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Boardroom Q&A: SeatGeek Executive Jeff Ianello

SeatGeek’s Jeff Ianello has been with the company for seven years, helping it embrace change while industry peers are stuck in the past.

Jeff Ianello made the decision to join SeatGeek while in a hospital seven years ago as he welcomed his second daughter into the world.

The company’s Executive Vice President of Client Partnerships left the NBA, where he’d spent a couple of years as a VP in its Team Marketing & Business Operations division. Prior to that, Ianello spent 10 years with the Phoenix Suns organization, where he rose through the ranks to become their Senior Vice President of Sales and Service.

A New York native, Ianello spearheaded SeatGeek’s evolution into a major player in the ticketing partnership game, striking deals with the Dallas Cowboys, Manchester City, Brooklyn Nets, New Orleans Saints, and numerous other pro clubs in the United States and at the Premier League level abroad. He broke down the five things that make a great SeatGeek partnership, in no particular order:

  • The property has to believe that the space deserves better.
  • There’s a prioritization and real value placed on SeatGeek’s fan experience data.
  • There has to be a brave executive not afraid of industry politics and backlash.
  • There has to be an openness and willingness for organizational change.
  • There has to be a real focus on a true partnership.

In a wide-ranging interview, Ianello discussed the impact he’s made over his SeatGeek tenure, how technology helps the company differentiate itself from its competitors, and how he helps SeatGeek adapt to an ever-changing landscape.

SHLOMO SPRUNG: What made you make the jump to SeatGeek seven years ago?

JEFF IANELLO: Hope. That’s the word. When I think about SeatGeek, the term “hope” comes to my head all the time. I believe that’s why we’ve been successful in the marketplace, and that was the driving force and emotion to me joining. Having grown up in ticketing and looking at the technology that’s been in the space for decades, there’s been this desire to want something better for our fans and for the organizations. My evaluation of it was that SeatGeek had the right story and the right DNA that would attract a lot of interest from the marketplace.

SS: Obviously things have changed a lot at SeatGeek over the last seven years. How have you made an impact over that period of time?

 JI: I like to consider myself the main storyteller at SeatGeek for enterprise products. We are innately a startup within a startup. So when I started seven years ago, we were trying to figure out how to work with teams. We didn’t have a clear path to go into the enterprise or primary ticket space. And we quickly found out that the legacy ticketing companies really didn’t want to work with us. They didn’t want to have this concept of open ticketing, where you’d have tickets everywhere. At that point, we made the decision that the mission, the movement, was too important to not pursue. And we moved into the primary ticketing space. Five years ago is when we really started with our first client, Sporting Kansas City.

You should expect more from the ticketing space, no matter which ticketing company it is. Candidly, I look at all of them as a group and don’t think of any of them by name. I [think they] should be giving better to the fan, should be giving better to the organizations, and my belief that there would be executives out there that would want more.

What I believe I bring is credibility. Somebody who people look at to do the right thing, who is strong in his belief systems, and is generally a good person. And when you have that voice there who works in an intense way to go out there, tell the story, you start to get others that want to be a part of that. And when you look at why we’ve been able to bring on 30 major clients, massive clients, globally over the past five years— and most other ticketing companies have brought zero over the last couple of decades— it’s that purpose. It’s that symbolism of hope. It’s not really how we do it or what we do. I truly believe we symbolize a path forward that’s been failed by the establishment over the years.

SS: You’re going to say that every team you bring on gets you pumped up, but which ones have gotten you the most jacked up?

JI: There’s been a couple of critical points that have been special for us. The first key point is our relationship with Major League Soccer. They believed in us before we even had a back office system. Jake Reid at Sporting Kansas City said we believe this space should be better and we’re not afraid. Those were special beginnings. And then when organizations like the Cowboys, Saints, Cavaliers, and Nets take a leap with you and believe in you, those are ones that come to mind.

And Premier League is our EMEA Sport Division lead by Peter Joyce, and they symbolize exceptionalism. He’s someone who’s built that even pre-SeatGeek in the enterprise space, and we’re the market leader there. That gave us a ton of confidence to enter in the U.S., that we were already bringing three Premier League teams. We’d established ourselves as the premium choice over there, the choice preferred by all of the operators on that side. The U.S. is a much more change-resistant space, technology-wise, but the Premier League gave us hope that if we could tell a good story, the technology piece for the back office user was extremely sound and would be adopted here as well.

SS: How would you say the industry has changed in the last year?

