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In this exclusive interview, we sit down with Shah-Zeib Ahmed a prominent figure in the ticketing industry, to discuss their insights and experiences.

Shah-Zeib is the power behind the course: “Sold Out – An Introduction to Ticketing Sports Events”, focusing on ticketing sports events. The course aims to nurture future ticketing and entertainment leaders, providing insights into the ticketing ecosystem and offering CPD certification for professional development.

What inspired you to create the course, and what unique insights does it offer to aspiring professionals in the ticketing and entertainment industry?

As someone with over a decade of global experiences in the ticketing and sports industry, I have experienced numerous challenges and triumphs of this dynamic field. My journey, marked by both professional and academic experiences, led me to speak at several universities, sharing insights and inspiring future professionals. However, a recurring theme emerged: a significant gap in specialised education and resources in the ticketing industry.

During a capacity-building initiative for a sports governing body, I introduced a portion of what would become our course’s content. The overwhelming positive feedback was a key moment, signalling a broader need for this knowledge. It became clear that there was a vast audience eager to delve deeper into ticketing in sports business and event management yet lacking the resources to do so.

Our course, designed as a comprehensive online program, caters to both students and entry-level professionals. It allows for flexible, self-paced learning, introducing a wide range of topics from project management and strategy to sales, distribution, and reporting.

What sets our course apart is its applicability, blending theoretical knowledge with practical tools and examples. We focus not just on ticketing as a transaction but as a multifaceted element integral to the sports events industry.

This course is more than just an educational programme; it is a gateway to understanding the complexities and nuances of ticketing and its pivotal role in the sports and events sector. It is our invitation to those ready to embark on a rewarding journey in this exciting field to become part of the business of making memories.

Can you share some highlights from your journey in the ticketing industry and the pivotal moments that have shaped your career?

From the outset of my career, after completing my undergrad at WU Vienna, I was ambitious, aiming to work with the big 5. My path interestingly set me towards sports early on. I worked on a market entry strategy paper for Red Bull, to facilitate team logistics at the World Winter Military Games. Little did I know, these experiences were laying the groundwork for my future career.

The defining moment of my career unfolded during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. As the Ticketing Account Manager for the DFB (German Football Association), I was tasked with servicing the federation and their fan groups. It was during the electrifying Quarter Final at the Maracanã that my career’s purpose became crystal clear. Amidst the roaring crowd and as Mats Hummels scored the pivotal goal, I experienced a moment of personal connection. A fan, whom I had assisted earlier, shared a heartfelt thank you, coupled with an unforgettable, rib-breaking hug. This moment, filled with raw emotion and gratitude, left an indelible mark on me. It was then I understood the true nature of my work: crafting unforgettable experiences, working tirelessly behind the scenes to bring joy to countless individuals.

This realisation not only solidified my career direction but also inspired the ethos of our consultancy:

“We are proud to be in the business of making memories.”

How has the ticketing industry evolved over the years, and what key trends or changes have you witnessed during your career?

The ticketing industry, during my tenure, has been a witness to a dynamic and constantly evolving landscape. When I first entered the field, ticketing was predominantly a straightforward transaction, heavily reliant on physical tickets. This traditional approach set the stage for a revolution in how tickets are distributed and managed.

The advent of digital ticketing marked a significant shift. The transition to print-at-home and mobile tickets revolutionised not just the distribution but also the accessibility and convenience for fans. This shift was more than just a technological upgrade; it was a paradigm change in the customer experience.

Emerging technologies like NFTs and AI have further pushed the boundaries of possibilities in ticketing. NFTs, for instance, are not just digital tokens but have opened avenues for unique fan experiences and memorabilia, while AI is transforming customer service and personalisation in ticketing strategies.

However, one of the most critical trends I have observed is the increasing focus on fan engagement. It is no longer just about selling tickets; it is about creating a dialogue with fans, understanding their needs, and enhancing their overall experience. Organisations that have embraced this approach have reaped benefits in increased satisfaction, commercial success, and even boosted attendances. Through personalised marketing, enhanced event experiences, and responsive customer service, ticketing has become a key player in building lasting relationships with fans.

In reflection, the evolution I have witnessed in ticketing is not just technological but also philosophical, shifting the focus from transactions to experiences. Looking ahead, I foresee the industry continuing to innovate, especially in areas of personalisation and immersive experiences, shaping not just how we buy tickets but how we experience events.

What are the most significant challenges and opportunities that industry professionals are facing?

Professionals face multiple challenges in the sports industry, but one that stands out, in my opinion, is the daunting task of simply entering the industry. Despite an abundance of talented individuals armed with passion, experience, and industry-specific qualifications, the path to starting a career in sports remains difficult.

This challenge stems from a variety of factors. The competitive nature of the industry, coupled with a limited number of entry-level positions, creates a barrier to entry. Additionally, there is often a lack of clear and accessible pathways for those looking to break into the field. This issue is exacerbated by a tendency within the industry to overlook the need to pave the way for the next generation of professionals.

In my experience, both now as an educator and an industry insider, I have encountered numerous individuals who possess not just the qualifications, but also the drive and creativity to excel in this field. Yet, they struggle to find that initial foothold. This reality calls for a shift in how the industry approaches talent acquisition and development.

There lies an opportunity here for the industry to become more proactive in nurturing new talent. This could involve developing mentorship programs, offering more internships and apprenticeships, and engaging in community outreach to provide real-world experience and guidance. By doing so, we can not only bring fresh perspectives and ideas into the field but also ensure the industry’s sustained growth and dynamism.

