Commentary: The ticketing business is in urgent need of being cleaned up

Mark Shenton on his blog for The Stage [UK], 10/24/12

Nowadays, with a majority of theatre tickets being sold online, audiences are often paying a big service charge for making the transaction themselves. Of course, there's a back office cost of supporting the online infrastructure, but it's surely nothing like the inflated transaction and handling fees that are added to the top of the ticket price. I love the add-on euphemistically titled "convenience fee" that is sometimes added when you buy tickets online in the US, and the "delivery charge" for printing out your own tickets at home. It always reminds me of the great Bette Midler line about being asked for payment to use a Parisian toilet: "But I did it all myself!" The ticketing companies, by contrast, do nothing themselves: they don't make the shows or support the upkeep of the venues. And neither the public nor the producers have any say in which ticketing companies are being used. It's a like-it-or-lump-it world. And with some events those ticket agencies not only control access in the first place, but can also manage the ongoing, behind-the-scenes traffic in 'secondary ticketing'. Fans of the Rolling Stones had their fury ignited after tickets sold out for their return gigs at the O2 Arena next month within seven minutes. They were being steered by Ticketmaster instead to their own secondary ticketing site Get Me In [where] two tickets right in front of the stage were being sold for 15,400 each. Get Me In was at pains to point out they are only the intermediary and don't set the price. But the fact is they are facilitating access to such outrageous demands. Meanwhile, true fans are being sidelined by profiteers. The ticketing business is in urgent need of being cleaned up, instead of cleaning up on the fans. Just the other day the Independent reported that a new rival to Ticketmaster [Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG)] plans to "sweep away hidden charges". It's high time. Ticketing is of premium importance; but that doesn't mean it should be delivered at a premium price.

 

FROM TC: If you're interested in reading more about Ticketmaster and its Get Me In subsidiary, BBC News "Watchdog" ran a story on Oct 14th which included a lengthy response from Ticketmaster in response to the complaints lodged against it.

 

Ticket fees spur backstage drama

David Benedict, Variety, 10/6/12

When popular U.K. standup Sarah Millican announced in September that her 2013 national tour would not play any theaters run by Ambassadors Theater Group, the U.K.'s largest theater owner, due to rampant upcharges on tickets, industry ears pricked up: Someone lifting the lid on the controversial theater practice of add-on ticket fees is music to the ears of legit producers -- whose ongoing need to do deals with theater owners keeps them publicly silent even as such fees eat away at their profit margins. In the U.K., every theater owner uses its own ticketing operation. Those individual operations allow for some decidedly murky handling of ticketing income on the part of theater owners. It's not just talent that's unhappy; producers are too. For instance, one U.K. producer says that a show in a West End house with a standard $107 top will, after VAT (U.K. sales tax) and the offending ticketing charges, yield the producer just $74. These fees are levied by all theater owners, and in many cases have been significantly increased. Those escalating charges have major implications on a show's ability to pay back investors. Howard Panter, co-chief executive of ATG, is sanguine about his company's position, pointing to a recent audit of its ticketing systems in which his staff was cited for its customer service. "The bottom line is, we think we give a better service, and that's why the charges are there," he says. Yet, within 24 hours of Millican's boycott, ATG had announced details of what many regard as a PR spin to justify how ticket service charges are spent: a $24 million investment plan to refurbish some of the buildings in the ATG portfolio. Moreover, Panter [said] ATG has been in lengthy discussions over restructuring its fees, with one possibility being a fee determined as a percentage of the ticket cost rather than as a set charge. "We have 600 products at any one time -- productions on sale for different times of the year," he says. "They've all got their own particular economic dynamic. One size does not fit all."

 

Commentary: Public shame as a weapon against 'unscrupulous' ticket fees

Todd Barnard, ThunderTix.com, 10/12/12

High demand tickets attract unscrupulous resell practices. On Tuesday, The Star [in Malaysia] reported  a concert promoter has taken such exception to outrageous face-value mark-up being applied to their tickets that they are publicly shaming the "value-added re-sellers" on Facebook. This may be a burgeoning trend. If artists and valid ticket outlets begin to publicly shame unscrupulous re-sales that hurt their bottom line [and] the ticket buying public, using social media outlets, there may be a shift in power. Unauthorized resale and the associated outrageous face value mark-up may become a thing of the past. Time will only tell if the same method will be used for ticket fees and service charges. [Meanwhile, there were] some very harsh words by The Detroit News editor Henry Payne: [his Op-Ed piece] 'Big Scalper's GOP cronies' heavily criticized several members of Congress for siding with the ticket re-sellers by fighting legislation that would reduce or outlaw them outright. Payne continues with some damning accusations of political corruption between Congressmen and the large ticket re-sellers. We find the language used a bit strong, and cannot endorse statements like "Republicans have decided to intervene in the ticket business on Big Scalper's behalf" but the larger issue of reforming the ticketing industry is one we do support. The focus must be on the consumer and any legislation must be framed to serve them first and foremost.  We do not care what political side anyone is on, so long as ticket fees and re-sale are held in check. We are, of course, a long way away from that.... If you are wondering if your current ticket fee policy is in-line with the expectations of your patrons, we encourage you to read our guide 'To fee or not to fee, That is the question' and decide for yourself what is best.

 

Commentary: Ticketbud is fighting greed, one stub at a time

Ryan Tate, Wired.com, 10/19/22

At the beginning of my first conversation with Ticketbud founder Paul Cross, he makes sure I'm clear on his ambivalence toward the capitalist system. His online ticketing startup is primarily concerned, like Cross himself, with social progress and events and organizations that advance this progress. Taking investment dollars and turning a profit are, he explains, just means to that end. Ticketbud has been building business slowly for five years [and its] goal is to slay what Cross describes as rampant, needless greed in the online ticket-taking industry. (And he's not just talking about Ticketmaster; he's got net-centric startups like Eventbrite in his sights, too.) Rather than charging per ticket, Ticketbud charges a flat fee. That business model is, in Cross's telling, designed to minimize costs for event organizers, and thus to effectively minimize the profits of Ticketbud and its competitors, as well. Like Amazon and Walmart before it, Ticketbud sees a major competitive advantage in its ability to thrive in a low-margin environment - or it would, if Cross spoke in the language of MBAs, a gang he loudly disavows. Instead, he sounds less like a captain of industry and more like Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, couching Ticketbud's mission in altruistic terms. "Event organizers are hard-working people trying to change the world for their particular cause. They want to establish a solid relationship with their event-goers. They want an alternative to doing this to their guests. It's like performing surgery in the 18th century before anesthesia." See? He's no MBA. In the name of keeping costs low, Ticketbud does eliminate certain niceties, like a customer service phone line; Ticketbud's customers are offered only a series of e-mail addresses. But it's hard to argue with the numbers: A 500-person, $50-per-head event running one day or less would run $40 on Ticketbud versus $1,120 on Eventbrite, assuming Eventbrite charges its standard fee of 2.5% plus 99 cents per ticket. (Credit card processing costs extra with either service.) The startup is broadening its offerings as well with help from a new pool of investment capital. Ticketbud is putting the finishing touches on "Sponsorbud," which helps event planners more easily find corporate sponsors for their events.

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