clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Nathan Hubbard once ran Ticketmaster — now big Silicon Valley names are funding his attempt to build a better version

His startup, Rival, has raised more than $30 million from Andreessen Horowitz, Upfront Ventures and several pro sports teams.

Former Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard Rick Diamond/Getty Images for IEBA
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

After a handful of years away from the ticketing industry, Nathan Hubbard is going back at it.

The former Ticketmaster CEO, who most recently ran Twitter’s now-defunct commerce initiative, has raised more than $30 million in venture capital over the last 18 months for a new startup aiming to modernize how teams and arenas manage ticket sales, customer relationships and security in the future.

To have a shot long-term, the Los Angeles-based startup, called Rival, will have to cut deals for ticket inventory with teams and venues that today often have exclusive relationships with dominant players like LiveNation and its subsidiary Ticketmaster, as well as younger companies like SeatGeek, backed by $160 million in venture capital and sports franchises like the Dallas Cowboys. Amazon is also continuing to work internally on a way to crack the U.S. ticket market.

Rival’s backers include Andreessen Horowitz, Upfront Ventures and a long list of big Silicon Valley names that include former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, Slack product chief April Underwood and Stripe co-founders Patrick and John Collison. Upfront’s Greg Bettinelli and Andreessen Horowitz’s Alex Rampell sit on Rival’s board.

Perhaps more importantly, the investor list also includes undisclosed teams from each major U.S. sports league as well as soccer’s English Premier league, which you would imagine will be some of its first partners.

At its core, Rival is building enterprise software to help teams and venue owners get better at two things:

“Their two biggest concerns right now are how do I better monetize my fans and how do I keep them safer,” Hubbard says.

To accomplish both goals, Rival believes teams need to know the identity of the person who actually uses the ticket — an increasingly difficult task in an era where secondary ticket sales on platforms like StubHub and SeatGeek continue to grow.

So Rival’s software has to play a role from start to finish. Teams and venues first use it to create tickets to games and events — and then distribute them for sale, whether through the team or venue’s own online properties or through potential integrations with other sites like StubHub, Ticketmaster or, maybe someday, Amazon, Hubbard says.

The founder is hesitant to play up the idea that he is going after the company he used to run, pointing to potential deals where Rival owns the ticket inventory but the team chooses to sell some through Ticketmaster. But the truth is that Rival is trying to build the next generation of Ticketmaster and will likely have to steal some business from his former employer to even make a future partnership he envisions possible.

To keep track of ticket owners, Rival’s software gives teams the option to require that customers who buy certain tickets do so only digitally, and upload a photo of themselves to complete a purchase. Upon arrival at the venue, cameras onsite will snap images to confirm they are the same person.

If these customers want to resell their ticket, the new buyer would have to also submit a photograph, whether they are buying it through the team’s own app or a separate secondhand ticket property that has an integration with Rival.

Rival will surely face questions around security and privacy related to its facial-recognition technology, but venues are already moving in this direction. The New York Times reported in March that Madison Square Garden has used facial recognition “to bolster security and identify those entering the building.”

“Security is a big concern of theirs,” Hubbard said.

At the same time, it seems likely that teams and venues will continue to want to allow paper tickets for some seats, to cater to certain demographics of customers who prefer that method of entry. That doesn’t seem like the sweet spot for a startup, but Rival’s software has to allow for that option. Still, teams want as much digitization as possible, so Hubbard is betting that tailwinds will continue to blow in his startup’s direction.

If Rival is successful in helping teams learn who is actually seated in which seat, the hope is that that will open up big possibilities for selling them more stuff. In Hubbard’s ideal world, teams won’t just use Rival’s system to sell tickets; they’ll also use it to do things like offer seat upgrades or food-and-drink deals via their app to targeted groups of attendees during an event, or to sell a custom multi-game package to attendees who have previously been buying tickets through resellers.

How much of that bonus commerce materializes isn’t clear yet; Rival’s first customers won’t begin using the software until 2019. But if the technology platform leads to big revenue jumps, Rival will try to charge its clients a commission on top of their software-as-a-service fees.

Hubbard’s public reveal of his startup comes about two years after he left Twitter. He spent about three years there in a role that saw him launch and later shut down an initiative to help businesses sell goods through the social communications service.

While there, he managed to still dabble in the ticketing industry that he had left behind after his Ticketmaster exit. In what was a first at the time, the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks sold a small selection of playoff tickets on Twitter in 2015.

Multiple sources have also told Recode that Hubbard nearly went back to the world of live events sooner: In 2015, eBay offered him a job running StubHub. He nearly took it, according to sources, but ultimately turned down the offer to remain at Twitter.

Three years later, he’s taking a fresh crack at the industry.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.