Today, October 1st 2020, was meant to be a momentous day in the sporting world when we saw some light at the end of what has now been 6 month tunnel. It almost feels strange saying that given it would have meant 20-30% capacity in stadiums, but looking back on the period we have been through, it would have been a huge and well needed step.
From the initial blanket closure in March when the pandemic hit to the small-scale pilot events seen through the summer and onto this supposed hallowed day, we were due to have at least moved towards the long-term goal of getting stadiums at full capacity once again.
This was also meant to be the first major step in the Return to Live for the industry and areas that have been our focus since day one, when sport closed its doors to fans and the world as we know it changed so dramatically.
To that end, and the fact that of course October 1st is not a day of return to live but a day of continue to plan. I wanted to reflect on the past (roughly) 6months of life as COO at TMS UK with some particular things I have learned or observed about our business, people and industry through that time.
I joined the business on the 16th March 2020, our first official day of working from home as we closed our offices across the UK. That day was significant, not only because I was starting a new job WFH but it was my first true understanding of Ticketmaster as an organisation from the inside as an employee. To close the office and move everyone to WFH ahead of the curve was a decision that was not taken lightly but one that was taken swiftly and effectively which is always the sign of a good structure and leadership and one that has an absolute focus on protecting the health and wellbeing of their people. First learning, this set the tone for how our business works and takes decisions, they are well thought through and actioned both efficiently and effectively.
Having joined at what quickly became the height of the pandemic, I have to say I have been unbelievably proud of what our team have achieved in such a short period of time. My first day was WFH and short of a few days in our office in Stoke and a couple of meetings in London there are still a number of the team that I haven’t met face to face in any capacity, aside from behind a computer screen. That said, I have been hugely impressed by the team and how they have adapted to this way of working, the business I have joined and the huge opportunity we have to shape the future of ticketing innovation to come. This situation has given us all the opportunity to take stock, look to the future and in many cases accelerate how our operation runs for both short and long term growth in all areas.
As the pandemic developed, it became clear to us that we needed to focus on the one area of upmost importance to us as a business and our clients in the sporting world. We have over 60 clients spread across a number of different sports in the UK who were all facing their own unique challenges but with one huge unifier…that was, matchday as we knew it with fans in stadiums was being paused for an unknown period of time. We made decisions quickly that enabled us to proactively address our client’s requirements and get them bought into a common goal of Return to Live, we were focused on solutions that help the full client base regardless of size, scale or standing.
Our activity and engineering work was tailored to serve our clients and get fans back into stadiums in the safest and best way possible. We spoke to the client base to understand their commonalities and worked on functionality that we are proud to stand behind with confidence that it will allow all of our clients to serve their fans as and when needed. We worked with our own teams, the leagues and governing bodies to ensure our work was fit for purpose and tailored to the regulations being discussed. Our client base understood our core focus and supported us with testing, learnings and feedback. They also understood we needed to say no to things and do things that were focused on supporting their Return to Live.
The areas we focused on have been rolled out over our Return to Live blogs from the past few months so I won’t talk in depth about them, short of saying that I think it’s credit to our team that we have been able to execute this in very quick time with great client feedback through all stages.
All of our teams and clients were using or planning to use, the new functionality we had built over this period to scenario plan for October 1st, we were running pilot events, looking at stadium capacities based on the SGSA guidelines and much more of course.
Needless to say, in addition to all this hard work behind the scenes, the team was energised, our clients were looking to get back to at least some levels of normal activity in stadiums and across the board spirits were starting to come back to at least a reasonable high based on everything everyone was having to face on a daily basis. It was great to see for all the obvious reasons.
As you will have now noticed throughout this piece, there are a number of positives but unfortunately the one positive we didn’t want to see was regarding COVID test numbers increasing which leads us to where we are today. No more detail needed here other than the possibility of getting fans in stadiums in the UK has once again ground to a halt and we are once again in a holding pattern waiting for another glimmer of light.
Undoubtedly this is a deflating blow for all businesses and industries not just directly involved in sport but for all that are impacted by the lack of fans in stadiums, cities and towns around the UK. We are but one part of this very complicated and deeply interwoven puzzle.
I often think people lose sight of the impact sport has far beyond the game on the pitch… it extends further than just the players, club and stadium. It’s the community, travel, local business, social aspect, mental health and so much more for people’s lives and livelihoods.
Our hope is that the light at the end of the tunnel will arrive sooner rather than later. In the meantime we’ll continue to look for the positives as a team, set our clients up for success and get ready for when the world of sport is allowed to fully open once again because when it does it’s going to be one hell of a party!