SeatGeek: The Best Seats in One Place

With ticket prices from teams increasing all the time, the secondary ticket market has prospered in recent years. What started as scalpers standing around an…


With ticket prices from teams increasing all the time, the secondary ticket market has prospered in recent years. What started as scalpers standing around an arena trying to pawn off tickets has evolved into a full-fledged industry. Stubhub, the premier ticket reseller, has given buyers the ability to buy and sell tickets for individual games from their own homes, and the increased amount of tickets being sold as PDF files has only made that easier. Buyers can get tickets to the event they want without having to wait on line and don’t have to worry about events being sold out. Sellers can make money on tickets for events they can’t attend and can cash in on particularly in-demand events. But with other websites also offering the same service as Stubhub, it’s hard for users to know where the best deals are. Enter SeatGeek, an up-and-coming website that allows people to see the best ticket deals from across the internet, thanks to their revolutionary rankings system and forecaster. I spoke with Ben Kessler, SeatGeek’s Director of Communications, to find out more.

Jeremy: Tell me about your website. How did you come up with this idea?

Ben: Jack [Groetzinger] and Russ [D’Souza, co-founders of SeatGeek] met each other at Dartmouth and were friends in college. It’s difficult in Boston to find tickets for a Red Sox game, a Patriots game, or a concert. There was Stubhub, but the average consumer didn’t know about other sites that could be listing tickets for cheaper. They started building SeatGeek. We call ourselves a live event search engine and we aggregate from the 50-plus search engines, including local brokers, and aggregate their prices. Our goal is to provide the best seating experience, including a detailed seating chart, and we’re transparent in where the tickets are coming from. We also provide DealScore, which we’re constantly working on. We provide a score for each seat on our site, and that’s based on many variables for which seats are the best deal for the customer.

What can your site do that Stubhub, eBay, and others can’t?

Our biggest value is that we give people choices. We give people the ability to sit exactly where they want to, at the price that they want to pay. We recently launched, for only MLB games, a below face value indicator. We’ve heard that 40 percent of seats are below face value, and we’re hoping to emphasize that.

How are you trying to portray that you’re a different and better site than Stubhub?

Stubhub’s a partner, and they give us access to our seats. The way that people like to portray us is as the Kayak of tickets. There have been aggregators in the past, but those are more focused on striking deals with people. Kayak just aggregates deals from everywhere available. We’re hoping to be a destination for buyers everywhere. We’re not in competition with Stubhub or Ticketmaster, but more with Google as being a search engine for all tickets. We want people to know that they can come to us for their initial queries for tickets.

Stubhub has made most of its money by charging fees to both buyers and sellers. How can you be profitable without charging fees, as your website suggests?

SeatGeek is completely free to use, for everyone. If you’re a fan, you won’t spend any more money on SeatGeek. For the forecasting, we require that you sign up for an account, but it’s free. We take a percentage, or referral fee, of the final sale from Stubhub or other ticket sites. Also, what we’ve done is determined how Stubhub assesses their fees and taxes, and our prices determine the cost after all fees. The price that you see on our site is the actual amount you’ll be paying.

How do you come up with your rankings for which seats are good buys?

Russ and Jack are statistic-guys, and Jack was going to go after a PhD at MIT before founding Seatgeek. They’re into writing algorithms, and they can assess an expected price for each ticket. The score is based on the listed price based on what we expect the price to be. If you click on the forecast button, you see a graph for the historical ticket prices for those evfents.

Your forecaster for when someone should buy tickets is the first of its kind. How did you develop it?

That was one of the first things we created to differentiate the site. We’ve had an 85% success rate, and we base it on a few things. We take into consideration how the tickets sold previously at the venue, how prices have moved before, and weather data for outdoor events. It’s our secret sauce. Nobody’s doing anything like this right now, and we’re really proud of it.  We want people to feel safe when they buy tickets and not have to see prices going down after buying them and feeling stupid. We want to constantly improve it, so that people can have a smooth, easy experience without having to overly research it.

What events have had the most traffic on your site?

