Tickets North American CEO Boris Patronoff Talks NIVA Support, Navigating The COVID-19 Crisis

Boris Patronoff
– Boris Patronoff
See Tickets

See Tickets’ rapid expansion into the North American ticketing space has seen it triple its U.S. business since acquiring Flavorus in 2016. In 2019 it opened a Nashville location, marking the Vivendi-owned company’s 15th office.

With the company’s U.S. focus on independent venues and festivals, North American CEO Boris Patronoff says it quickly became clear how serious the coronavirus situation was for See Tickets’ clients, and its support of the National Independent Venue Association was a matter of continuing to do whatever it can to put its clients first, which also leads to treating consumers fairly. 

Pollstar: What can you tell us about your involvement with what is now NIVA?
Boris Patronoff:  When COVID-19 hit the market and events started to get canceled in the beginning of March, we knew we were solid enough to weather this crisis, we are a profitable business and are fortunate enough to have a strong parent company with Vivendi, but we quickly asked ourselves: what if all our clients, our partners, all the indies, can’t make it through? We got involved on the town hall (conference call) from Independent Venue Week, and we saw what was happening. We don’t own venues, we don’t operate festivals or book or run events, but we felt we needed to support them. We realized that immediate funding was needed to kickstart the lobbying effort, and we happily contributed. It was an easy decision. It’s impressive what NIVA has achieved in the last three weeks, the number of people and involvement, how the whole independent music community has come together.
We’re really all in this together. We’re one of the industries that is most affected, and we need to get together and fight together. It’s important for the entire indie music community and for others as well. For every city that has a live venue, for artists, it’s a critical part of the whole music ecosystem. 
That’s why I’m happy and excited about what NIVA is doing and want to support that as much as possible.
Can you talk about what the level of support looks like from See tickets?
I can say it was enough to start the process. Most importantly, being the first company to financially support NIVA caused a chain reaction as others joined in the cause after us. I don’t want this to be an infomercial about See Tickets, but we have no choice. If there’s no indie music community in the U.S., there’s no See Tickets. Supporting NIVA is also sharing some of the things we’ve learned from Europe. We’re in 10 different countries so we see things in a wider perspective. Back in early and mid-March we saw some promoters and venues doing two shows in a night, the first at 7:30 and second at 9:30. The artists were fine with it, and maybe we’ll see that in the future to keep attendance under a certain cap.

Can you talk about refund / postponement policies? How are you able to navigate the current situation?
Everybody wants to do good here, everybody wants to survive, and we’ve been able to manage the situation on a case-by-case basis. But what is essential is you need to provide options for fans. You can’t just say, “I’m canceling, you have no option, you lost the money.” As a consumer, I would never accept that. If you are postponing, you need to offer options. OK, you have an option to get a refund or keep your ticket and add some extra value to it. Then you need to be very transparent and consistent. 
If you’ve treated them well in the past, they understand and if they’re smart and read the news, they know what’s going on. If you’ve been consistent, transparent and fair, fans are going to support your business. We’ve seen events that were postponed where the number of refunds were very low, less than 5%. What you don’t control right now is the “when” of it, but we control how we work on those refunds, those cancellations, the postponements, how we communicate to the fans.  This is difficult for everybody. When you don’t have money coming in, it’s difficult to pay ancillaries, rent, etc.  
Are there any good things to come of the current situation?
A good sign I think is a couple of good onsales we had this week. After this is over, people will want to go back and go to a show, go with their friends, get out, have a drink. I’m convinced of that. Myself, I’ve been in my house for the last six weeks. I love my wife and my kids but I want to get out and see other people! It’s natural behavior. The question is how long is this going to take. You have the smartest minds on the planet and don’t know the answer. We need to work on what we can control.
How do you see your business changing after this is all over? Will there be new ways of doing things?
We’ve looked at our process and what we need to improve and do differently. For example, scanning lines for venue clients or festivals, how do you do it with as little interaction as possible, completely touchless. Our colleagues in Europe have done drive-in concerts, making sure our scanners were working through the car windows. We’re basically reviewing our whole operations. We want to focus on what we do really well and prepare for when things open again.
Is the company’s expansion in North America continuing despite the current stoppage?
Yes. We see a big opportunity in the North American market for us, focusing on the indie music festivals and venues filling gaps left by other companies. We’ve always been focused on music and are a big player in Europe, as the largest ticketing company not owned by a promoter. Obviously this year is going to be difficult, but our stability and backing make us an even more desirable alternative in uncertain times, so I feel cautiously optimistic about the future. We have a great team and have been supporting our clients and staff all along.

Do you have any opinions about when things might open back up?
I don’t know. Again, the brightest minds on the planet are working on this, and they all disagree. I am hopeful we will see some positive results from some of the cities and countries reopening. I’m cautiously optimistic.