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GABF sells out in record time- Here’s how the BA can improve the process to bring access to more.

2013 Great American Beer Festival Breweries Breakdown

The Great American Beer Festival sold out this year in a record 23 minutes. If you were lucky enough to get tickets, then congratulations – you are holding a golden ticket to the Superbowl of beer. If you were in a meeting, stuck in traffic, or even curing a hangover, tickets were gone before you had a chance at them. Unfortunately, you aren’t alone and are among many who are upset at the process currently in place for the event. Not only were festival goers locked out, but also breweries- a lose – lose situation.

Tristan previously covered the details on ways to score a ticket, so I won’t be discussing that, but rather some suggestions on what could be done better to allow more beer lovers to attend the GABF, because, really, that should be what the festival is all about-  spreading the love of craft beer.

Many people have pointed fingers at the Brewers Association, a not for profit organization who’s primary goal is to further the craft beer industry, hosts and puts on the event. While there have certainly been issues with brewery entries and event ticket distribution, the BA has already announced plans to revamp the brewery entry process. The ticket sales issue simply confirms that craft beer is growing and that the supply for tickets aren’t able to match the demands and the BA shouldn’t be at fault for the boon in event popularity. A change in ticket distribution is inevitable, but here is what I believe can be done to make it the event more accessible to those who want to attend next year:

1. Ditch Ticketmaster- While ticket sales were marginally less buggy than previous years, it wasn’t without it’s glitches. Ticketmaster, for the second year in a row, failed to enable the special login for the AHA member login in some instances, and while AHA members were only supposed to be allowed to purchase two tickets, Ticketmaster allowed the purchase of four.  This allowed general public to purchase tickets to the pre-sale shutting out several dues paying AHA members. Also, Ticketmaster should have the bandwidth and technology in place to accommodate the thousands trying to log in and process orders. But even those clicking the button the instant tickets went on sale were rolling the dice (myself included). A better sales service should be used that puts people in line to purchase tickets and Ticketmaster has failed to deliver after multiple years of the same issue. Tickets should be available for at least a few days to give people a fair shot. Perhaps spread the sale out with multiple ticket release times over a few days as well.

1A. Curb the scalper market – This is something the BA can’t really control and isn’t at fault, but it truly is a problem and the BA has acknowledged it. However, with the current system, there isn’t much they can do about it. Why not link tickets directly to the purchasers by requiring matching IDs when presenting the tickets? Smaller beer fests have done this and gone ticketless where your ID is your ticket.  GABF could use a similar system and halt the secondary market for tickets – which go for up to 2x face value. While this method would certainly be more costly and require more man power, especially if tickets were being purchased for others, it would put the power back into the beer community and out of the hands of scalpers.

2. Limit AHA presales –  This may make some AHA members angry, but presales sold out in 90 minutes – nearly four times longer than sales to the general public. It isn’t uncommon for AHA members to purchase 4 tickets to each session and sell them to friends.

3. Expand the festival – This should be the easiest way to generate more capacity. Just add more sessions. Why can’t the GABF be a full week event? Double the amount of sessions. The demand is clearly there – Create the supply. if you build it, they will come. Of course the main argument against would be the beer provided by breweries, however clearly the demand for participating breweries has also grown.

4. Create standards for breweries allowed to enter – Why are there multiple tables for Rock Bottom Brewery? One for every location? Really? While each location does brew its own beer and recipes, they should have one big table or booth with their companies top 15 beers served. Reward the small businesses that most craft breweries are. The BA has addressed this issue and is currently considering alternatives to let more breweries in, which is detailed here. I think the alternative listed is also a good idea, but also will push some great beers out of the festival.

Lastly, unless you want to fork over some big bucks to attend the festival this year, remember, not all is lost. Make your own festival and visit all of the amazing craft breweries we have in Colorado – or wherever you may hail from. Create your own festival and have a good time!

Justin Hatfield is the founder of the Colorado Craft Beer Lovers Meetup. Join them here.

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