These days, I go to my fair share of conferences, typically gratis as a member of the media. While I’m no rock star (yet), my blog has a respectable following and I usually write about the conferences that I attend.
Empty Seats and Parallels to Airplane Tickets
Without being an expert on event management and ticket pricing, many events work under a simplified version of the airplane ticket pricing system. For a description of the complexities of pricing airline tickets, check out this article from the Mathematical Association of America that includes this tidbit:
[A]irlines offer thousands of different fares, with different sets of rules governing the different legs on each trip. If two people take a round trip together, with three flights in each direction, there can be as many as 1,00012, or around 1036, fare combinations. If you printed out a ticket for each possible fare, the pile would stretch all the way to the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, four light years way.
Wow. While not nearly that complex, there are certainly parallels between buying conference and airplane tickets:
- Most conferences offer an “early bird” special six months or more in advance. Then, gradually, ticket prices will increase in one or two steps.
- Particularly for many larger conferences, there are equivalents to first class, business class, and coach tickets. Each grants you varying levels of access and probably better food.
So why is it that attendance at many conferences is often suboptimal at best and sparse at worst? I’ll usually wonder the same thing while attending sporting events but never at Rush concerts, which are almost always standing room only.
Questions and Answers
Yes, we’re not living in the best economy now and I’d wager that attendance at most conferences is down. Yet, I’m struggling with some questions:
- How many of you would go to a conference if the price were right (or at least consider it)?
- Does the “one price fits all” conference ticket model still make sense?
- If so, then isn’t there a better way to price tickets?
- Couldn’t event tickets be priced in such a way to find the right price at the right time for the right person?
Turns out that I’m hardly the only person asking these questions. I recently read about a company called Qcue that makes software designed for ticket optimization–and it works. The San Francisco Giants are using Qcue now and project increased revenues of $5M USD this year, although some of that jump probably stems from the fact the team is playing better this year. Hey, Barry Zito has to earn his $18M/year salary at some point, right?
Let’s be clear here. Most conferences take place annually and the time, effort, and expense required to build proprietary software optimizing ticket revenue makes little sense. But I can’t help but think that software like Qcue’s would maximize conference revenue.
Again, I’m no expert here. What do you think? What am I missing?