JI: The industry’s changed in the last year based on SeatGeek continuing to trust our belief system and our will on the space. The greater industry hasn’t changed in 20 years. That’s the problem with it. That’s where we’ve been able to come in and really galvanize a space that hasn’t changed. When you take a look at the operating systems, you take a look at the development timeline, and you take a look at what the old ticketing companies are giving to the fans, that doesn’t look a whole lot different than it did five, 10, 15 years ago.

The mobile device is now fully here and our children are consuming products differently, yet we’re still using technology with old legacy ticketing systems that was around in the 1980s. This is a time period for executives to do the right thing, be brave. And that is asking themselves the question, what’s best for our fans? How do our fans transact? How do they transfer tickets? How do they re-sell? What is there in the platform that is more than just a ticket that we’re able to personalize and share with them that helps grow our families?  

Because the competition for eyeballs and content is greater than ever. It’s not just one team versus another team in the marketplace. It’s the metaverse. It’s streaming. That fan, that child, is looking at things differently. It’s not just sticking them in little league like it was for me 35, 40 years ago.

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SS: What are the biggest complaints that consumers have these days and how do you guys go about solving or troubleshooting them?

JI: One of the three things that really separates SeatGeek from the marketplace is our development cycle. Our tech team, led by Brian Murphy, has us on what’s called an agile development site cycle, which is everywhere and the standard in most normal big tech. But in ticketing, it’s not existed because their platforms are built on old tech. We’re literally releasing products every two weeks. We’ve had 26-plus releases since last August, and we’re continuing to build on that. We have the ability to get feedback from our current clients in real-time.

We have a client advisory board, about a dozen or so of our key clients on it from theater to the EPL, the NBA, NHL, and MLS. And we’re able to add that feedback into the next cycle and the cycle after that. One of the cool parts about this is not what you see is what you get. It’s very iterative. It’s changing. And for those who want something better, part of that is not wanting a system that stays virtually the same forever, and that the only thing released is some bell or whistle. Just like when you see the app releases on your phone and you update it, there are changes happening every few weeks that make that experience better, more pleasant, and more delightful.

SS: We are dealing with inflation and kind of a recession here. How have you seen the impact of those issues in terms of dealing with consumers or teams?

JI: From an inflation perspective, our belief is that the entertainment consumer is much more resilient. We’re in a space where people want these lifetime experiences. When you look at the top 10 moments in your life, you probably don’t go very far until you have a sporting event or a concert that’s with somebody you love. And coming out of COVID, you’re going to have people prioritize that a lot more than they prioritize other things in their lives. So I’d like to think that the specialness of a live event is something that is much more resilient and that folks will batten down the hatches and be more disciplined elsewhere. Even if some folks are traveling less, maybe they replace them with some local sporting events or concerts.

SS: How do you feel SeatGeek’s technological advancements are setting yourselves apart from, in your words, your outdated competitors?

JI: The key term that comes to my mind is flexibility. The modern consumer wants something that is flexible, brings utility and joy, and is simple to use on a smaller or larger screen. Our launch with the Rally product, which is so much more than a ticket. Its ability for clubs to be able to take a breakdown of their client base and service content below the ticket that is unique, knowing that a particular person has eaten and drank a certain product or a certain concession that’s their favorite, or there’s a certain player who’s their favorite.

It gives the team the ability to take all these actual insights and data and actually deliver content that is specific to that user. It’s taking this idea of data analytics and strategy, data events, and being able to deliver a contextualized commerce experience that we’ve seen across our day-to-day lives. Whether you’re using Instagram or getting served content based on your preferences and what they know about you, we’re bringing that to life with our technology.

One of the problems with ticketing is that the main players have to rely on so many third parties because the technology is not up to par. So we’ve been able to create native exchanges where if you can’t make a game, you can exchange it for a future game and upgrades that are native including the ability to purchase flex plans. The ability now with our partnership with Affirm to have payment plans even down at the single event level. The ability to swap tickets and swap them back with our SeatGeek Swaps program. Everything we’ve done is around personalization. It’s around being flexible and continuing to build it natively.

SS: What are your goals personally for your team and the company over the next 12-18 months?

JI: What I like to say is that if we do the next thing correct, whether that’s with our process or technology, we continue to tell a great story. A scaling moment will happen and we’ll know it after it does. So for us, it’s about this continued storytelling growth, and we will find the correct clients and executives out there. What you’ll see is what you’ve seen over the past three years, that this mission will continue to pick up steam. You’ll see more and more steady announcements, including several coming up. And we will continue to represent hope in a place where the rest of the marketplace represents fear: fear of change, fear of one’s own career. And if we’re doing things for the fan and doing things the right way, the correct clients will be attracted to SeatGeek.

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