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Sunday, June 16, 2024

NC trend: Etix is rocking the events business

Travis Janovich saw a simple problem in the late ’90s: He wanted to see the Dave Matthews Band, Hootie & the Blowfish and other musicians when they played at regional venues, but there was no reliable way to buy a ticket in advance. The best option for fans was to visit the box office ahead of time, or hope the concert wasn’t sold out after trekking to the venue on the day of the event. 

One pseudo-option existed — fans could send a fax requesting a ticket, which meant a roll of faxed paper would be waiting on the box office floor each morning. Maybe you got a ticket, maybe you didn’t.

“Man, it would be great if you could buy and print your tickets at home,” thought Janovich, who received a bachelor’s degree in economics at N.C. State University in 1996. 

So he started Etix in 2000 when there wasn’t much of a ticketing system for smaller venues or those outside big cities. His first idea was to develop a print-at-home delivery method with barcode-based ticketing. 

“There was a lot of interest in the idea, and it got us in the door with venues, but in 1999/2000, we were super early for being web-based.”

More than two decades later, the Morrisville-based company is holding its own against the industry behemoth, Live Nation Entertainment, which sells 500 million tickets a year across 45 nations through Ticketmaster.com and Livenation.com. The Beverly Hills, California-based company controls 70% of the ticketing and live event venues market, CNBC reported this year.

“When we launched, Ticketmaster had all the events and were aggregating them to sell,” Janovich says. “But the venues were not getting any of the data from sales, so they didn’t know their clientele or who was coming to the venue.”

Basically, the only difference in buying tickets online and at a record store was not having to stand in line. Arenas and theaters weren’t gathering much information in the process.

“I thought it was ludicrous crazy that the only person who knew the ticket buyer was the ticketing company. Our philosophy from the beginning was: your data, your dollar, your brand.” 

Etix changed the model, creating tools that give venues visibility into purchasing data and options that enhance the experience for ticket buyers. An example is reserved parking ahead of an event.

“We were the first company to integrate a true digital marketing company within a ticketing company, with the idea being that when we help the venues sell tickets, we’re a better partner. Since we make money when they sell tickets, everybody wins.”

By 2020, the company was processing more than 55 million tickets a year for 1,800 venues including festivals, fairs, performing arts centers, music clubs, theaters, museums and casinos. Etix operates in 40 countries. Janovich declined to provide more recent results.

Venues in smaller markets, typically with seating of 12,000 or fewer, have been the sweet spot for Etix. But the company works with venues of all sizes, including the largest arenas and stadiums.

“Our biggest vertical is music, which I think is natural because it’s what people tend to buy advance tickets for most often. But we also ticket a lot of the largest fairs in the country, which sell millions of tickets, although a lot of those are sold at the door,” he says.  

Etix also has a service to provide venues hosting one-time events or annual festivals with the necessary hardware, such as handheld scanners, kiosks and box-office computers. The equipment is stored at a warehouse in Henderson. 

Since 2017, Etix has been a portfolio company of Boston-based Parthenon Capital Partners, which made an undisclosed investment. At the time, Etix said it had been profitable since 2003.

Parthenon’s backing enabled five acquisitions of regional ticketing companies between 2017 and 2019: Extreme Tix of Texas, TicketBiscuit in Alabama, Interactive Ticketing in Seattle, Star Tickets in Michigan, and TicketForce in Arizona.  

“We partnered with Travis and Praxton to recapitalize and aggressively grow the company,” says Brian Golson, managing partner and co-CEO at Parthenon in Austin, Texas, and a UNC Chapel Hill graduate. “What they’ve done with it since then, and since founding the company, has been fantastic. We were one of the few companies in ticketing to focus on growth during COVID.”

When the pandemic decimated in-person events, Etix was as well-positioned as possible, Janovich says. The company offered a timed-entry product that, prior to the pandemic, was primarily used for ticketing museum exhibitions. With some modifications, Etix’s product allowed for ticketing for places that were open with diminished capacity.  

In November of 2020, Etix joined with Chico, California-based Alvarado Manufacturing to provide clients access to handheld devices and optical turn-styles for touchless entry to events. The application also lets Etix clients monitor capacity on a real-time basis.

Recovering from the pandemic has been slow, but Etix President Paxton Badham believes the worst has passed. In-person events have gradually resumed. “Relative to everything being closed, it was something; but relative to our normal [volume], it was next to nothing,” he says. “This is probably the first full year that things will be back to full strength.”

Badham, a Duke University graduate who previously worked for the Carlyle Group and McColl Partners, joined Etix in 2015. 

Etix also has offices in Birmingham, Alabama, Houston, and Phoenix, plus Europe and Asia. The company hosts three Etix Live conferences annually to gather its clients and promote new initiatives. The Raleigh event typically has 300 to 400 attendees, while satellite conferences in New Orleans and Scottsdale, Arizona, attracted more than 100 people this year.

“We’re growing steadily and we’ve got a long runway of opportunity as we continue to invest in the system,” Janovich says. 

A new point-of-sale system is coming in the next few months. “It will be a big deal for venues that have bars or gift shops, or different [entities] selling merchandise. We’re always growing the features and capabilities of the system horizontally, not just selling tickets.”  

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