How Boston Calling Grew Their Festival Experience for 2X the Fans
The festival industry faced serious challenges in 2017. But in a year full of cancellations, Boston Calling dealt with a less common concern: scaling their festival experience for double the fans — in their first year at a new site.
It was a good problem to have — and one that Mike Snow, the COO of Crash Line Productions, has been preparing for since he began the festival in 2013.
“Our goal from the start was to test whether Boston had the desire for a festival,” Snow says. By 2017, Boston Calling had grown and embraced its role as an urban music festival — but the music festival industry evolved as well.
“The business has evolved, and so have our goals.” In the process, the Crash Line Productions team has streamlined their operations, going from two different ticketing providers (one for each of their two festivals — Boston Calling and Eaux Claires in Wisconsin) to one.
By the numbers: 2016 to 2017
increase in ticket sales
increase in gross revenue
increase in ticket sales driven by Eventbrite promotions
“We weren’t getting backend customer service, and we were stuck with prohibitive technology,” Snow says, of the provider they chose to drop. But solving their ticketing woes by moving both of their events on to Eventbrite in 2015 was just the beginning of their evolution.
In 2017, dealing with a new festival site and double the attendees, the team leaned on Eventbrite to scale their service. Otherwise, small oversights could add up and put the fan experience at risk.
“We wanted to deliver attendees the first-rate festival experience you see in other markets,” Snow says. “We proved the model and outgrew the space, and needed to figure out our next move.”
“We’ve built a great community of people who trust us,” Snow says. As they prepared to launch their new location, this was their opportunity to push the experience to the next level — or risk letting both new and loyal fans down.
Snow and team turned to Eventbrite for the onsite technology and expertise they needed to:
– Make the transition to the new site seamless
– Increase the professionalism of their onsite operation
– Improve the festival experience
“We knew we were going to grow, and we knew Eventbrite was a platform we could thrive in as we evolved.”
– Mike Snow, COO of Crash Line Productions
After nearly four years in Boston City Hall Plaza, Snow knew his team would be out of their element — no longer in a site they knew inside and out. To make a festival double the size work in a new location — the Harvard Athletic Complex — they couldn’t rely on new tech alone. If they did, they risked making small mistakes with their new site that could add up to serious frustrations for fans.
Snow turned to Eventbrite to work with our team of onsite experts. “The Eventbrite team walked us through site mapping, how to use the tech, and potential pitfalls that other large-scale festivals see in their first year using RFID,” Snow says. “We leaned on Eventbrite for metrics, like how many entry lanes we need per 1,000 attendees.”
In addition to weekly calls, an onsite expert from Eventbrite also came out to walk the site with the Boston Calling team. “It was very beneficial to call out things you can’t see on paper,” Snow says. The Eventbrite onsite team also provided support during the festival to provide guidance and make changes in real-time.
“The Eventbrite Onsite team was great at ebbing and flowing with us during the festival. It was a very fluid relationship.”
– Mike Snow, COO of Crash Line Productions
In the process of mapping the grounds and making changes onsite, Snow came to appreciate the flexibility of Eventbrite’s RFID portals.
“Eventbrite’s new RFID portal design is helpful,” Snow says. “A lot of standup RFID models are in fixed positions and need 42 inches. Eventbrite’s portals are sleek. If you want to send fans through a 20-inch shoot, you can, because the portal is tiny and hitches to a bike rack.”
In the past, the Boston Calling team has faced a persistent security challenge of people getting into areas they shouldn’t be. From unticketed fans getting into the festival, to GA guests sneaking into VIP backstage areas, “we’ve had consistent security issues in past years with people in the wrong places,” Snow says.
The problem was human error. “In nine festivals before RFID, we relied on five different security companies in two states,” Snow says. “It’s just not possible to get each security person clear on which bracelet they’re looking for. People pushed their way through.”
This year, Snow turned to RFID to enforce a credential system that kept people in right zones.
“With a portal system, people understand from the minute they arrive that they have to tap their bracelet to get in,” Snow says. “It changes the groupthink of being able to talk your way backstage.”
The technology did its job. “We didn’t hear complaints from investors like we had in the past, saying we should call security to get someone out who shouldn’t be backstage,” Snow says.
Boston Calling also turned to RFID to increase the security of their payments system. “We wanted to get customers using RFID as a form of payment,” Snow says. “That helps you push food vendors to your tablets, which can prevent theft and money loss, and saves staffing costs and mental energy on that front.”
A cash management team is labor intensive and expensive. With RFID, Snow’s team is able to collect more money with less physical dollars out on the field.
In a year where many festivals were lucky to keep attendance numbers steady, Boston Calling doubled in size. Thanks to a deep understanding of their market and a killer lineup, the team now faced the challenge of delivering twice as many fans an even better experience — knowing that failure could put their festival’s hard-earned reputation at risk.
“We knew from customer surveys and data that people wanted the next-level festival experience,” Snow says. RFID wristbands were one of the ways they delivered.
“On the trivial side of things, the excitement of a box showing up with your wristband built excitement a month before the festival on social media,” Snow says. “It was a great starting point to build a community of attendees and get them talking.”
That excitement carried over to the festival itself. Since none of Boston’s stadiums use RFID, many Boston Calling attendees had never used the technology before.
“Anecdotally we heard people who’d never used RFID before saying how cool the portal was,” Snow says. “It has a playful nature and smooth design that added to the experience.”
For the team, the technology allows them to get a deeper understanding of their fans to make next year even better. Their RFID technology as well as SurveyMonkey and Mailchimp data integrates directly into the Eventbrite backend, so they can compile data and draw conclusions seamlessly.
“The ability to see all of the customer data saves the massive step of exporting and importing that we had previously been doing,” Snow says. “It was easy to collect data at the event, and seamlessly cross-reference that with surveys and ticketing data to build a fan profile.”
In today’s competitive festival industry, those are the insights that will empower the Boston Calling team to continue to grow in the years to come.
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