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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Eventbrite was one of the hottest IPOs of 2018. After pricing at $23, it closed up 60% at $36.50, giving the ticketing company a valuation of $2.8 billion. Today, just over 6 months later, the stock is languishing below its IPO price, at $18.41, and well over a billion dollars' worth of market value has evaporated.

The big picture: Eventbrite was sold as a way to bet on a booming "experience economy." The intuition: Companies that can deliver real-life experiences have real value in a world increasingly intermediated by smartphone screens. The problem: Companies are having difficulty turning that intuition into stable profits.

  • SoulCycle never even made it to IPO. Another hot experience-economy company, it filed to go public in 2015, but then never did, eventually giving up on the idea last year.
  • Next up: Peloton, which reportedly plans to go public later this year. Peloton is a large part of the reason why S0ulCycle never made it to IPO: It offers a similar product, but with more convenience, and it can credibly claim to be a media/tech company rather than a gussied-up gym class. Still, it has the same reliance on a core group of ultra-loyal repeat customers. Which raises the question: In the experience economy, how much do people want the same experience, over and over again?

The experience economy itself is not new. Travel and tourism are huge, and have been around for millennia. And Disney, in particular, has perfected the art of selling its theme-park and cruise-ship experiences. Even its theatrical movie releases ("Avengers: Endgame" has now grossed $2.2 billion at the global box office, after just 2 weekends) are built on shared real-world experiences. Disney, however, constantly reinvents itself. Replicating Disney's success is almost impossible, especially if you lack billions of dollars to buy franchises like Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm.

  • The NYT Magazine asks, this week: "Can an art collective become the Disney of the experience economy?" Rachel Monroe tells the story of Meow Wolf — a scrappy art collective from Santa Fe that seems to be on its way to becoming the next Cirque du Soleil. But ultimately it's Disney itself that is, and always will be, the Disney of the experience economy. Notable: Meow Wolf's CEO tells Monroe that Disneyland is his "single favorite place in the world."

Be smart: We know that software as a service works extremely well. But experience as a service? It's no coincidence that Meow Wolf's installations are mostly in tourist towns like Santa Fe and Las Vegas. The toughest nut to crack in the experience economy is finding a large group of people who want to pay to repeat their experience. SoulCycle and Peloton are counting on social dynamics to help them get there, but that, so far, is an unproven model in financial markets.

Go deeper

Updated 10 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."

11 hours ago - Health

U.S. to restrict air travel from 8 countries over new COVID variant concerns

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. will impose new air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, a new COVID strain first detected in South Africa, President Biden announced Friday.

The big picture: Air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be restricted starting on Monday.