Ticketing Websites – Creating A Racket From A Racket

This won’t be a surprise to anyone and it’s certainly nothing new, but it never fails to annoy and frustrate me when ticketing websites are less than clear and honest about just what we pay them our hard earned cash to do.

I used to buy gig tickets from the ticket counter of good old Our Price in Bristol. From there, you could not only get your ticket but have a chat with the staff about other upcoming local gigs and even buy coach travel to some of the further afield venues. It seemed to be a good, fair and relatively cheap experience and ensured that even as cash-strapped youngsters we could still get out to support live music. I remember specifically that a ticket to see Ash cost £5 with a 50p booking fee. A reasonable deal, I would say.

It appears that people do still go and buy tickets in person from ticket offices but only when the gig in question is likely to be a hotly sought after one. I’m guessing too that a fee is still charged to book tickets in this way, so for the sake of staying warm and dry and not having to queue for 12 hours, I don’t mind paying a bit more for the tickets to be bought online and posted to me, but some costs are just unfathomable.

The David Haye v Dereck Chisora fight at Upton Park is a current example. A top priced ticket is £220, in the block right next to the ring. This amount alone is staggering, but I guess that is down to the promoter to sort out. Standard post for this ticket is £2.75, but if you click on the expandable area next to the price, it informs you that of the £220, £20 is a “Service Charge.” Service Charge for what?!?! I’m not naive enough to think that a show doesn’t cost a lot to put on. There are a whole host of people who need paying from the performers, artists and sports stars all the way through to lighting technicians, stewards and drivers, but isn’t this covered in the ticket price? And if it is, are we paying £20 per ticket for someone to print a slip of cardboard (or sometimes just paper) and put it in an envelope with a label on it? Oh and don’t forget we’ll also be charged an additional £2.75 for a 60p First Class stamp.

It’s not just pricey for such large-scale events either. For a medium-sized gig at Manchester Apollo, (in this case Blink 182, picked at random) the price is £37.75, £32.50 per ticket, plus £5.25 in magical “fees”, plus £3.25 standard post. Hang on, why is it a different price to post this one out? Does it come in a gold-plated envelope? Maybe it is sealed with the tear from a unicorn? Perhaps only Ticketmaster themselves know the answer.

There’s also the excellent idea (in theory) of being able to get your tickets almost immediately with the print your own TicketFast service, whereby an email is sent to you with your ticket as an attachment. But wait! This costs £3.25 too!!! £3.25 to send an email?!?! Plus, it then costs you in paper, ink and effort to print the thing yourself. I’m really not sure why anyone would bother? Surely the ethical thing for ticketing companies to do would be to make this delivery option free?

There are also, of course, the “optional” extras such as Mondial Assistance Missed Event insurance at  £2.99 per ticket, which is massively highlighted, and I’m pretty sure used to be pre-selected so you had to click to remove it from your order. A bit like how Payment Protection Insurance used to be sold, and we all know what happened on THAT front. This insurance covers you in case you can’t make the gig for whatever reason, because obviously nobody ever tries to just sell on their tickets if they can’t attend now do they?

For years now, re-selling tickets on eBay has been condoned as mindless profiteering but there are a couple of issues with this statement. Firstly, gig tickets are generally non-refundable, so if you genuinely cannot attend for whatever reason, you have little choice other than to sell the ticket on, unless you’re with good old Mondial Assistance of course. And if the show is sold out and attracting high bids on eBay, you would be a fool not to try and get as much as possible for it.

Secondly, deliberately buying sought after tickets solely to sell on eBay only happens because people are willing to pay ridiculous sums for them.

Thirdly, touts are allowed to operate outside pretty much every gig and show I’ve ever been to, and these people offer ridiculously small amounts of cash for spare tickets, only to sell them on for massive profits. Again, they only operate because people are willing to use them, and venues appear to be unwilling to do anything about a transaction which according to ticket Ts and Cs is illegal.

To counteract the eBay issue, Ticketmaster appear to be running their own demand-based pricing model. I recently attempted to get tickets to Lady Gaga’s show in Manchester (I know, but I just adore her stance on masculine empowerment), and after numerous attempts I was surprised to be let through to a screen where I could buy some. Looking a bit more closely, these were listed as “Ticketmaster Official Platinum Tickets.” I hadn’t heard of this before so I read on. Ticketmaster describe these as “premium tickets to concerts and other events made available by artists and event providers through Ticketmaster. They give fans fair and safe access to some of the best seats in the house.” Hmmm, sounds like any other ticket that goes on sale through a ticketing agency doesn’t it? Only these are Platinum (capital P). Meaning they cost around SIX TIMES MORE than normal tickets.

I was utterly shocked by this. It seems that Ticketmaster are sub-contracting to themselves to sell the better seats and areas to gigs at even more of a profit, justifying it by claiming “Ticketmaster’s Official Platinum Tickets program enables market-based pricing (adjusting prices according to supply and demand) for live event tickets, similar to how airline tickets and hotel rooms are sold.”

Ticketmaster continue “The goal is to give the most passionate fans fair and safe access to the best tickets, while enabling artists and other people involved in staging live events to price tickets closer to their true value.” This translates as “We aim to rip off the most desperate fans by holding back the best tickets so that we can keep an eye on eBay prices and make just as much ourselves.” What an absolutely outrageous thing for the biggest ticket seller in the UK to do. And the nerve of them to call it “fair and safe” when in reality they are just as bad as any tout in the game only serves to increase my contempt for them.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Government looked into ticket pricing and fees, but the only result of that enquiry was to make it clearer how much of the ticket price was taken in fees. Companies continue to screw over those who are keeping the live music industry alive, and unfortunately they’ll continue to do so for as long as gullible idiots pay such extortionate prices to get their musical fix.

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