When Everyone’s a Winner: Why Branding and Ticketing Are the Key to a Successful Festival


There’s nothing I love more than gathering people together for events and parties. Event planning is what I’ve built my life around for the last 20 years, and I get a thrill knowing that when people leave my events they dread the fact they have to wait a year for the next Bournemouth 7s.

At my events, I'm a perfectionist. I constantly walk around the festival, looking for aspects I can improve at next year's. I continually search for how we can tweak and enhance the experience. At the end of the day, if you give customers a brilliant experience, they want more. The worst thing you can do in this industry is go stale. Fresh ideas and consistent branding is what turns your concertgoers into fans, and then eventually into your community.

All You Can Do Is Try

Going back 10 years, there was nothing like Bournemouth 7s—even though the UK has more festivals than anywhere else in the world. I found a gap in the market and took the opportunity to create something unique: a festival specifically for those who love both sport and music. 

I was a rugby player for my university and went semi-pro after graduation. But sports weren’t my only talent. I also threw parties in the local nightclub in my final year of university. On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, I had a nightclub in London and one up in Loughborough, about 100 miles away. I put 2,000 students in there every Wednesday. That’s the point in my life where I realized I knew how to gather people and give them an experience they’d never had before. But it wasn’t long after graduation when I had to make a decision: stay in rugby or truly go pro with this new business.

I decided to create a student sports party brand and I'd travel the country throwing parties for the students of different cities around the UK. At my peak, I had 12 parties every week in different parts of the UK. Over 10 years, I threw 1,500 parties in nightclubs.

99% percent of people talk about ideas but only 1% percent follow through.

But I needed to take on a bigger challenge. So I decided to create a sport and music festival for 30,000 people. Some said I was being overambitious, but 99% of people talk about ideas and only 1% follow through. I was determined to be the 1%. 

Over the last 10 years, I’ve built Bournemouth 7s into a smash success. But it hasn’t always been easy. I’ve risked a lot—like mortgaging my house to pay for the first event—but I was willing to roll the dice because I knew what this event could become. 

The Game Changer

Our event is so successful because of our never-ending desire to innovate. Even if a process is going well, we can always do better. That was the exact case for our ticket sales. 

The first three or four years we sold tickets through Ticketmaster, then we moved to Ticketline. Things were going fairly well as we looked to move more of our ticket sales online. But then we got a call from Eventbrite, asking to talk about their solution. At first, I wasn’t interested. I was satisfied with how our system was working, but I’m always open to having a chat. 

Next thing I knew, an Eventbrite guy was flying in to meet with me. It was one of the most exciting meetings I’d ever had. I was just blown away by the platform. He took me through the process and it was the simplest thing I had ever seen in my life. Selling tickets on Eventbrite was quick, easy, efficient, and straight away I was 100% in. I quickly realised I was satisfied with our old solution, but I needed to be more than just satisfied. 

Nailing the Conversion

We made the switch to Eventbrite because knew we had to pay attention to our customers and what was happening in the market. People want things instantly. If you’re online shopping and the process isn’t smooth, then frustration sets in. Rather than waiting it out, you simply won’t buy. But with Eventbrite, it was a different ball game. In just a few clicks, our attendees have their ticket. It couldn’t be more simple.

We integrated Eventbrite into our website, and we kept an eye on the movement of people—where they're clicking and not clicking. The insights I got were amazing. We integrated Eventbrite for the first time last year and saw our sales rise by 30%. This was huge for us. The more sales we get early on spreads the word and the love very quickly to people who haven't bought tickets yet. Knowing that friends have already got their tickets generates a huge snowball effect.

But as an event organiser, one of the bigger advantages of early sales is that it takes the pressure off financially. 

Defending from the Blindside

There are so many hidden costs when organising a festival: You need to cover health and safety, police, licensing, security, toilets, showers, piping, water facilities, Red Cross, CCTV, flags, tents, marquees, beer pumps, electricity, gas, and fencing. Everything you can imagine costs money. 

There's so much that people don't see, because they focus on all of the pretty stuff. But it’s what’s behind the scenes that adds up to huge amounts. That's why people who have tried to replicate us over the last 10 years have come and gone within a year. They come to our festival thinking, “Oh yeah, we can do that, let's put up a load of tents with DJs and music.” Inexperienced promoters and event planners think they can pull it off, but without people coming through the doors, you don’t have an event. If you're not a promoter, getting attendees is very difficult. You can make a festival as pretty as you want, but if you haven't got the people through the doors, you're going to lose £500,000 to £1 million a year. 

If you don’t know how to promote your event, getting people through the doors will be near impossible. @Eventbrite

With the costs lurking around every corner, it’s important we know what’s happening with ticket sales behind the scenes to keep our revenue in check. Eventbrite provides us with the information we need to run our event more effectively. We’ve got attendee email addresses, postcodes, mobile numbers, and emails. This is all serious, serious data to have as an organiser. If those customers had a good time, then it’s easy to reach out after, thanking them for coming. Then we can follow up three months later letting them know the time and date of the next festival. Then three months after that, they’ll be the first to know the next Bournemouth 7s tickets are on sale and they’ll get a special rate because they came last year. This attendee insight gives us a lot of ammo to work with. 

Drawing Up Your Offensive Plays

Over the last 20 years running events and festivals, I’ve learned that operating a festival is so much more than handling logistics—it’s about building a brand. The brand is where anyone creating an event has to start. And once you’ve built a strong brand, customers will seek you out because they want to be part of what you are doing. Once they feel affiliated and have a good time, they'll tell 20 mates. That’s how you build momentum and grow.

We’re using our momentum to provide an even bigger experience. We recently secured an increased the capacity for the 2018 Bournemouth 7s event. Because, as an organisation, you have to push yourself every year. That’s the same reason we launch a brand new website with each event. There aren’t many companies who do that. Again, it goes back to the brand. People want to get excited and feel like they’re a part of something new, and the new website generates that excitement.

When creating new events, start with the brand. That’s what keeps people coming back year after year.

When you get into events, if you hit the right niche and nail your branding, you’ll be an absolute winner. If you’ve got a great idea for an event, don't let anyone turn you away. You need to go for it. I took a risk and now I have a job I love. There are people who want to buy the festival off me, but I don't want to sell it because I've created my perfect life. Every day I get to live my passion. 

I run events that bring joy to the lives of 30,000 people year after year. I’ve helped do that by working with a talented team of people and finding the right partners, like Eventbrite. Now, I know one crucial part of my event—ticketing—is handled right. But that doesn’t mean I get to let up on everything else. This party is only getting started.