Monday, October 5, 2009

Truth in Advertising

Posted by Richie Jay

Ticketmaster, for those of you who've never heard of them, is a company that makes lots and lots of money by doing very, very little.

Basically, for indefensibly and usuriously large sums of money, Ticketmaster provides a website (and in some, but not all, cases, a phone line) that sells tickets to events at many venues. With their near monopoly on sporting event and concert ticketing (at least in the New York City area), they add dramatic surcharges to almost every ticket sold. On cheaper tickets, the surcharges can sometimes exceed the ticket price (The Yankees sell $5 tickets for certain seats at select games, but after Ticketmaster fees, the price per ticket usually exceeds $10). For most orders, there is a per ticket fee, a per order fee, and then a shipping fee (if applicable). You can opt to have the tickets e-mailed to you as PDFs, instead, but that also costs money. There is no way to avoid the first two fees (per ticket and per order), but the third fee (shipping) can be avoided if you opt for standard first class mail without tracking. You can circumvent Ticketmaster if you go to the actual venue to buy tickets, but for most people this would involve making two trips, often of significant distance, and the inconvenience is simply not worth it. In some regulated industries, making virtually every person pay a fee on top of the advertised price would be legally suspect, but for entertainment tickets in the US, anything goes. So, with no better options, we resign ourselves to paying money for a service that should be free or nearly free (online plane, bus, and train ticketing: free, and usually cheaper than in-person or by phone; online museum, theme park, and zoo ticketing: usually free, and often cheaper; online movie ticketing: $1 or so, which I still don't get.).

Last week when I bought tickets to postseason Yankees games, I was not surprised to face steep Ticketmaster fees. During a short window of time--stated as 7 hours, but usually about 10 minutes or so in reality--the few tickets made available to the many partial season pass holders go on sale through Ticketmaster. You can only buy these tickets online. Not in person. Not by phone. There is NO way to avoid the Ticketmaster fees. If the Yankees or Ticketmaster were an airline, this practice would be illegal, as the total advertised price would not include all the mandatory taxes and fees, and NO ONE could actually buy the tickets for the prices shown. But, as you know, the Yankees and Ticketmaster are not airlines (You think the fees are getting a little ridiculous for air travel now? Just imagine what Ticketmaster would conjure up charges for!).

I ordered 2 tickets to one game in the ALDS series, paying per ticket fees of $6 each ($12) and a per order charge of $3.25. I was offered shipping options ranging from $2.50 (for PDFs) to about $20 for overnight shipping. Since I figured that Ticketmaster already got enough money, and tickets are guaranteed to arrive on time no matter the method, I opted for the free method (first class mail).

Since the ALDS is just a few days away now and Ticketmaster has not yet printed and shipped the tickets, they decided to send me PDFs instead. This is where things get humorous. Ticketmaster decided to extol their generosity by sending an email trumpeting how they are waiving the $2.50 PDF ticket charge as a courtesy, even though I did not request it, and even though it is their own delay in printing and shipping the tickets that has necessitated 'upgrading' me to that ticketing option. Oh, and they conveniently neglected to mention that they've already gotten more than $15 out of me for this one electronic ticket order, involving no human contact or intervention whatsoever, nor any postage.

As a free courtesy to Ticketmaster (no charge!), I've decided to slightly edit their recent email to better reflect the truth:

Hello, this is Ticketmaster Customer Service with an important alert for your upcoming event New York Yankees, scheduled at Yankee Stadium.

Our records show that you selected either standard US mail or UPS delivery. Because there is not enough time for your tickets to be shipped by standard mail or UPS (since we were too busy brainstorming new and exciting fees), your tickets will instead be sent to you electronically via Ticketmaster’s ticketFast® electronic ticket delivery system. Ticketmaster will waive the standard $2.50 ticketFast delivery fee for this event as a special offer to you, and will instead charge you $15.25 for the order, or almost $8 per ticket, to cover the enormous costs involved in the fully automated purchasing and emailing of your tickets. These charges would be much greater, but due to the economies of scale generated by selling over 140 million tickets each year, we pass the savings on to you! In fact, there's only three cents in ticketing costs borne by each customer for each ticket--the other $7 or so covers the absolutely necessary administrative costs of our lean, efficient operation, like private jets for our executives to fly to Hannah Montana concerts around the globe (our CEO is her #1 fan), 4-ply toilet paper for their famously sensitive nether regions, and stacks and stacks of hundred dollar bills to fill the eco-friendly 'green' waterless swimming pool on the roof of our corporate headquarters. Simply print your tickets on any standard printer and bring the printout(s) to the game to be scanned for entry.

Your ticket(s) will be emailed to the email address that you provided at the time of purchase. If you originally opted for UPS delivery, the delivery fees will be refunded to your credit card, but don't feel too sorry for us, because we'll do just fine with all the other fees you've already paid. Please allow 7-10 business days for the credit to process, because we've already been earning interest on your money for about a week, and with another week's interest we'll have enough money to commission a new 100-foot-tall statue of Ronald Reagan in our headquarters lobby, constructed entirely out of ticket stubs, and glued together with the tears of our customers.

We appreciate your understanding. If you have any questions, please contact us online (but don't you dare call us...phone operators are ex-pen-sive!) at:
Thank you for getting used by Ticketmaster!


Jack said...

I am going to watch all the Yankees post season games in a very warm and comfortable seat, eat and drink well, and to go the mens room in between innings without waiting in line, and never miss a pitch. I will be able to listen to some intelligent (and not so intelligent) commentary, watch replays of controvercial plays and actions missed while beer vendors are blocking others' views. I will not have to leave home hours before the game to seek a parking space and wait hours after the game to get my car out of a parking lot and go home. And, did I mention, I won't have to deal with ticketmaster either? When the game ends I will have to make the long journey (by foot) up to my bed and go to sleep.
Yeah, don't say it, I know, it's not the same as being there seeing it live, but I keep thinking about the hundreds of dollars I'll save by watching on my big screen TV in HD and it kinda makes it all OK because that's the only way to put it to the Steinbrenners and Ticketmasters of the world.

Unknown said...

I can still vividly remember the roar of the stadium when Doc Gooden threw the last pitch of his no-hitter, more than 10 years ago. And I recall many other amazing baseball moments that I have witnessed, including the last game ever in the old Yankee Stadium (Jack was in attendance as well). But for everyone of those amazing games, there are ten unremarkable, forgettable ones which make you wonder if it was worth the money, time, and hassle. With the help of Steinbrenner and Ticketmaster it is becoming prohibitively expensive to attend these games. Still, at the end of the day, being there with family and friends, and watching role models like Derek Jeter--well, the couch just doesn't compare.