Friday, May 11, 2012

Why Ticketmaster sucks...

Addendum added May 11th: This post has been edited since I originally posted it in late April. It was sparked by an extremely frustrating experience on April 20th trying to get tickets to a Bruce Springsteen concert in Toronto this August; I later learned that a dumb oversight on my part contributed to that frustration, which necessitated a few changes to what I'd written...that doesn't negate the fact that Ticketmaster is still rubbish, though. And thanks to the kindly Kathie from Newfoundland for hooking me up with good tickets for the show!
There are few companies I despise more on this planet than Ticketmaster and I'm not alone. Amplicate, a social media analytics service that compiles public opinion data, has Ticketmaster tagged at a comically high 95% "hated" level, from a sampling of 9,000+ consumers. Established in 1976, the company has consistently demonstrated toxic business policies, with nearly all consumers of live entertainment held hostage.
Here's the scenario I encountered: somewhere between five to ten minutes before Ticketmaster goes "live" with their sale for the Springsteen show, I'm on the event sale page (which is telling me tickets aren't available yet) and constantly refreshing my browser until the sale starts. It's one of the small tricks that allows you a bit of an edge in getting a better spot in the online queue - timing (and luck) is everything when it comes to scoring good seats. So, the sale page eventually comes up and I choose the option for a pair of the non-seating general admission floor tickets at $130 each (these tickets are for a section directly in front of the stage and not the entire floor section, as I originally believed). After selecting the tickets I want, Ticketmaster takes me to one of those security check pages, where I have to enter a couple of words that appear in wavy formation on screen (called a "captcha"). This step is to ensure that I'm a human and not a highly sophisticated automated "bot" program that scalpers use to snap up a concert's best tickets. After entering the words, I'm taken to the next screen that shows I'll have a wait time of about thirteen minutes to determine if the tickets I wanted are available (lengthy wait times right when a show goes on sale are normal, as the system is experiencing the heaviest user traffic). After an agonizing period of approximately fifteen minutes, the "wait page" goes to a new page informing me that none of the tickets I wanted are available and that I should try again, which really surprised me. Immediately after the words "Oh, shit..." had passed through my mind, I tried for the same tickets again, only to be denied one more time after about a ten minute wait. Now dejected, I gave it one more shot and came up empty about eight minutes later. At that point (and still mistakenly thinking all the floor tickets were general admission and now all gone),I figured that I'd have to lower my expectations if I wanted to attend the show at all, opting for the next best available seats in the stadium's second level. Naturally, a pair of those bastards came up almost immediately, only they were way off to the side and inexplicably priced at the same amount as the floor tickets. Completely gutted at this point, I resigned myself to the fact that my brother and I wouldn't be going to this concert. When you've had good-to-phenomenal spots for Springsteen shows as I have over the years, paying through the nose for crappy seating at one more is simply too disheartening, especially at a domed venue where the sound is notoriously dodgy the further you are off the floor.
Lest I come across as seeming overly entitled when it comes to getting primo concert tickets, my main beef with Ticketmaster is the fact that within a mere number of seconds after they put this event on sale, I tried to buy a couple of tickets from the sizeable number available and struck out (and this is far from the first time I've experienced this). Yes, Springsteen is a huge act and Toronto is a massive market, but I was pretty confident that between the fact I tried for tickets as early as was humanly possible and that The Boss was playing at the large Rogers Centre (meaning there would be significantly more floor tickets available), well, I was almost assured of landing the pair of tickets I wanted. Clearly, my over-confidence was misguided.
