What Does a Ticket Really Get You?

"Life in Ticket," @ 2009 Keith Fujimoto,  used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

“Life in Ticket,” @ 2009 Keith Fujimoto, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

Most of the people who are reading this post sell tickets, and we even talk about the Ticket Business. But I’ve always believed that the ticket is the last thing we should be talking about, and the last thing buyers actually care about. Nobody, outside the odd collector, places value on the piece of paper you’re (sometimes) given to gain entry to a show. The ticket is not the thing.

Surely, you say, the thing is the show you’re buying: two hours of entertainment and excitement. Well, that certainly seems right. But is it?

At TED 2010, Daniel Kahneman said something that made me think twice. He said we actually have two “selves”: the experiencing self and the remembering self. The experiencing self is in charge of what’s happening to you right now, and the remembering self looks back on things that have happened to you in the past.

I’d like to change up one of Kahneman’s thought experiments to suit our topic. If you could go see your “dream” show or game in the best seat in the best venue you can think of, how much would you pay? OK, now that you’ve got a number, I’ll add a wrinkle.

Suppose you could go to the event just as I’ve described it, but you were told that you would never remember a single second of the experience. What would you pay now? Would you even bother to go? I did an informal poll on this subject about a month ago, and about half of the people who answered said they’d pay zero for an event they wouldn’t later remember. Some said it wouldn’t matter, and others said they’d need a discount.

So, if a ticket isn’t about getting two hours of entertainment, the event itself can’t be the thing, either.

Then at TED 2012, I heard Tali Sharot say something that changed my thinking on this yet again. (Go to about 5:47 in the video if you just want to see this part.) She said, “Anticipation makes us happy.” Again, I’ll modify her example to suit our industry.

If I told you that you could have that dream ticket, but the event would happen whenever you choose, when would you want your dream event to be? Right now? Tonight? Ten years from now?

Her data and our experience at Goldstar suggest that you would choose to go to that event in two to four days. You wouldn’t choose immediately and certainly not a long, long time from now, but you’d wait a while.

That’s because thinking about how much you’re going to enjoy the event is part of the fun, just as talking about it after is part of the fun, too.

Let’s break this down. When you buy a ticket, you’re actually buying:

  • a physical ticket (often)
  • the anticipation of the event
  • the entertainment of the event
  • the memories and reflections that follow the event, including talking about it with other people

And I would suggest you’re buying one more thing:

  • a change in yourself — an upgrade

If you go see Warhorse or the NBA Finals, you’re making yourself into something slightly different. If you see something funny, you are funnier. If you see something smart, you’re smarter. If you see an amazing athletic contest, well, you’re not exactly more athletic, but you somehow feel you’ve taken on some of those qualities. A ticket to a great show or game is not just entertainment — it’s a personal upgrade.

That doesn’t even take into account the other personal benefits: feeling closer to the people who see the event with you and gaining a deeper connection to your immediate surroundings and the world at large. Those benefits get thrown in as free bonuses.

Clearly, that little paper ticket is not the thing. Forget about the ticket. Actually, save it. Collect those tickets. Put them somewhere where your “remembering self” can dig them up and look at them. Though the tickets themselves are worth nothing, they open the door to the experience all over again. In that light, those tickets are pretty valuable.

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