StubHub’s President Chris Tsakalakis Talks Tickets
by Maria Athens
Chris Tsakalakis offered NEO magazine an inside look into his innovative business style, career and background. He reigns as the president of StubHub, the most powerful secondary ticketing enterprise in America. He was included in Billboard’s “Power 100” lists in 2012 and 2013 and named as one of the 50 most influential people in the sports business by Sports Business Journal in 2011 and 2012, while the Huffington Post included him on its “Sports Game Changer” lists in 2010 and 2011.
Can you tell us about your earlier career, leading you to become president of StubHub?
When I graduated the University of Pennsylvania in 1989, I went to work as a management consultant at Bain & Company in Boston. After 3 years there, I had my Greek/EU passport and went to the London office to work on privatization in Poland and Russia before working in the UK. In 1996, when I told my London friends that I wanted to work in the Internet industry, they said “oh, the Internet, I need to check that out.” So I moved to San Francisco where the Internet was young but everywhere and got hired to run a little startup doing online charity auctions. When that business failed, I worked as a consultant for a lot of different Internet startups before finally getting to eBay in 2003. After 4 years running eBay Stores and other teams within the US eBay business, I was asked to run StubHub when eBay acquired the company in 2007.
Can you explain how you influenced StubHub’s transformation into the largest ticketing marketplace worldwide?
I’ve influenced StubHub’s success by focusing on constantly improving customer satisfaction. We track satisfaction on a regular basis and it is one of the 3 main metrics I use (along with employee engagement and financial performance) to drive the business.
StubHub was already on its way to being the world’s largest ticket marketplace when I joined in 2007 but my team has used customer satisfaction to increase our lead versus the competition. Over the last 7 years, we’ve used customer feedback to grow electronic delivery of tickets from 0 to 75% and mobile from 0 to nearly 20% of our business. We’ve also expanded internationally and launched the ticketing industry’s first and only loyalty program (Fan Rewards). Because of those changes and a lot of others, we’ve doubled buyer satisfaction to the point that we beat every other ticketing company year after year.
How has StubHub forever changed ticketing sales and fans who attend events?
For sellers, StubHub means never having to be stuck with a ticket when your plans change and having a way to pay for your season tickets when you cannot attend every game. For fans buying tickets, StubHub has made it possible to have access and choice to any event. Access means being able to get into the event and choice means picking where you want to sit and how much you want to pay. We regularly get tweets from our customers thanking us for enabling them to attend the events of their dreams.
How many daily users access your site?
I don’t know our daily numbers but we have over 16 million monthly unique users.
What sets StubHub apart from other online ticket resellers?
We are the biggest AND the best. By the biggest I mean we have more tickets for sale than any other marketplace and that superior supply means that our sellers compete with each other to provide the best prices to our buyers. By being the best, more than just our superior marketing, technology and customer service, I mean the superior levels of buyer satisfaction we provide versus all of our competitors.
How do you handle the controversy surrounding your company? What are your thoughts on this?
I handle controversy with facts and logic. There are many myths in the ticket resale business and I spend a lot of my time dispelling them with facts. Reselling tickets is not viewed favorably by everyone largely because of incorrect information. Many believe it is illegal in the U.S. to resell a ticket at any price. That’s wrong. Many think it is illegal to sell a ticket above face value. That’s not true in all but 5 states. Many think every ticket on StubHub is sold for above face value. That’s also false as about half of our tickets are sold at or below face value. Many people think we, StubHub, buy tickets and then resell them. That’s not true. The tickets for sale on StubHub are owned by independent sellers who buy tickets from the box office and then set prices they choose based on market demand.
Can you tell us about StubHub’s “The Rising Stars Program” and other philanthropic initiatives?
To the best of my knowledge, we are the only ticketing company that has a foundation specifically set up to benefit children, the fans of tomorrow, by funding sports, music and other arts programs for kids. The Rising Stars program does just that.
Do anti-scalping laws affect your company?
There are a limited (~5) number of states that have anti scalping laws and some of them date from the 1920s. In those states, sellers have to abide by those laws.
Does StubHub regulate ticket purchasing prices? Is there a cap for their markup?
No, we do not regulate prices. We believe in a free and open marketplace. What we find is that market demand effectively regulates prices. Anyone can list any ticket for any price on StubHub. We have a name for sellers that list their tickets at outlandish prices: unsuccessful. Sellers set the prices, but buyers choose what prices they are willing to pay and our buyers are smart.
What genres of companies and marketing does StubHub collaborate with?
Our marketing is both online and offline so we work closely with search engines (e.g. Google, Bing), affiliates, leading content sites (e.g. ESPN) as well as with radio stations and television networks. We also work closely with over 100 partners in professional and college sports and music. These partners market us to their customers.
Any plans to go international?
Yes! We are already serving fans with tickets to events in Canada and the United Kingdom and we will be expanding in Europe very soon. It may be a while, however, before we get to Greece.
When you are not overseeing StubHub how do you spend your time?
I spend most of my free time with my wife and boys, watching them play sports and acting as chief photographer and home fix it man.
Where do you live?
San Francisco has been home since 1996.
Where are your roots in Greece?
My mother and father were born in Naxos and Samos, respectively, although they spent most of their lives in Athens before moving to the U.S.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in suburban Chicago. My parents moved to the Windy City when they immigrated to the US in 1967.
Which generation Greek-American are you?
I guess I am technically 2nd generation as my parents were the first to become Americans.
Do you visit the homeland regularly?
I try to take my family to Greece every other year. I spent a month in Greece this year as I took my second sabbatical. It was wonderful.
What’s your favorite place in Greece?
I would have to say the little patch of beach behind my parents’ house in Samos. It’s not fancy but it makes me feel like I’m at home. After staying in upscale hotels in Crete, Naxos and Athens this summer, my boys kept saying “this isn’t as nice as Samos” and I had to agree.
Is your ethnicity a large part of your existence?
Absolutely. I grew up going to a Greek Orthodox parochial school, speaking Greek at home and being dragged to Greek baptisms, weddings and dinner dances. I learned all of my good (and bad) habits from my very Greek parents so it’s hard for me to get away from being Greek.
What else would you like your Greek-American audience to know about you?
When I was growing up my neighborhood friends called my brothers and me “the Greek kids.” When we went to Greece, we were the “Amerikanakia.” I often felt like I didn’t belong when I was a kid and there was a time that I resented my Greek heritage.
As an adult, however, I realized that my upbringing in the dual Greek and American cultures made me better rounded and able to take on challenges. Learning a third language was pretty easy. Living in Europe and working in developing countries was easier for me than my American colleagues because of the time I spent visiting Greece as a kid. My perspective on business is broader and I can relate better to the first and second generation immigrants working at StubHub because of my Greek American upbringing.
Rather than resent my heritage, I am very proud of it and I hope my Greek American brothers and sisters feel the same.