I suspect that these scalper "bots" are the main reason for the lack of good tickets and as much as I also despise these scumbag "ticket brokers", Ticketmaster doesn't curry any sympathy from me. They've lived high off the hog from decades of exorbitant service charges and operating as a monopoly, so there's no excuses as to why their tech infrastructure isn't better able to accommodate both high customer volume and have better security measures, as well as increase the system's stability (I've had a number of experiences over the years where errors and glitches booted me out in the middle of ticket purchasing transactions). I realize that's easier said than done, but that's their problem, not mine. Springsteen-related Ticketmaster issues are nothing new, mind you. When some of his U.S. east coast shows went on sale in 2009, many fans on Ticketmaster's site were greeted with error messages and automatically redirected to the TicketsNow site, which is a Ticketmaster subsidiary that specializes in selling hugely marked up tickets (the eBay-owned StubHub is another popular ticket resell site). That fiasco prompted Springsteen's personal ire and a massive public outcry, along with a class-action lawsuit, an investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, and newly proposed laws to better protect consumers. Earlier this year, fans were again up in arms when tickets for Springsteen shows in New York and New Jersey were mysteriously unavailable for many, a problem Ticketmaster attributed to "abnormal traffic patterns on our site" from "highly suspicious sources" (that'd be those pesky bots).
Ticketmaster's infamously excessive fees are the number one customer complaint, as this breakdown from a recent ticket purchase I made for an upcoming concert by Garbage illustrates: $28.50 for the ticket (which includes provincial sales tax), a $1 "facility charge", and a "convenience charge" (whatever the hell that is) of $9.25. How do you add an additional charge amounting to almost one third the face value of the ticket price and get away with it? Incredible. Then again, this is a company that has the cojones to actually charge $2.50 per ticket with their TicketFast option, which lets customers print tickets on their own printer. You read that right - $2.50 to use your own paper and ink.
One of the most discouraging things about the whole situation is there's absolutely no indication any of this nonsense of being stuck with one ticketing option will change in the foreseeable future. Ticketmaster is such a behemoth that getting the ticket business to a more level playing field with serious competition simply isn't a financially viable option for anyone. If a band as high profile and powerful as Pearl Jam was in 1994 couldn't even put a dent in these gluttonous swines when they took on the company for unscrupulous and monopolistic practices, then there's little hope...and Ticketmaster has only gotten stronger since then. In a transcript of the U.S. Congress testimony from a couple of band members, I thought it was quite telling that one of the grievances listed against Ticketmaster was their lack of ethics (not that I look for that quality in any big company, mind you). One cited example involved the company apparently trying to back out of an agreement to donate a portion of their profits from a Pearl Jam show to charity. After obvious objection from the band and a tense standoff, the testimony states that Ticketmaster ultimately failed to make the charitable donation that had been mutually agreed upon. Considering Pearl Jam's level of integrity, that this was Congressional testimony, and that Ticketmaster never sued the band for defamation or slander (if that was even possible), I have no reason to suspect the story isn't true.
Ticketmaster - screwing fans (and occasionally charities) since 1976.

6 comments:

  1. These ticket brokerage services are notorious for this. Some experts have estimated that fewer than 50% of the seats in most venues ever become available to the general public. Most of the best tickets go out the back door to "promotional considerations." Translation: the scalpers who offer the biggest bribes.

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    1. 50%?! Wow. Even if it was half that, that's a beyond ridiculous percentage.

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  2. Great blog! Agree with everything Drew! And I also wonder if ticketmaster is involved with Stubhub somehow as well, and maybe they are making money all around the block!
    As I mentioned to you in my email, (after I paid double on Stubhub for 2 tickets the night before), I scored some pretty good seats through ticketmaster... but it was totally the "luck of the draw". I was pretty shocked, (to say the least), that I actually even got on the site and was able to get any tickets at all! I've heard sooooo many complaints about ticketmaster, so I didn't set my hopes to high that I was going to get any tickets...so I was very shocked that I did! Looking forward to the show!
    (P.S. I also replied to your email as well...)
    Kathie

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    1. Missed this comment until now...must have got lost in the shuffle when I temporarily took down the post. Thanks again for everything, Kathie.

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  3. What a funny and on the nose post. That last line killed me!! Ticketmaster is terrible and I hate dealing with them but there is no other option, is there?

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