The NFL games are our biggest events and always attract a big crowd. The MLB is in the height of their season now, so there’s been a good amount of demand. Playoffs and finals see a ton of attention. The biggest game we’ve had was Game 7 of the NHL Finals between Boston and Vancouver. Vancouver loves their hockey and tickets were going for between $6,000 and $8,000 a seat.

In New York, did you notice a ticket spike as Derek Jeter came towards 3,000 hits? Did that reflect in your rankings?

Yes, it definitely did. It was a big spike, and we did some press about it. It was really fun to see when fans thought it would happen based on the spikes, and Saturday [the day he got it] was the most expensive day. Tickets were going for over $200 a seat, and they were even going up in Cleveland, where the Yankees had just been before they got home. The ticket prices were about the same as they were before A-Rod [Yankees third basemen Alex Rodriguez] hit his 600th home run last year.

How difficult was it developing your below face value indicator, in which fans can see if the tickets they’re buying are being sold for more or less than the original value?

It was a really intensive process. We hired a data and mapping team and we had to manually build maps for each stadium in-house. It was an arduous process to have to build the seats and sections for each building, and have to manually collect face value data and figure it out. With constantly shifting pricing, it moves continually. For example, the San Francisco Giants now base all of their ticket prices on demand for that game, so to follow that is really difficult. The [New York] Mets also have different prices for many different games, based on the opponent, so that’s a manual process to fix that. We saw a lot of value in collecting all of this data, and we want to provide as much of it as possible for fans.

Of the sites you redirect to, which have you noticed usually have the best deals?

(Thinks) That’s a good question. Stubhub has the most tickets, but the best deals are hard to say. It could come from any site on a given day. The beauty of this site is not having to worry about that question. For an event, ‘best deal’ is a tough phrase. For travel, the only variables that matter are really just price and class. The cheapest deal is the best deal. But for events, you can sort by price, but value is also based on the location of the seat. People have lots of different preferences for where they want to sit and we think our rankings reflect that. We have color codes that are based on listings, and people can zoom in to specific sections to look for the best deals.

Has there been more demand for concert or sports tickets? Do you think there’s a difference in how people buy them?

Sports tickets, for sure. Sports fans are much more willing to use the secondary ticket market. We’ve noticed that sports fans are more obsessed with numbers and they want to know that they can get to a game even when it’s sold out. Music fans we think still feel like doing this is ticket scalping. They haven’t embraced it in quite the same way. In general, there’s so much more volume in the amount of sporting events that it’s not very close.

What advice would you give a startup that’s just getting its name out there?

So many people are concerned with building buzz when they start their company, but it’s all about launching a product. Jack and Russ weren’t technical people, but they still built the site. We thought, “Let’s launch, and get feedback from people. Let’s let them tell us what’s good and what’s bad.” A good amount of people focus on thinking through the product and tweaking, but we thought that just getting it out there was important. We do a lot of A/B testing, and we’re all based on what feedback we’re getting from the users. I’d also say to learn how to position yourself. Speak to the right people in your industry, and become knowledgeable about it. We’ve networked with other companies and have tried to start a conversation, all so that we could become experts in our industry.

In what ways can you see the company growing in the future?

We want to really become the destination for fans to come to for their tickets. We’re always working on new ideas, and we want to become the daily destination for the best deals on the Internet. This should be for people who want to find out what’s going on all the time, and being as tied in as possible. We’re hoping to build preferences for users, and become more socially tied in. We want to make the purchase of these tickets to be as fun as using them to go to the actual event.

Who’s your favorite sports team?

I grew up in Philadelphia, so I love the Eagles and the Phillies.

Well, we can’t possibly continue the interview after that.

(Laughs) I liked the Flyers a lot too, but the Eagles and Phillies are definitely my two favorite teams.

Think you can get me some Rangers tickets?

(Laughs) It’s the biggest question that we always get! People want a hookup all the time. I’ll be at a bar, and tell someone what I do, and it’s the first question I get. Everybody wants free tickets. I can’t even hook myself up!

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