As Ticketing Technology Forum 2016 (27-28 April) draws closer we exclusively caught up with Eric Sikorski, Systems Administrator, TD Garden about the challenges and future plans for the venue.
Eric, what exactly is your role at TD Garden?
My role is the Systems Administrator, which means my main task is to maintain our technological products and keep them up to date. In addition I seek out new ways to add technology and/or update the ticketing systems to make our venue as efficient and streamlined as it can be.
How did you get into the industry?
I started in the industry when I was at the University of New Hampshire. I worked part time there as a student in the box office and eventually became the ticket manager in the Arena. Once I graduated, I moved on to become the Assistant Director for two years before moving here to Boston to work for the TD Garden, initially as the Assistant Box Office Manager.
TD Garden hosts around 200 public events each year with over 3.5 million people visiting across a variety of different events. What challenges does this give you for ticketing?
The biggest challenge is the difference between the sporting events, our family shows, and concerts; each one has its own mentality and our office has responsibilities for all of them. At sporting events the majority of spectators are season ticket holders, so at the single ticket level we don’t do much business on a game to game basis. The family show component is a small piece of our yearly event schedule, but these are often multiple run shows that can last a week or more. And lastly, the concert world has by far the largest involvement from the promoters and other organisations who are managing each show or tour.
Most concerts are a one off show and some tours we deal with have different types of ticketing. Some have paperless virtual tickets, some have mobile tickets, there are fan clubs to deal with, and each has different restrictions. So we have a lot more to focus on for these events because we’re managing every single ticket in the venue, whereas for example a sporting event it may only be a couple of hundred seats.
In my role, most of my involvement comes in the initial set up and build of each event, and then again on the event day to be sure primarily that our access controls are configured and operating properly. For the in-between time after the event goes on sale, the majority of the responsibility shifts to our box office managers who control and manage the day-to-day tasks as well as monitor the sales. Thankfully when we have the bigger, more popular shows, they tend sell out in an hour or two so the bulk of the work is over pretty quickly.
What changes have you recently implemented at TD Garden and what changes are you planning for the future?
One big change has been at the turnstiles. For the last 20 years they have been managed by ticket takers, with every turnstile being manned by one person. At each event that person could potentially be someone new to ticket taking, so we have recently started to develop a relationship with Skidata.
We started about a month ago, implementing three of their access control products and we have been testing the three turnstiles at one of our main gates. So far the testing is going better than expected. One of the main advantages is that it will eliminate the need to have 50-60 ticket takers across our gates for every game and instead the system will become more self-service and be managed by a handful of supervisors. So the goal is that our guests and clients will become more self-sufficient when it comes to entering the building.
The future is open for us other than our Skidata access control project. We have our eyes on a few of the newer technologies out there, for example Beacons and RFID, but nothing has been set in motion just yet.
How important is technology in the future of ticketing?
It’s really important, and one of the things I’m looking forward to Ticketing Technology Forum is to hear about the Beacon and NFC technology, as well as the concept of city wide venue integration. We are just starting a 3 year renovation and expansion to our building so over that period we want to push ourselves into the future using technology as much as we can.
We plan to use the majority of this time to test and troubleshoot these technologies, as well as new ones that develop during this time. This way when the building is complete, we will have worked out and implemented these new technologies and hopefully emerge with a new look as a technological leader in our industry.
The US and European ticketing markets have some differences in their approach to ticketing. What are you hoping to learn when you visit Europe at Ticketing Technology Forum?
Here in the US, a lot of people I’ve explained some of these topics to outside of work don’t travel often and their first thoughts are to think that America is leading the charge in a lot of categories. But when I have travelled in the past, especially around Europe, I have seen that a lot of European venues are actually ahead of what we are doing. So one of the things I’m hoping to take from the conference is the opportunity to talk to people and venue teams and discuss some of the things they do to see what I can bring back into our building here to help us make a jump forward.
One example was when we started looking at Skidata. I looked at the Allianz Arena, Bayern Munich’s stadium in Germany, which is one of their larger clients. That venue in particular is for the most part technologically controlled. Skidata’s access gates control the perimeter, the entry, and once you’re inside the building you have their RFID technology. So it’s your access, your payment and everything in between. It’s well ahead of what we are doing here and shows there are a lot of things we don’t do that we can look at.
Who do you benchmark against?
Speaking to some of the people who have been there and worked in it, I think I would say the Allianz Arena in Munich. I’d really like to look more closely to see behind the curtain on how they are setup.
Here in the US most venues run along the same lines as far as technologies go but if there was one, it would the Monumental Sports Group that run the Verizon Centre in Washington DC. They have made a lot of the changes that I am trying to push here at the TD Garden. For example, they’ve removed paper tickets from the venue and have pushed most of their customers to try and use mobile, credit card or RFID entry; so they have taken a lot more risks in the technology world.
What excites you most about the future of technology in the sports ticketing industry?
It’s what is to come. Just talking for example with our Ticketmaster representatives and what they are looking at down the road – removing both paper tickets and season tickets and making everything paperless through an RFID wristband, card, or even something that may not exist yet.
I’m excited that our industry is constantly changing, the technology is always finding a way to eliminate or improve an old process and make a new one that is better. It’s sometimes more complicated at first, but it’s better in the end. It’s about trying to streamline how we operate, how customers enter the arena and move around, tracking what they do and where they go.
So for me it’s about getting the data and seeing what your clients are doing and then constantly adjusting the venue from there, ultimately making the process and information better for us and the access, control and experience the best it can be for our guests.
And finally, tell us something people wouldn’t know about you?
I’ve worked in ticketing for 9 years but really came into this industry with no academic background or real knowledge of the sports and entertainment world. I actually received my degree in Earth Sciences with focuses in Climatology and Disaster Management. Not even the slightest connection between the two but I sort of just fell into this career path by accident one day and it’s been quite the journey ever since.
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