UNWANTED DEAD OR ALIVE: Ticket Fees
Fee Free Friday - your weekly round-up of the worldwide controversy surrounding ticket fees - is back! This week marks a return to the hottest of ticket fee hotbeds, the City of Baltimore, where the $0.50 cap on fees is being questioned. New York Times reporter Ben Sisario files an investigative report on scalper bots. Plus a (rare) victory in the war on fees and a Wild West edition of the Wall of Woe!
If there is one city in America that is the poster child for the ticket fee controversy, it is the City of Baltimore. Numerous past editions of Fee Free Friday have reported on the city's ticket fee legal wranglings (both pro and con) and it seems we're returning to Baltimore again this week.
However this latest wrinkle is not what one would expect from a city that originally placed a fifty cent cap on ticket fees way back in 1948.
The Baltimore Sun has just published Tickets and their Masters, an editorial that is essentially calling for the end of the ticket fee cap. [Yes, you read that correctly, an end to the consumer friendly cap]
As the byline clearly states, the Sun wants the City Council to get Baltimore permanently out of the business of capping ticket fees. As disheartening as that may sound to regular readers of Fee Free Friday, the editorial makes some very valid points in the context of actions taken in the past.
Originally reported in Did Politicians Just OK Unlimited Ticket Fees?, the Baltimore City Council voted to give Ticketmaster a waiver on ticket fee dollar amounts after a legal challenge attempted to enforce the $0.50 cap on the industry giant. The waiver, which let's Ticketmaster charge fees in any amount they wish, while everyone else is held to the $0.50 cap, was met with outrage. Hence the Baltimore Sun's call for the city government to stop legislating ticket fees entirely.
One very salient part of the editorial is of note for all venue owners:
The problem is that the entertainment business is a bit more complicated than people may realize, and what companies like Ticketmaster may describe as a "convenience" fee is much more than that. For many venues, it's the means by which productions live or die. While the revenue from ticket sales often goes straight to the entertainer, group or traveling company, the add-on fee is split among the promoter, the venue and the ticket agency.
So capping what service fee can be charged by Ticketmaster or any other provider at 50 cents or most any other amount does consumers no favors. At best, it means these same costs would have to be recovered through other charges (such as raising prices for tickets or concessions). At worst, it could mean that promoters will bypass city-based venues entirely.
Unfortunately the Sun treats ticket fees as an all (unlimited) or nothing (fifty cents) proposition. And therein may be the problem with the position the newspaper has taken. The valid argument for removing the cap to help venues to make more money is not justification for a ticket fee free for all - which eliminating the cap may very well unleash on the hapless consumer.
The 1948 ticket fee cap dollar amount is a bit antiquated and it should be revisited in terms of the economic realities of the year 2013.
What the new capped dollar amount should be is open to debate. But one thing is certain, there should be some manner of cap and all ticket purveyors, including Ticketmaster, should be made to adhere to it.
Ban The Bots
So-called "scalper bots”, automated computer programs that buy up huge swathes of tickets the instant they go on sale, are the source of anguish for both consumer and venue. This week the New York Times published an in-depth investigation on the bots titled Concert Industry Struggles With ‘Bots’ That Siphon Off Tickets.
The investigation by respected journalist Ben Sisario begins with a video interview with a Ticketmaster executive who flatly states he hates scalper bots as much as ticket buyers. More importantly, the industry giant shows, step-by-step, how the nefarious practice results in artificial scarcity.
Sisario's investigation appeared in the printed week-end edition of the Times, meaning it was widely read by the everyday consumer. The question must be asked, however, if consumers can/will differentiate between scalper bots deployed by unauthorized 3rd parties and the venue itself. Is the anger aimed at the true offender (unauthorized 3rd party) or unfairly at the venue alone, or both?
Also published this week on the issue of scalper bots is an OpEd in the Pasadena Star. Legislation to ban bots outright, making their use an illegal activity on par with computer hacking and industrial espionage, was recently passed by the California Assembly. The Star OpEd describes the ban:
There has been widespread, bipartisan agreement in the Legislature on the provision in [Richard] Pan's bill — AB 329 — to ban "bots" that flood online box offices with thousands of simultaneous purchase orders. The software is engineered to fool the computers into believing the orders come from different buyers when they are really coming from businesses that resell tickets at higher prices on other sites.
The bill passed unanimously out of the Assembly, but the Star notes, it is not without controversy. The original version of the bill would have addressed another pain point - ticket transferability - allowing the consumer to give or sell their ticket to another consumer. That provision has been struck from the bill eliminating the potential for tickets to be become "personal property" yet again.
Unwanted Dead Or Alive: Ticket Fees
Rock super-group Bon Jovi's most well known hit is 'Wanted Dead Or Alive' (video above). But outrageously high per-ticket fees are most definitely unwanted - dead, alive or otherwise.
In what is considered a small victory in the on-going war against unreasonable ticket fees, the band has announced it will be waiving their performance fee for a concert in Madrid as "a gesture to their Spanish fans hit hard by the country's severe economic crisis."
The result of the band's generosity is a concert ticket sans fees and costing roughly half the normal amount, according to ABC News:
The band decided to drop their performance fee, meaning the ticket money will only cover the other costs of staging the concert. The country's Bon Jovi fans could certainly do with some cut-price distraction...Tickets for the concert, to be held in a Madrid soccer stadium on Jun. 27, have all sold out.
Take a moment and enjoy the warm, fuzzy good feeling you are experiencing - it won't last long...
Wall of Woe - Wild West Edition
Armed with the staggering power of social media, ticket buyers featured in the weekly Wall of Woe express their anger with venues charging unreasonable ticket fees with an audience of billions. Posting a status on Facebook or writing a tweet serves a pressure release mechanism that doesn't take much effort. But sometimes that is not enough.
That was the case this week when a woman wrote her own very personal experience called How Ticketmaster Made Online Ticket-Buying Terrible. The heartfelt story describes just how bad ticket fees can make someone feel and if you work in the event industry in any capacity, the blog post is highly recommended reading. The post author even suggests a solution to the vexing issue of ticket fees: "In my dream world, a promoter would demand from agents that fees be part of the flat ticket price..."
Less eloquent but equally anguished, are the below curated tweets:
That last tweet by Cris with a K is of special note. Why? Because he emphasizes the 'PER' - an unreasonable fee on each ticket purchased.
ThunderTix does not charge you per ticket fees for selling tickets online or at the box office. We encourage you to pass along that savings to the consumer and show them the long term vision of your business is tied directly to their satisfaction. Your patrons will love that you don’t add fees. It’s that simple. Lower ticket costs through no added fees translate into higher sales and greater patron satisfaction.