2018 is a year of big events for The SSE Arena, Belfast and we would love for you to join us on our journey! This week we begin a blog series entitled, “Meet The Team.” Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be spotlighting members of our SSE Arena team, their backgrounds, roles, and unique perspectives, so you can get to know the people that are working hard to make The SSE Arena Northern Ireland’s premier entertainment venue.
Cathy Aiken: Box Office Manager
Cathy has worked in the arena since the very start – a staggering 18 years and 3 days! (Yes, she still loves it!) She explains that she started 6 months before the official opening of the arena, situated in temporary buildings right across the water from the arena.
She explains that she first got involved in ticketing as she went down to Dublin one day to do a message for her Dad. She was approached that day to work in the Ticketmaster outlet in the now redundant Virgin store. (What a way to get a job!)
For the first 6 months, she explains it was all VERY different. There was no computerised system for ticketing so when the day of an on-sale rolled around they had books of tickets behind the counter. To make sure they knew that customer were sitting in the correct seats they would be ticking the seats off using a picture of the floor plan. (Phew, we’re glad those days are over!) Cathy explains the arena and Ticketmaster system has now become fully digital, so thankfully none of that happens any longer!
Explain your role in 3 words?
Cathy explains there are many more words she could use, however she settles on meticulous (could you imagine getting the seating of a show wrong? We wouldn’t want the stress!), enjoyable and challenging, as every show is completely different!
What’s a normal day for Box Office Manager?
Every day is different for Cathy. As Box Office Manager, she oversees all ticketing sales for every show that comes to the arena! To start off, she’ll get working on the executive sales reports through the Ticketmaster system which we run off. These will be analysed and sent to the respective show promoters.
Then comes the fun part of setting up shows from scratch! (That’s usually around 10,000 seats per show!) Again, using the TM’s system she’ll implement all pricing structures in each open area, cordoning off certain stage holds that are required due to the production of the show. (Ever wondered why some shows will have ‘production holds’ released a few days before a show? This is why). She then will do the same for the Heineken and West Lounge, which are our executive lounges!
Throughout the day Cathy will be liaising with show promoters to gauge how their shows are selling and if there is anything they’d like to change around the shows. She’ll then liaise with Ticketmaster Ireland’s offices in Belfast and Dublin reviewing ticketing strategy and digital developments for the Box Office.
Another part of her job is on an event day. Box Office is one of the busiest departments with people picking up tickets, sometimes losing tickets (a BIG disaster when you want to come to see your favourite show) and facilitating VIP Guest lists. Then at the end of the event, she’ll go backstage to help settle the show accounts with the tour accountant!
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the Arena since you started?
Since she’s been here for the long haul –18 years and one day – she has lots! Firstly, she explains it is A LOT busier than 18 years ago. The pace of events coming to Belfast has increased and this is something she really encourages artists to do! With that comes the diversity of events coming to the arena. Now we can see a Giants game, a fully standing Kylie show and a fully seated André Rieu show all in 3 days!
Cathy then explains that from a Box Office point of view she can really notice the increase in digital sales. Years ago you would expect queues of people around the building for an on-sale date, while everything has now gone online and you’ll be placed in a virtual queue (she wants you all to come back to Box Office!)
Favourite part of your role?
The favourite part of her role is to make sure the audience is happy! From setting up the show to then seeing it through when the main act takes the stage, she explains the excitement is what keeps her job so enjoyable! She explains that on the morning of an on-sale she is greeted by the excitement of customers as they buy tickets. Then on an event day, it’s even more intense as everyone anticipates the main act coming on stage! When everything runs smoothly with ticketing on the day of the show that makes Cathy’s life easy!
Favourite show to work on?
Usually, no-one can give me an answer to this question but Cathy has one straight away! She still remembers Bruce Springsteen like it was yesterday. He only played two shows, one in London and one in Belfast that year.
Cathy explains this was another diverse show as they were selling tickets BEHIND the stage. She wasn’t sure how this was going to work until the production went underway and the stage went into place. She still explains it as “the best experience” for the 64 people seated there, as it was as if they were part of the show, rather than in the crowd!
Favourite show that’s come to the Arena while you’ve worked here?
Cathy names Pink as one of the most visually and unusual shows that has come to the arena. From the acrobatics to her singing, she was able to be so diverse and give the audience an amazing show. However, she goes back to The Boss for her ultimate show. She still describes as “the best show she’s ever seen of ALL TIME” (that’s how excited she is talking about it). The show in question was Bruce Springsteen Seeger Sessions. She explains that at one point there must have been a good “60 musicians on the stage, I’m not exaggerating” (she was exaggerating, I googled it and it was 20).
The dream act you’d love to bring to the Arena (dead or alive)?
The dream for Cathy would be Elvis. She still watches clips of him online and said she would have done anything to see him play live (this may show her age)!
Top 3 songs?
Cathy has no qualms about this question.
- Get The Party Started – Pink! (“because that’s what I’m all about”)
- Tunnel Of Love – Bruce Springsteen (“best song of all time!”)
- Handbags & The Gladrags – Rod Stewart (“I am the dancing queen when this comes on”)
Quote you live by?
Keep moving forward…and in this new age of ticketing and Box Office, it’s very apt!