TMR Q&A: Seat Club founder Cole Rubin on eliminating massive ticket fee markups

If you ask most fans, especially those with families, they will probably say the biggest hindrance to going to more events together is the price. Sports and entertainment events are thriving, but ticket prices? A killer.

Even more so are the fees that ticket companies put on top of what we think is the cost. It used to be there was a line about some local taxes, but those were typically included in the price, not added on top of the ticket’s face value.

Fees today? Sometimes it appears that you pay as much in fees as you do for the ticket itself.

Cole Rubin, a veteran of the ticketing and data world, agrees and has set out to do something about it: Seat Club.

A father of young kids and a serial event attendee, Rubin has had a meteoric career in ticketing and now with his new venture, he is out to bring fans tickets at fair market levels — without the massive fees.

With multiple successful private equity exits over the past 20 years, Rubin is a well-respected leader in the consumer technology and ticket event space. He was the founder and CEO of Dynasty Sports & Entertainment, dedicated to helping content holders automate the ingestion, pricing, distribution and fulfillment of tickets to live events. Under Rubin’s direction, Dynasty grew into one of the largest inventory and technology providers to both primary and secondary market ticketing companies and exchanges, and was responsible for automating the distribution of multiple billions of dollars in ticketing content annually. Rubin exited the business in 2020.

Last month Rubin launched Seat Club where, for one simple annual membership fee of $99, the platform guarantees to bring buyers the cheapest ticket without all the fees—currently as much as 35 percent less expensive than other platforms.

In its first six weeks, with the CFP Championship Game and the Super Bowl as test cases, initial Seat Club members have already saved thousands of dollars—per order.

For our latest TMR Q&A, we asked Rubin to discuss how Seat Club came about, what the future holds, how sustainable, We asked Cole to lay it out.

Below is our interview, edited for length and clarity.


Team Marketing Report: Why was now the right time for a subscription-based ticketing company?

Cole Rubin: We believe that the cost of live events have continued to push the boundaries of what consumers are willing to spend. In the last 12 months, we have seen record pricing for concerts as well as sporting events.

With already high pricing, the extra 20 percent to 35 percent fees that secondary marketplaces are tacking on have consumers hitting a breaking point.

We, as a society have become accustomed to subscription models such as Amazon Prime or Costco. I believe that model translates well in the ticketing space. I think that the level of distrust and lack of transparency in the ticketing ecosystem for both primary and secondary companies is evident to consumers.

We are setting out to build a completely transparent business model where our customers know that our sole source of revenue is our affordable $99 annual membership. While I believe that businesses have the right to be profitable, I think there is a balance where both the business and consumer can win. That balance is why we started Seat Club.

TMR: What can you tell us about Seat Club infrastructure/IT – how are these fee-less, mark-up-less tickets sourced? Is there less/same/more ticket availability for fans than with a secondary market leader such as SeatGeek, Ticketmaster or StubHub? How is it different/better than what is out there currently?

CR: We have been very focused on building our infrastructure in order to be able to streamline and scale our business, leveraging technology in order to provide a seamless experience for our customers.

Our inventory is sourced from the same channels as all other major ticketing marketplaces as it is common knowledge that the vast majority of tickets are the same across all marketplaces. The only time we would not have inventory would be when an individual seller chooses a sole marketplace to list their inventory.

However, the overwhelming majority of tickets come from professional resellers or rights holders distribution partners who list their inventory across all marketplaces. We would have those listings as well. Our strong belief is that by charging zero fees or hidden markups, we can streamline the purchase process to just a few clicks.

This is highly differentiated from other channels, who make consumers go through a long and arduous checkout process in order to bring fees into the cart at the very end. Our goal is to provide an experience to consumers where they don’t need to spend valuable time on every ticket site comparing the same set of tickets, and forcing themselves to go through the entire process just to see the total cost with fees at checkout.

Our total cost is listed on our site at the beginning of the process.

TMR: In your announcement press release, you say, “We have spent a great deal of time talking to fans and event producers, and can now deliver this unique value proposition, where our members know they are getting the best pricing, and will save countless hours comparing ticket prices online.” What did that research involve? And how does the everyday fan know they are getting the “best” pricing?

CR: Our research involved interviewing consumers, professional resellers and rights holders in order to gauge their opinion on the current state of play in ticketing.

Universally, consumers want to avoid fees and hidden markups in order to get the best possible price on tickets. Professional resellers feel their inventory is more likely to sell on a platform that can be up to 35 percent less expensive than other platforms that are marketing their tickets, and they don’t share in any of the fee revenue generated by these exchanges.

“We are setting out to build a completely transparent business model…While I believe that businesses have the right to be profitable, I think there is a balance where both the business and consumer can win. That balance is why we started Seat Club.” — Rubin

The conversation with rights holders has been productive as they too are focused on their inventory being sold, and in most cases do not share in the fee revenue.

The less money paid in fees allows consumers to spend more money on tickets, which positively impacts everyone in the ecosystem except for the exchanges. We encourage fans to shop on our site against all competitors to look at the same exact inventory and see the savings for themselves. Because ticketing historically has not been transparent and each exchange fluctuates their fees across all events, there is no set percentage of savings across the board on each ticket.

However, in our first month, we have had consumers make purchases on high profile events such as the CFP Championship and Super Bowl. These consumers told us they saved thousands of dollars on one order alone and their $99 annual membership was easily justified many times over.

TMR: What kind of growth are you looking for by end of 2024? Any targets you can share on membership numbers or sales volume?

CR: We believe that Seat Club will be a success because the business model is simple and the value proposition is evident and straight forward.

That said, starting any new disruptive business is a journey that will most likely be measured in years instead of months. Success in 2024 would be validation from our early adopters that the business model works for them, and that it is a platform that they would recommend to their friends.

We are going to be laser focused on providing the best possible experience for our customers and look to provide even more value throughout the year as we execute on additional items on our road map. This is the goal way above hitting a number. If we can provide what I know we are capable of, the members will come.

TMR: For Sports, you currently offer NFL, NBA, NCAA FB, NCAA BB (men’s and women’s), NHL, MLB, MLS and WNBA. Where is your heaviest business coming from? What’s next?

CR: To date our highest volume has been on College Football Bowl Games as well as NFL Playoffs and Super Bowl, as our company launch coincided with those events.

We sell tickets to the same exact events that all other major ticketing marketplaces offer.

I believe coming up, The Masters will prove to be a big value proposition for our customers, as that is an extremely expensive event where our savings will be very evident. The same will be true for US Open tennis later in the summer.

While our value proposition is strongest on high-profile and expensive events, our product is valuable for any consumer that is spending over $600 per year on tickets across all events, as that has been seen to be the average break even point on savings for our $99 annual membership.



To view past TMR Q&As, click here.

Header photo credit: Matthew West/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald