Updated: Oct 6, 2021
“No matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away.” Haruki Murakami
The 16-year-old me would have absolutely hated present-day me. Grown-up, responsible(ish) and more concerned with nice food than a sweaty gig. I’d call myself a sell-out or a boring old git. What an undesirable I was with my Slipknot t-shirt and dyed black hair.
Well, guess what 16-year-old me, at least I’ve got my own place (rented, obviously) and I don’t live with my mum anymore, so there!
Like any respectable northern rock obsessive, I went to Leeds Festival. The first time I went was like witnessing the end of days, with the only surviving humans being System of A Down fans in black hoodies, despite it being the height of summer. A tribe. A gathering of like-minded outcasts who sang and danced together into the sweaty night joined together in a collective illness caused by dodgy noodles. Great days.
But “nothing lasts forever” as Axl Rose once sang.
Times change. People change. And so, industries must also change. The recorded music industry learned that lesson the hard way. Yet, the live music industry seemed to always have innovation at its core.
Festivals these days have the kind of food you’d expect in a restaurant, facilities that make your own flat look like a bus stop, an array of options to make your experience special and comfortable so that you don’t feel like you’ve been in a four-day fight with a horse.
I have watched this happen throughout my career and am constantly amazed. We can all reminisce about the “good old days” but let’s face it – Festivals are brilliant now.
Today I am interviewing a part-time Guns N’ Roses guitar hero and full-time UK & Ireland MD of Playpass, Steve Jenner.
See…the Axl Rose quote wasn’t for nothing!
1. Hi Steve. How did you first come across PlayPass and what led you to bringing them into the UK market?
My background for the past 20 years has been disrupting the music festival market with new technologies such as social media marketing, mobile apps, self-service ticketing, live video streaming, portable phone charging and, these days, RFID/Cashless payments.
Whilst taking some out from Cashless in 2015, as I hadn’t yet found a provider that was sufficiently aligned with the requirements of the UK festival industry, I found myself at Melt! Festival in Germany as a trader (in July 2015). This event happened to be fully cashless using the PlayPass system.
I was extremely impressed with the tech and operation, which seemed to address everything that had been lacking in the systems I had worked with previously. It clearly worked like a dream for this event (and me as a trader) and I could see it thriving at UK festivals. I had stumbled across the solution the UK market had been holding out for. It was so seamless and robust, I couldn’t see why every festival wouldn’t be using it in future.
Fortuitously, PlayPass’ founder and CEO, David de Wever, was on-site at this event. I managed to meet up with him and we hit it off. By the end of the weekend I’d convinced him to give me a shot at taking PlayPass into the UK and we got to work.
2. For those that don’t know, what does Playpass do?
PlayPass provides technology that links people at music and sports venues and events, whether they are visitors or working staff, to a digital identity. This is most commonly used to facilitate secure cashless payments (using RFID-enabled wristbands or cards), access control and staff accreditation, whilst some of our more creative clients are now starting to use our systems to create immersive games and augmented experiences for their visitors.
3. Why are the solutions you offer so important in today’s live event industry?
Our solutions are enabling events and venues – for the first time – to have a direct one-on-one relationship with every individual attendee. No longer are these people just anonymous ticket stubs – they are unique customers with specific preferences and behavioural profiles. This visibility empowers our clients to know their audiences like never before so they can create a more enjoyable and personal experience which boosts ticket sales, customer retention and onsite spend. In today’s ultra-competitive landscape, the events that are using our systems are gaining significant advantages.
Our Cashless system is removing the friction points associated with the use of cash and cards at events. This allows visitors to spend the amount they actually planned to spend, which from our analysis is typically 30-50% more than they usually end up spending due to long queues and service times at events that take cash and cards. The visitors get a much better experience and the event/venue and traders sell a lot more.
Furthermore, our closed-loop cashless technology allows events and venue operators to take full control over their payment infrastructure, away from the giant global corporations that run it in the high street (ie. the open loop world). Every transaction made in an open loop system (ie. using a credit or debit card) is owned by a bank, or Apple, who tax a commission on it and keep the data for themselves. These organisations are not sharing in the risk of staging the event, so why should they cream off every pound spent by its visitors and own all the data? Our system allows our clients to take back this power for themselves and gives visitors the freedom of knowing that no-one else can track what they are buying inside the gates.
4. Tech is playing an increasingly important role to event organisers and fans alike.
What do you think the future holds and is there any emerging tech you predict will play a larger part, going forward?
The greatest disruption is now occurring where different technologies are combining their strengths to create something even larger than the sum of their parts. For example, we are now working increasingly with mobile app providers, merging our on-site cashless and gamification capabilities with their GPS and push notification services to create a far greater value proposition for events, their audiences and partners than either of us would be able to offer alone.
The future will see more creative technology integrations that – beyond making events more safe, profitable, efficient and convenient to attend – will in themselves augment the experience to create more immersive environments for visitors.
As well as providing dynamic value that responds to the individual visitor’s actions and commitment to the event (for example cheaper drinks and tickets for more loyal customers), we will see events become more environmentally sustainable by using our technology to incentivise and reward people who behave in a greener way both inside and outside of the event/venue.
5. What do you like most about Playpass?
My favourite aspect of PlayPass is that, from the top down, the company is driven primarily by a passion to make events work better for the people attending them and those running them. It is this over and above anything else that fuels the quality of our technology and our staff delivering it. Our market-leading commercial success is but a by-product of this holistic drive to make the world we operate in a better place.
6. Finally, if you could be in any band, at any time in history, at any event, what would it be and why?
What a great question! I actually play lead guitar in a Guns N’ Roses ‘reboot’ which is like a tribute band that doesn’t wear the cheesy wigs-and-costumes, so it feels a bit more authentic and potent. We just play pubs and clubs but I absolutely love it – we always play to a packed house and every song we play is a classic – from what I’ve seen and heard, it’s a lot more fun than being in a proper band. But if I had to be in a real band, I guess it would be Guns N’ Roses in the present day. Like us, they get to ride majestically on the back of an epic legacy but without the complications of drink, drugs, inter-band squabbles and creative tension, as that stuff’s all long behind them now.