Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ticket Brokers and eBay Bastards

Bear with me, this is a long one! So much anger, so little time…

Convenience may be the mother of invention, but greed is the mother of all human evils. Over the years, ticket prices for live events have become astronomical. In the 1970s, concert tickets used to be under $10. Today they are in the hundreds, and that’s face value!

In the olden days, to purchase tickets, you would visit the venue’s box office during normal business hours, or on a Saturday. If you really, really wanted them, you’d camp out the night before. Eventually you could purchase tickets by phone using a credit card, or at remote locations, as well as the box office. A small fee per ticket or per order was charged for this convenience. Eventually the ticket mafia was formed and took over all phone ticket sales, as well as all the satellite locations. Yous got to use our machines now, capiche? On the East Coast, the first ticket mafia was Ticketron. Eventually the head of Ticketron was whacked and a bigger, even more evil ticket mafia came in and took over the country. That evil, unregulated cash whore was none other than TicketMaster.

Today, nearly all ticket transactions are done online through TicketMaster, who charges ever-increasing and ridiculous “convenience” charges. If you work for TicketMaster, that makes you a cash whore too. There is nothing redeeming about your company. Please quit. Perhaps you can move to Virginia or the Carolinas and grow tobacco, convincing yourself someone’s gonna do it, why not you?

And if convenience charges aren’t bad enough, ticket brokers and eBay entrepreneurs have now guaranteed that nearly every live event where tickets are sold electronically (concert, play, musical, opera, even sporting events except for maybe single-A minor league baseball) will be sold out within a matter of minutes, often seconds. Of course they are available online within an hour at ticket broker sites and eBay at fair market prices (twice the price or more), eventually quadruple or greater as the date of the event draws nearer.

Tickets have become commodities, and fans the traders (more like victims).

I believe in free enterprise, but not when it prices so many people out of the market. If you can afford $300 tickets, good for you. Most can’t. There has to be a way for people to purchase tickets to events at face value, without a phone bank, mainframe and staffers. Typing in obfuscated (look it up) words at TicketMaster’s site clearly isn’t working.

The only satisfaction I find from this nightmare is when a broker or eBay entrepreneur is stuck with overpriced tickets that they cannot sell and they take a big loss. Serves your greedy ass right. You’re not an entrepreneur or financial genius; you’re an extortionist.

So here’s an idea. My volunteer staffers and I will start booking all available appointments at the local open MRI facilities. When someone calls for an appointment, the receptionist can transfer the call to Medical Appointment Brokers (my new business venture). When we get the call, we’ll just screen on occupation, side businesses and the money-for-nothing factor. If you’re not a broker or eBay scalper, no worries. You get whatever is available for free (no convenience or facility charge). Otherwise, what do you need an MRI for? Concussion? Aneurysm? Tumor? Well, our pricing structure is based on how badly you need the appointment, and if you deserve to live.

Same idea for heart trouble. When MAB gets a demon-spawn ticket broker on the phone, the one-sided conversation would go something like this: “Heart trouble, huh? Boy, that could be serious. Well, as the receptionist told you, all available appointments have been taken, but I’d be happy to broker an appointment for you. For $150 you can see an intern… No, that’s a high school intern. He’s got his magnifying glass and Chemistry set. And he’s a mathlete! For $600, you can see a nurse. Registered?...um, sure [handgun owner maybe] For $1795 you can see a first-year resident. For $6800 you can see a cardiologist. Board certified? Yeah, that’ll be $12,765. Lab tests? Hold on. I was reading from the red book. Those are prices for standard services. That only includes a stethoscope and a tongue depressor, with a free prostate exam. If you want an EKG or X-Rays, you’re talking premium services. That’s the blue book. Hold on…”

You get the idea.

Remember the day when people would camp out all night and buy up to their eight-ticket limit? People would respect the line. You could make a food or beer run for your new comrades, and leave your lawnchair and sleeping bag in safe hands while strangers held your spot. I was OK with those days, because they were diehard fans buying for themselves and their friends. The most they would ask for is gas money or a sandwich. My friend Frank suggested box offices should hold some actual tickets that people have to purchase in person so it’s possible to get tickets at face value, just like the good old days, even if it’s the day before the event. This may work for a while, but I imagine the brokers will soon have runners (much like drug dealers do), scooping up all the on-site tickets.

The solution? Once again make it illegal (and I don’t know when it actually became legal) to scalp tickets in person, online or through the USPS. If it isn’t so easy for companies to legally scalp at enormous profits, maybe it will diminish. eBay has to fall back in line too. Once people are prevented from ripping other people off just because they got to the tickets first, we can go back to crushing TicketMaster and its ilk. You want to charge me $5 for the lot (not per ticket) for booking my tickets, fine. Anything else is bullshit.

I recently purchased two tickets to see Jerry Seinfeld in Baltimore as a present for my wife’s birthday. Face value, they were $75 each. Then another $15 each for convenience. I got the tickets by winning the fastest fingers contest at TicketMaster.com the second the tickets went on sale. The event was sold out in less than four minutes. I could have purchased four tickets, and knew I could sell the other two for at least double what I paid, probably higher. But I didn’t. Why not? It’s such a smart, entrepreneurial move. You know it’s a hot commodity, and will sell quickly, at a great inflated value on eBay. Why not? Because I have a soul and a conscience, and I’m not a hypocrite, at least in this one instance.