As industry professionals, it is incumbent upon us to not take our positions for granted but to actively work towards leaving the door open for those who follow. This commitment to inclusivity and opportunity can transform the challenge of entry into a wellspring of innovation and progress for the industry.

Technology has played a major role in transforming ticketing. Can you elaborate on the role of technology in the industry's present state and how it has impacted operations and customer experiences?

Looking back, the ticketing landscape has undergone a dramatic transformation from the days of exchanging cash at turnstiles to a technologically driven experience. The introduction of telemarketing and the internet revolutionised not just ticketing but the entire commerce landscape. Today, technology is not just a part of ticketing; it is the driving force behind its evolution.

Key milestones like the emergence of e-commerce have fundamentally altered how tickets are sold and managed. This shift has enabled significant operational improvements in ticketing. We now have sophisticated systems for inventory management, dynamic pricing, and access to real-time analytics. These allow for a more efficient and responsive approach to ticketing as a whole.

On the customer experience front, the impact of technology has been equally transformative. Mobile ticketing, for instance, offers unprecedented convenience, allowing fans to purchase and store tickets on their devices. Personalised marketing, powered by data analytics, has enabled a more tailored approach to customer engagement. Moreover, enhanced security features in electronic ticketing systems have significantly reduced fraud and unauthorised resales.

My advice to industry professionals is to always think like a fan. The key is in finding the right balance – leveraging technology to enhance the customer experience without overwhelming them. A simple, streamlined process from browsing to checkout can significantly enhance customer satisfaction.

Looking ahead, technology will continue to be the cornerstone of ticketing’s evolution. We can anticipate further advancements in areas like virtual and augmented reality, which could redefine the way fans interact with events even before they step into the venue. Ultimately, staying abreast of technological trends and continuously adapting to them will be crucial for success in the ever-evolving world of ticketing.

With the introduction of digital ticketing and mobile apps, the way customers purchase and use tickets has drastically changed. How has this influenced your strategies for engaging customers and ensuring seamless experiences?

With the advent of digital ticketing and mobile apps, the landscape of customer engagement in our industry has undergone a significant transformation. When working with clients on ticket distribution, we emphasise the vast benefits of these digital platforms. They offer not just convenience and efficiency, but also a wealth of opportunities for deeper customer insights and engagement.

The move towards digital ticketing has been pivotal in shaping our engagement strategies. It allows us to offer personalised experiences to our customers. For instance, through mobile apps, we can provide real-time updates, tailored offers, and instant customer support. This level of interaction was unimaginable with traditional ticketing methods.

However, this shift does not come without its own set of challenges. We recognise that some clients and their customers may have reservations or difficulties using digital platforms. To address this, we need to ensure to that the experiences are user-friendly and alternative options are available, where necessary. For those who cherish physical tickets, organisations can always offer them as special souvenirs – a practice I personally appreciate for certain events.

Our approach is always evolving. As digital ticketing continues to advance, we stay ahead by constantly refining our strategies. This means exploring emerging technologies like augmented reality for immersive pre-event experiences or leveraging AI for even more personalised communication.

The key is to blend the efficiency and innovation of digital solutions with the personal touch that customers value. Looking forward, we will continue to adapt and innovate, ensuring that our engagement strategies not only meet but exceed the expectations of our clients and their customers.

The live events industry, including ticketing, has faced unique challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. How has your organisation adapted, and what lessons have you learned from this unprecedented period?

The COVID-19 pandemic presented unprecedented challenges to the live events and ticketing industry, fundamentally altering how we operate. During my tenure at the Rugby League World Cup 2021, and subsequently in the founding of glosancon-sports, the pandemic’s impact was severe, yet instructive.

In response to the pandemic, we had to be agile and innovative. Strategies like virtual events, enhanced digital engagement, and flexible ticketing policies were key in navigating those turbulent times. These adaptations were not just temporary fixes; they have informed our approach to business resilience and customer service in the long term.

The most significant lesson from this period was the importance of resilience and relentless optimism. These qualities helped us stay focused and adaptive in the face of uncertainty. We learned the value of quick decision-making, the importance of clear communication with stakeholders, and the necessity of contingency planning.

At glosancon-sports, these learnings have been ingrained into our organisational fabric. We have adopted a more flexible and customer-centric approach, recognising that the landscape of live events is ever-evolving. Our strategies now include a stronger emphasis on digital platforms and a commitment to maintaining robust contingency plans.

This period has taught us that challenges, however daunting, are opportunities for growth and innovation. As we move forward, these experiences have equipped us to better anticipate and respond to any future disruptions, ensuring that we remain resilient and adaptable.

Looking ahead, what innovations or trends do you foresee shaping the future of ticketing? How is your organisation preparing for these changes?

In anticipation of future trends in ticketing, our consultancy and learning organisation is committed to staying ahead of the curve. Our focus is particularly on the integration and implications of Artificial Intelligence, which we believe will significantly influence customer experience and operational efficiency in ticketing.

We are actively preparing for this and other emerging trends by learning about new technologies, continuously updating our skill set, and closely following industry developments. Our approach is driven by a dedication to continuous adaptation and learning, ensuring that we are always ready to meet the evolving needs of our clients in this dynamic industry.

Can you share your vision for the future of the ticketing industry?

Our vision for the ticketing industry is to enhance its visibility and recognition, showcasing its significant impact and importance. We aim to draw aspiring professionals closer to this field, enabling them to make informed decisions about joining this dynamic industry. Ultimately, we aim to continue making memories and strive to inspire a new generation of professionals dedicated to creating memorable experiences – one ticket at a time.

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