Ticketpro, the Czech Republic's first and largest ticketing agency was founded by a Canadian from Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Serge Grimaux, the brains behind Ticketpro and the company's owner, has enjoyed great success since launching his business in Prague. When we met at Ticketpro's offices in Prague 1 recently, I first asked Serge Grimaux how he ended up in the Czech Republic?
"I took my first trip here in April 1991. I came as a tourist and was enchanted and charmed by the city, and I was also extremely puzzled and surprised by the amount of activities that were happening here at the time—and it's still that way to this day. I felt that some kind of a big change was really going to happen, and I like to be part of changes."
When did you actually move over to the Czech Republic?
"Moving over—it's a very funny expression for me because a lot of people would have loved for me to move over somewhere because I'm constantly traveling. I've been on the road since I was twenty-four, twenty-five years old, and I'm fifty now. I was traveling with bands and settling shows all across Canada, and then after that in the United States. I first arrived to stay more—or longer than one week—in 1992, and since then I spend a few months per year here and I constantly travel. For the last few years I've been traveling a lot in Asia, for instance."
How did you get the idea to bring an e-ticket sales business, as it's now become, to the Czech Republic?
"I was a user of the service I'm providing here, because I was a concert promoter in America. When I came here with my concert promoter's eyes, and knowledge, and ears, I looked around and saw that there was an incredible potential. The people of this country were extremely receptive to entertainment. Every fourth person is a musician, and I've never seen such an amount of jazz clubs, or theatre, and all sorts of stage entertainment. There was also obviously a lack of infrastructure, and that's number one in any business because it will be the infrastructure that controls or tries to order the financial side of things. In the live entertainment business, it's called a box office operation. In America, there was a company that had established itself quite well, Ticketmaster, and they did it through acquiring many of the companies that had started the ticket run of the time.
"So when I came here, there was a lack of that and I said to myself that it should be the first thing that I look into and that I should be doing. So for the first three years I was putting together Ticketpro, and Ticketpro's first incarnation was established in the Czech Republic. In 1995, I became a concert promoter again, and I started to promote concerts left, right and centre in this country, only to stop in 1999 to re-concentrate on the ticketing part of my business. This was because at the time e-commerce had appeared, and e-commerce shuffled every concept in the ticketing business. Before the ticketing business was a distribution network and it was as good as this capacity to distribute a product, whereby due to electronic commerce a ticketing company has become more and more a marketing partner—and it's still evolving with the business mode changing a lot."
Let's turn to the concert scene for a bit, because you also know a lot about that, having lived that scene in North America and being very much engaged in it here. What do you remember as being the big breakthrough concert of a western artist in Prague in the 1990s?
"It would definitely be the Rolling Stones. We started to promote the concert in December 1994 and it took place on August 5th, 1995 at Strahov Stadium. It was the first time that a major artist came back to the country. The first time they were here was on August 18th, 1990 when they were invited by Vaclav Havel. For people at the time, there was still this mentality that existed where people thought that they did not have to come back once they've already 'done' the Czech Republic. Then, there is the repetition system in which bands tour a place every four years. But that was a completely new phenomenon here. And so was the promotion that went along with it.
"Of course, you had other concerts before that. You had Guns N' Roses in 1992 that attracted some 45,000 people to Strahov. Paul Simon played with Graceland at Sparta Stadium, and Faith No More had 17,000 fans in Sportovni Hala. You had Joan Baez, who sung in Lucerna. There were some fifty or sixty concerts that we can't say weren't phenomenal by their own means. All of them were exciting for the audience and for the artist, because at the time to come to the Czech Republic or Czechoslovakia—depending on whether it was before or after January 1st, 1993—it was not only a calculator exercise, it was still exotic. And I know that sometimes people want to pin me to the wall when I say that, but I'm sorry, this is cultural business and a business goes with the bottom line. But for sure, the 5th of August 1995 when the Stones walked on stage in Strahov in front of over 120,000 people that had purchased a ticket it was the start of a new era."
How much have things changed on the Czech concert scene in roughly the last ten years?
"The concert scene is very active and alive. For a country of this size you have an amazing amount of international artists visiting the country and repeating their visit year after year or in three or four-year cycles. The Czech audience is starting to react exactly like the western audience. They are becoming picky - they pick and choose. You have the same challenges that you have when you are a promoter in the western market, making sure that you do not have the same type of acts in the same months or attracting money from the same pocket. You also know that there is a certain disposable amount of money that the consumer can buy live entertainment with, and you have to really promote it. The days of saying that an artist is coming and then hoping that tickets will sell themselves are long gone. The days of the crazy sponsorship deals with unbelievable amounts of money attached to only one event, which made no equation sense in terms of arithmetic or mathematics are long gone.
"It became, and it is now a business like it is in the western world. The Czechs by nature are very demanding, they are disciplined people, and they are selective and knowledgeable people. You don't pretend something to Czechs and then try to make them believe it for a long time. They catch it and are very quick. So therefore the standard of staging their shows is now at the same level of the standard that would be presented in the western world. Also, the touring companies are expecting from Prague what they would expect in Germany in terms of facilities. They know that they are not in the countries that have not reached the level of Prague, such as Romania, Bulgaria, or even Russia to a certain extent."
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