10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey Mike, what a moron you are, as well as a whiner. You bash charging more for tickets than the venue, but not your beloved Celebs that sell blocks of their Premium Seats on auction on ticketmaster or directly to to brokers at higher prices so they can make more. The advertising on this very website is for cds that cost mere pennies to make, but sell for 10-20 bucks each. "thats bullshit"? Sounds to me like that is way more than cost, way more than twice the cost of a ticket. I guess the local record stores are cash whores too, since they sell for more than they pay. Or is that OK because thats their "service fee" and if the markup is more than $5, that must be bullshit too right? Screw mom and pop store, retail markup at 80%, bullshit! You arent talking about tickets you dumbass, your talking about every single item that is bought for purpose of resale, whether is a barney DVD (charging more for childrens entertainment, thats bullshit) or a bottle of old wine (charging more for something cause its older, thats bullshit). Ticketmaster changed the world for people who dont live 10 mins from their box office, or who pump money into the local economy because they travel into town, stay in a hotel, eat at your fav local resturant so it can stay in business, not to mention the tax dollars it generates. $30 is well spent on ticketmaster rather than waiting in line for 6 hours and it selling out 4 people before you get to the front, especially with gas at $3 a gallon. Think about what you say before you say it dumbass. If someone has the time to get online at 8am and click themselves stupid to get me good seats, I love em for it. I wont do it, and Im not seeing bon jovi from the rafters, so Ill pay an extra $200. Cant afford paying twice face? You can still camp out. Bottom line is the people with the money to pay the fees, are to damn busy working their ass off at their job to play camp a thon. I think they deserve the same right to see the show as the cat on welfare who has all the time in the world on a Tuesday to stand in line for tickets. Oh yeah, the guy who pumps the shit out of my septic tank and charges me for it, thats bullshit, or my shit, it doesnt cost him anything to put it in the sewer...or am I paying him to do the shitty work that I dont want to do myself??? Will you post this, probably not, but I hope you will. Its not an attack on you, but the other side of the argument. I hope you realize now that while I and everyone else hate paying the "bullshit fees" they are better than the alternative, unless you are a worthless piece of shit living off my tax dollars and have the time to get tickets the old fashion way.

Mike said...

Dear Anonymous-

I have posted your response but noticed you didn't sign it. We disagree.

Travis Shepherd said...

Well over a year later -

Anonymous, you have a valid point that retail markup on most items is equivalently high. However, those items follow traditional economics of supply and demand. If I am producing a good, its value is relevant to the demand of said good (IE, how much will people pay for this?) In the traditional scenario, supply is also driven by demand (IE, how many of these things will people buy?)

For a concert or event, there is fixed supply; there are only so many available seats. In order to present a fair price such that cost is not driven solely by demand in the constraints of a fixed supply, locations sell tickets at a fixed price.

For you to call someone protesting inflated ticket prices a whiner, take a step back and examine the situation. These "services" are not providing a service for fans of the event; they are solely interested in converting the economic scenario into one of supply and demand by artificially inflating prices to match the demand for the fixed supply. This is actually contradictory to the original intent of the seller - to provide fair prices to all fans. These businesses are doing a disservice to the fans by preventing genuinely interested people from attending by removing their ability to purchase a ticket at a fair price, and selling that ticket to someone willing to pay more. It takes the purchasing power from the poor and distributes it to the rich.

Imagine if you purchased a ticket at face value, but when you attended the event, someone else is sitting in your seat. When you approach them, they say "give me 5 times what you paid for the ticket, and you can sit here. Otherwise, get lost." The guy sitting there has no interest in seeing the event, just the opportunity cost of making 400% profit. Each ticket purchased by a retailer is actually preventing someone who wishes to attend at the face value price from seeing the event.

As for resellers selling at a loss, the insane markup of a single ticket often covers 5 or more tickets at their original purchase price.

A final point I would like to make is that the "fair market" is centered on the idea of competition; this is where you have multiple providers of the same service or good who charge prices competitively. For a particular concert or event, you cannot have competition because of the fixed supply of seats. Any competition here is actually against the consumer's best interest as it is the businesses competing for the highest price people are willing to pay, not the lowest price to draw in a potential customer.

Anonymous said...

Travis,

The old, old concept of supply/demand implicitly assumes that the good or resource in question is scarce.

Tickets, a "scarce resource", fit this description. The supply for everything is fixed in some way or another.

To complain about ticket scalpers is to complain that the concept of supply & demand are not true (otherwise no one would buy the tickets at an inflated price from the scalper).

-Ryan

Mike said...

What's even older than the concept of supply & demand? Misdirection. To complain about ticket scalpers is to complain about ticket scalpers. I don't like the practice, and rationalizing the behavior won't change my opinion. Taking advantage of people, and creating an inflated scare resource, is douchey.

~Not anonymous

Travis Shepherd said...

Anonymous,

You missed my point entirely. I'm not arguing that tickets are not a scarce resource, or that the economics are any different here.

To complain about ticket scalpers it not to complain "that the concept of supply & demand is not true;" it is to complain that ticket resellers do not provide any value to anyone other than themselves. The venue is selling at a fixed price, less than the market clearing price, and does this willingly. The reseller is capitalizing on the venue's lack of doucheyness by adding their own. The fans don't benefit and the venue doesn't benefit.

A counterpoint you could make is that the venue benefits by selling all their seats. While this may seem true shortsightedly, you will notice that it is not in the reseller's best interest to fill inventory if they do not believe the tickets will sell, especially since they are attempting to sell the tickets at a higher value. If the venue was not likely to sell out on their own, the reseller will be even less likely to do so given the markup. The reseller is going to be risk averse and try to avoid buying tickets that won't sell.

Just because the resource is scarce does not make the action of scalping any less douchey, as Mike put it.

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