Highlights last week on Philly Tech News (7/9/2012 to 7/15/2012): Neat Company, Poptent and Fiberlink

I reported on Philly-based The Neat Company's launch of its new NeatCloud and NeatMobile offerings.

Comcast announced that its partners in A&E Networks, Disney and Hearst, had agreed to buy its 15% stake in the cable networks for slightly more than $3 billion. The possibility of a deal had been reported upon in recent weeks. Comcast continues to move away from partial stakes, seeking either complete ownership of assets or an exit.

I took a look at First Round Capital's job board for its portfolio companies, noting the large number of opportunities and the openings in the Philly area.

Philly Tech News' partner website, NJTechWeekly.com, celebrated its one year anniversary.

Poptent, the crowdsourcing site for video ad production with co-headquarters in Conshohocken and the LA area, raised an additional $5.5 million led by previous investor MK Capital.

Phillies turn to MLB Advanced Media's Tickets.com for its ProVenue ticketing system

Tom Paine

Citizens Bank Park
(Source: Wikipedia)

The Philadelphia Phillies announced late last month that they have reached a long-term agreement to install the ProVenue ticketing platform from California-based Tickets.com, a wholly owned subsidiary of Major League Baseball's MLB Advanced Media unit, and will begin using it to manage all their ticketing operations in 2013.

The ProVenue platform will replace Comcast-Spectacor's Paciolan ticketing system, Phillies Director of Ticket Technology & Development Christopher Pohl told me in a phone interview. Paciolan is also used by the Flyers, Sixers, Wings and Union, according to Paciolan's website. Comcast-Spectacor had acquired Irvine, CA-based Paciolan from Live Nation Entertainment, fulfilling a condition the Department of Justice had required for maintaining competition in the large event ticketing market before approving the merger of Ticketmaster and Live Nation in 2010. Comcast Spectacor had been a minority investor in Paciolan from 2004 until its acquisition by Live Nation in 2008. Comcast-Spectacor also owns Exton-based New Era Tickets. A Piciolan official declined comment for this article.

The Phillies led all MLB teams in home attendance in 2011, slightly edging out the Yankees with a total of 3,680,718, an average of 45,440 per home date at Citizens Bank Park. Even though they are having a disappointing year in 2012, they still lead MLB in attendance so far, having drawn almost 2 million fans, slightly ahead of the Rangers. The Phillies have long been considered an innovator in ticketing technology (for example, they introduced stored value ticketing in 2004), and decisions they make matter in terms of setting trends for the industry.

MLB Advanced Media, headed by Bob Bowman and based in New York, has also been an innovator in bringing digital technology into what had been a fairly backward industry and achieving significant monetization of digital assets. MLB provides a common website platform for all 30 teams, MLB.com, although there is some room for customization by individual teams. Teams have chosen their own ticketing platforms, though, and there is no indication at this time that this move by the Phillies reflects an effort to consolidate all MLB ticketing platforms around Tickets.com and ProVenue, although it would not be surprising if that was the direction in which things were heading. Several teams still have long-term commitments to Ticketmaster, though. The Mets, Cubs, Red Sox, Royals and Marlins are other MLB Teams listed as ProVenue users on its website, and the Atheltics and possibly the Giants are also users. In total, Tickets.com had regular-season deals with 13 MLB teams, according to a 2009 article in Sports Business Daily, although it's unlikely they were all ProVenue customers then since it was a new offering at the time. The Padres are the only other MLB team listed as a client on Paciolan's website.

Major League Baseball acquired Tickets.com in 2005 for $66 million. Ticket.com's ProVenue platform is a web-based hosted solution that each team can configue and manage to suit its own needs, rather than using a shared platform. The Phillies also desired to combine all their ticketing-related information within one database platform. With ProVenue, the team emphasized in the press release, it "continues its commitment to self-operate all of their ticketing and revenue generating technologies", and that it will keep its phone and fulfillment operations in both Clearwater and Philadelphia. The Phillies tested ProVenue at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla., for 2012 Spring Training, as well as for their Class A Clearwater affiliate, before deciding to implement it at the Major League level. ProVenue's Oracle-based database structure, in combination with the Phillies' existing use of SAP Business Objects business intelligence tools, will enable an enhanced custom analytical approach to reporting.

Doug Lyons, Vice President for Marketing and Communications at Tickets.com, told the publication TicketNews
that "the focus of our development [for ProVenue] has been for ticketing clients requiring complex season ticketing and inventory and account management functions." Indeed, ticketing has become more complex, with many more options to manage for slicing up capacity in terms of special ticket plans and packages, as well as the need to tie up with marketing systems. My conversation with the Phillies's Pohl did not elicit much in the way of specifics in terms of the types of special analyses they might perform. One thing the Phillies are not doing today, however, is what is known as dynamic pricing, Pohl tells me.

Pioneered by the airline industry as a way to optimize revenue from perishable inventory (seats that have no economic value after a flight or game is over), dynamic pricing is becoming more widely adopted throughout MLB. For example, if the Yankees were to come to town, or more specifically if Steven Strasburg is pitching on a given night, a team might boost ticket prices for those dates. On the other hand, it might lower prices when the Astros come to town. Dyanamic pricing can also be used to adjust to conditions in real time; if weather conditions are questionable near game time and the gate is slow, pricing adjustment can be made to spur demand. It is not something the Phillies have needed to employ, probably because they have almost always operated at capacity anyway since opening CBP.

Although dynamic pricing largely grew on its own through the "secondary market" on sites such as StubHub, MLB teams, starting with the Giants, are beginning to embrace the practice as their own. This Marketplace piece describes what the Mets are doing with dynamic pricing. The Mets and about half of MLB teams have signed up for a system called Qcue, Marketplace reported. Much like software the airlines use, Qcue develops algorithms that try to take into account as many variables as possible that may effect ticket demand. Teams may also use stored value techniques in combination with Qcue data to provide special packages for fans. Qcue is, in fact, listed as a technology partner of Tickets.com on the ProVenue website.

While dynamic pricing could make some sense even if a team is almost always operating at capacity, if the Phillies' performance continues to decline for an extended period and the draw of CBP itself wears off a little, it may just be a matter of time before you see it in Philadelphia.