Can anyone topple this empire? Ticketmaster is now being challenged by ‘Rival,’ an appropriately-titled upstart.
For seemingly decades, Ticketmaster has been barraged by unsuccessful, highly-financed challenges. Investors have burned hundreds of millions trying to unseat the ticketing giant, with little success. And if an upstart is threatening enough, Live Nation will probably just buy it, anyway.
But oh the injustices that Ticketmaster imposes on the downtrodden concertgoers! The fees! The hidden charges! The crappy seats!
These are all reasonable things to complain about. But it’s questionable whether these issues represent actual pain points that would drive consumers en masse to an alternative. Especially given Ticketmaster’s entrenched market position (just ask the US Department of Justice about that one).
Sure, there are wildly-successful upstarts like StubHub that eventually change the marketplace. But those are few and far between.
Now, the epic wars against Ticketmaster are starting to read like a Games of Thrones episode, minus the dragons.
Enter Nathan Hubbard, who used to be Ticketmaster’s CEO. But clashes with Live Nation’s chief titan, Michael Rapino, are rumored to have led to Hubbard’s dismissal.
Banished from the land of Live Nation, Hubbard is now amassing the army to avenge his former employer. In the past 18 months, Hubbard has raised more than $30 million in venture capital to start Rival, which aims to modernize how teams and arenas manage ticket sales, customer relationships, and security in the future.
And yes, the new company is called — appropriately — Rival. And the first invasions will be well financed. Andreessen Horowitz, Upfront Ventures, and several professional sports franchises are part of the first mega-round, with serious plans of attack undoubtedly underway. Indeed, the presence of pro teams suggests serious contractual pain points that need to be addressed, with Rival potentially taking over at least one mega-contract over the short term.
But this is going to be a very steep uphill climb.
Rival can score a few juicy deals, but it’s going to have to cut a ton of similar deals for ticket inventory — with dozens of teams and venues — to be viable. Of course, having an ex-Ticketmaster CEO is quite the score, and a great way to secure the enemy’s blueprints. But it’s also been many years since Hubbard left.
More often than not, Ticketmaster forges exclusive relationships with dominant players and venues. That has apparently caused serious concern for the U.S. Department of Justice, which is reexamining those relationships. So perhaps there’s a quick win for Rival if the DOJ forces brand-new divestitures in a renewed agreement.
But Rival will also have to contend with younger companies such as SeatGeek, which is backed by $160 million in venture capital. Even Amazon is also working on ways to crack the U.S. ticket market, though its initial forays into the broader ticketing game have been lackluster.
According to Hubbard, Rival is building enterprise software to help teams and venue owners achieve two important goals: better monetization of fans, and better safety. He intends to accomplish these by making sure that Rival’s software will play a role from start to finish.
Sounds like some real solutions upfront — though again, more than great software will be needed to undo legacy relationships.
Rival’s competitive advantage may be its reputable backers.
Aside from Andreessen Horowitz and Upfront Ventures, Rival sports a long list of big Silicon Valley names including Slack product chief April Underwood, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, and Stripe co-founders Patrick and John Collison. Upfront’s Greg Bettinelli and Andreessen Horowitz’s Alex Rampell sit on Rival’s board. Even the English Premier League is involved.
Let the battles be waged!