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Ticketfly challenges industry leader with Canadian acquisition

In its latest move to bolster its Canadian market share, event ticketing company Ticketfly Inc. announced the purchase of the MGR Group’s in-house ticketing service, Northern Tickets.

Charles Sykes/AP

After years of over-hyped upstarts and relative stasis, the Canadian ticket sales market may just be getting the shake-up customers have been waiting for.

In its latest move to bolster its Canadian market share, event ticketing company Ticketfly Inc. announced the purchase of the MRG Group's in-house ticketing service, Northern Tickets. The deal adds a number of new venues to Ticketfly's roster, including the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver and Adelaide Hall in Toronto. The purchase also brings the company's list of Canadian partners to over 120.

"We're delighted about bringing Northern Tickets into the family," Ticketfly co-founder and CEO Andrew Dreskin said. "We are clearly providing an alternative for independent venues and promoters across Canada."

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The seven-year-old company raked in more than $500-million (U.S.) in gross ticket sales in 2014 and is determined to put an end to what Mr. Dreskin called the "friction-filled" event-going experience. The Ticketfly chief wants to revolutionize everything from online booking to the way customers buy concessions on the night of an event.

Though he's quick to play down Ticketfly's confrontation with Ticketmaster, which is now a division of Live Nation Entertainment Inc., Ticketfly has nabbed about 120 clients from the ticketing giant in the past few years.

Nevertheless, Ticketmaster still holds a commanding portion of the market. Though the company would not address Ticketfly's acquisition directly, spokesperson Melissa Zukerman noted Ticketmaster continues to invest in its Ticketweb service, which has help customers grow through management tools, social expertise and mobile solutions.

Mr. Dreskin said that while Ticketmaster is just a ticketing company, Ticketfly goes further than just selling stubs.

"We power the entire technology infrastructure for our clients. So, ticketing, marketing automation including website, e-mail marketing, social marketing, analytics," he said.

Katharine Barr, who hails from Perth, Ont., is a general partner at Silicon Valley-based Mohr Davidow Ventures, and has taken a keen interest in Ticketfly, partly due to this approach to technological integration. Mohr Davidow invested in the company in 2011.

"The way that technology typically works," Ms. Barr said, "is even if you have a big incumbent, if that incumbent cannot keep up...they get left behind."

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"You can't just be a ticketing company any more, you've got to be a fully integrated CRM (customer relationship management) platform for your venue and promoter customers with an incredible UX (user experience) for the end consumer," she added.

Collective Concerts, which buys talent for Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern and Lee's Palace, among others, was one of the first Canadian companies to switch over to Ticketfly.

Amy Hersenhoren, Collective promoter and part owner, said the switch was about cheaper ticketing fees and more convenient back-end software.

"[Ticketmaster's] software is a little aged," Ms. Hersenhoren said. "[Switching] has made our lives much happier in the office, we just have more control."

As it moves to shore up more Canadian support, Ticketfly has a large global market to grow into. The primary ticketing market is an $11-billion-year industry, while the secondary market adds an additional $25-billion, according to Mr. Dreskin. And the CEO is not shying away from the challenge.

"Our model has been to enter mid-torso, which is the middle market, and then go towards the head, which is Ticketmaster," he said.

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With Ticketfly now arguably the dominant mid-market player, time will tell if the company is able to succeed where other startups have failed and unseat the juggernaut at the head of the ticketing industry.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story included incorrect information about Ticketfly's 2014 revenue. This version has been corrected.

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