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One Online Retailer’s Quest To Create A “Smarter Buyer”

StubHub is great at selling tickets. How well can it sell stories?

One Online Retailer’s Quest To Create A “Smarter Buyer”
[Photo: Flickr user Jimmy Baikovicius]

Media companies may still be slashing jobs–but at least one online retailer just hired an editor-in-chief.

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In an attempt to create a more informed event-discovery culture, StubHub is turning the tables and educating its own customers. Hiring its first ever EIC, former sports journalist Jonah Freedman, the ticketing giant hopes to generate a rich, original content experience and provide relevant event information, all for the sake of better informing consumers.

Jonah Freedman

“When StubHub came to me with this project it rang really true,” says Freedman. “They said, ‘We want to start producing our own content in-house. We want a rich content environment, that’s not just exposing our catalog, but also establishing StubHub with an editorial voice.’ When I came on board I wanted to help create a ‘smarter buyer.’ They latched on to that because that was in line with what they where trying to articulate.”

Over the next few months, Freedman envisions big changes within StubHub’s operations. For the first time, unique content will be made available across all StubHub’s platforms, from desktop to mobile and a variety of incoming apps. And, while the editorial experiment is currently only operational in an incubational capacity in StubHub’s home base, San Francisco, both Freedman and StubHub hope to roll the product out nationally soon.

Freedman explains; “You provide a little bit of information either based on you past purchases, or you clicked your way through the site in ways that mean things to you, and you get a personalized experience. Lo and behold you’ll find some process by which you find a band that you want to see that maybe you didn’t know. Or something completely new. I think all these things are possible.”

Transforming The Mission

To date, the average StubHub experience–from a consumer standpoint–has been a straightforward and commercial one. You want tickets? They have those. For everything. But now, Freedman and his staff are working diligently to provide content for the secondary ticketing experience and in the process create that “smarter buyer.”

Since 2000, over 115 million tickets have been bought and sold on StubHub, and more than 8 million people visit the site every day. But so far, the company has lacked the narrative voice necessary to truly inform purchases. Freedman describes himself as a “traditional journalist,” and aims to bring that experience to StubHub’s next iteration. By generating original content–athlete profiles, trend and feature stories and Q&A’s–Freedman hopes to manufacture a storytelling credibility StubHub is currently missing.

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With this year’s launch of StubHub Music, the ticket mover took a big step toward accomplishing its goal of dominating the event-discovery scene. But the app doesn’t tell the whole story. Freedman’s task, then, while not easy is fairly straightforward. StubHub has no editorial voice, and he has to change that.

“The end goal is a nationwide network of local experts who can be our ears on the ground in the biggest markets,” he says.

Not everyone knows exactly what they want to do all the time, and one of the problems StubHub identified internally is that their service–excellent for transaction purposes–failed to make available the company’s enormous informational reserves. By leveraging data collected for every ticket transaction in the site’s history, StubHub and Freedman are looking to target the most relevant information at their fingertips, and weave it into narrative gold for the customers.

The trickiest part of the process will likely be identifying and honing that most elusive editorial element: a voice.

“I don’t think StubHub has an editorial voice,” Freedman confesses. “I think they have a brand voice. People see the ads and with the Ticket Oak and that’s one thing they notice and they identify with. When you go to the New York Times you’d expect a certain level of professionalism. If you were to ask someone, “What is StubHub’s editorial voice?” there’s no answer to that because there isn’t one. That’s my challenge.”

One way they’re going about it is by focusing their efforts on an initiative known in San Francisco as “5 Things to Do.” That’s where StubHub provides a list of five events of a certain category within a certain radius. One of the most daunting things about using StubHub as an event discovery tool to date is the seemingly endless number of events listed on the site.

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“StubHub’s catalog is huge, just thousands and thousands of events,” acknowledges Freedman. “Part of my job is to fuse this all together and create full dynamic experiences.”

The Backstory

A graduate of Northwestern University‘s Masters program in Journalism, Freedman’s experience includes stints at Money and Sports Illustrated. His most recent employer, Major League Soccer’s website, MLSoccer.com, presented both a unique challenge and one that now informs his mission at StubHub.

Before Freedman came on board as Managing Editor at MLS, MLSoccer.com was just a garage for team schedules and box scores and provided little to no content-rich experiences. MLS decided they wanted to take their content in-house, and hired Freedman to model their site to be more like NFL.com and NBA.com, and they hired journalists to produce dynamic content around their teams.

Since then, MLSoccer.com has become a much more content-rich site that covers not only the league, but American soccer in its own right.

The build-out of StubHub’s content, though, is a much harder one. The library is almost infinite and thereby far less specific. Soccer is just one category in the vast StubHub universe. Freedman’s new challenge is to quantify, well, everything. And for the first time in his 15-year career as a journalist, Freedman isn’t producing any of his own content.

“I’ve spent the last month getting my hands dirty meeting with as many people as possible trying to understand what their process is,” says Freedman. “Before I stepped in here, I didn’t know what an API was, I didn’t know what a GSM [Gross Merchandise Sales] was. All this jargon and vernacular. It took me just a few weeks to basically understand the languages. By the same token that is why I am here. I am here to shake things up. I am here to provide new experience to a company looking to do something new. I’m so far outside of my comfort zone right now and it’s awesome.”

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What’s Next

If things go well in San Francisco, Freedman and his editorial crew would look to re-create the “5 Things To Do” magic in other metropolitan areas where StubHub is popular. There is no timetable yet for when that might happen.

“I have a lot of contacts, so I’m going to look for writers all over the country to help with that,” Freedman says. “Eventually, we can use our market segmentation data to provide unique experiences for somebody who has a particular buying history. There’s a lot of work to do. I have no illusions about that, but this is all on the eventual road map.”

And that’s where yet more discovery will happen.

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About the author

Matt Hartigan writes about sports technology for Co.Labs. He graduated from the University of Southern California in 2006 where he studied English, Psychology, Fine Arts and spectatorship.

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