In recent weeks, I have traveled to numerous concerts with small crowds and low costs – or so I expected. During the purchasing process, I could not believe the service charges I was accumulating for relatively cheap concert tickets. While a five dollar service charge didn’t seem that exorbitant on its own, once I started to add up the fees on the many shows I’d bought tickets for, that number became substantial.
As I traveled down the rabbit hole that is the Ticketmaster online experience, I approached an attack on my wallet, and my patience. I was given the option of either printing out my own ticket, having it sent to me through the mail, or picking it up at will call. While this seems like a simple enough decision, the more I thought about it, none of the options seemed appealing. Due to the associated financial ramifications, I’m no longer willing to have physical tickets mailed to me. This is a real shame. I know I’m not alone in my love for collecting tickets for posterity, but the charges for the mail services start at $7.50 and increase incrementally the faster you need your ticket. On a twenty dollar ticket, who wants to pay half or more of the ticket price for a little piece of paper that says the name of the artist and the date?
Ticketmaster already charges a processing fee for every ticket, so I try to avoid optional costs as best I can. Therefore, I reviewed the next option: printing my ticket at home. I was shocked to find out that I would be paying $2.50 for Ticketmaster to email me a PDF file! I guess I’ve been ignorant about the details of buying tickets in the past, but this one certainly caught my attention. Maybe, at the Ticketmaster corporate office, there’s a machine that they have to put quarters in, like a gumball machine, and it sends out the PDF? It’s just difficult for me to understand such a ridiculous charge. I mean, what real overhead is there for a server that automatically sends emails with a PDF file in them?
The final option is what I usually end up going with: will call, which is often, but not always, free. Which is puzzling to me given (a) the presence of actual tickets and (b) the fact that this process involves an actual person at a ticket window.
Regardless, Ticketmaster claims that it requires all of these fees in order for them to run their operation efficiently. In some cases, the fees charged by Ticketmaster amount to 50% of the originally listed ticket price. Since Ticketmaster merged with its competitor Live Nation in 2010, it has become the only nationwide ticketing service. So what choice do we have? Big names such as Bruce Springsteen have railed against Ticketmaster’s stranglehold on ticket sales, and against its business practices.
For Springsteen’s sold-out 2009 tour, concertgoers looking for tickets on Ticketmaster found themselves re-directed to TicketsNow, which re-sold the tickets for inflated prices (and even more fees). Springsteen was reportedly “furious” that Ticketmaster would forward clients to those over-priced tickets, and the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department have been asked to look into whether or not Ticketmaster and TicketsNow working together is a conflict of interest.
Sadly, this was not a one-time misstep on the part of Ticketmaster. They have been accused of systematically scalping tickets to shows by everyone from Springsteen to Radiohead. Some users even decided to take action against Ticketmaster/Live Nation in a class-action lawsuit that covers the years between 1999 and 2010, seeking cash or discounts on future tickets for millions of customers. Facing charges of what was described as ‘deceptive business practices’, the company settled, paying out vast sums.
I can only hope that in this increasingly internet-savvy world, venues and bands can come up with their own alternatives to Ticketmaster. A few are already trying, with Live Nation rival AEG Live announcing its own ticketing service and upstart TicketFly also making a go of it. If these companies can’t break Ticketmaster’s grip, I hope that the Department of Justice will do its job and break up this monopoly. All those hidden fees would likely disappear if there was some innovation and competition in the ticket distribution world.