Ticket-Less Ticketing?

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Arts Advocacy Day 2013 | GP McLeer

After I wrap up things at the office today, I’ll be headed to Charlotte, NC to catch one of my favorite bands perform at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre. But there’s one company effecting my experience tonight, and million of other ticket buyers across the globe.

Ticketmaster.

The company known much more for its fees, rather than tickets has another layer of red tape for me and my sister, who is joining me tonight in Charlotte. Forget the $13.50 we’re paying in pure ticket fees for each of us, ($27 total – that’s another blog post in itself), the culprit this time is Restricted Paperless Ticketing.

Some of you may have experienced this ticketing option already – it’s been in existence since 2009, but has really started to make waves in the past year or so and was even used at the Black Keys concert at Charter Amphitheater this month. But in case you haven’t had to deal with Ticketmaster and their new “paperless” ticketing system, let me explain.

Since essentially the dawn of time, tickets were linked to possession. Whoever has the ticket at the door gets in – no ID check, no entrance exam, no questions – you just scanned your ticket and went. But of course this possession-only ticket idea lends itself to scalpers who overprice tickets they have purchased to high demand concerts or sporting events.

In an effort to further deter scalpers, Ticketmaster has rolled out a new ticketing structure that links your ticket to your credit card, not possession. When you arrive at the venue, you present your credit card and ID, your card is swiped to ensure it’s legitimate, and you’re on your merry way. One may at first think this model would be easier for everyone. No ticket to remember (or forget), no printer needed, no smartphone needed, and since it’s your credit card you know no one else can steal your seat.

But besides the fact that Restricted Paperless Tickets actually have no tickets – you don’t get an email ticket, a paper ticket or anything like that; it should really be called “ticket-less ticketing” – the new system has raised many concerns with fans.

The largest issue with this new structure becomes apparent when you think about buying tickets for your friends or family. You used to be able give or email your extra ticket to your buddy ahead of time in case you arrived at different times. Not anymore. Because your ticket is linked to your credit card, only that credit card used to purchase the tickets will be accepted for entry. Meaning that you have to wait for all members of your party to show up before you enter the venue. So if your Aunt Ann is running late or stuck in traffic, you have to wait for her to arrive before you enter the venue – possibly losing your seat if the show is General Admission. Or let’s say you buy your daughter and her friends tickets to a concert for her birthday, but your daughter is grown and lives in Denver and the concert is in Denver. You may think you’ve bought your daughter a great birthday present, but alas, unless your daughter has your credit card with her (in Denver), she will not be able to enter the venue.

To be fair, Ticketmaster has a “transfer” program which is free and allows you to transfer your purchased tickets to another person’s credit card, but it is not offered for all concerts. You can also resell your ticket (again, not offered for all concerts), but you can only use Ticketmaster and no other after-market websites (eBay, StubHub, etc.).

Other issues that arise out of the program come into play when you address lost or stolen credit cards (you’ll have to call Ticketmaster about that), new credit cards (they advise you to bring your old one), you forgot your credit card (apparently this policy differs by venue, so that’s reassuring….) using gift cards to buy tickets (you can’t), and not to mention the education required to convert an entire world population who is used to having a physical ticket in hand to having nothing in hand. It’s all spelled out on their website. (note: When I first looked into this ticketing structure a while ago, they had a lot more information about their policy on this website, and now it’s all been condensed into one or two sentence answers.)

[Check out this video for a quick overview of some of the issues at hand]

The one thing Ticketmaster has done successfully with this new system is make it nearly impossible to scalp tickets. Since there is no physical ticket to send to a person, there is nothing that a scalper can sell. (Recently, the Sandy Relief Benefit Concert held on 12.12.12 saw tickets selling for as high as $60,000 on after-market ticketing sites.) By linking attendees to credit cards and not possession, Ticketmaster has essentially eliminated the ticket.

If this new ticketing policy concerns you, you’re not alone. There are plenty of online movements trying to battle Ticketmaster, and even some legitimate legal questions that need to be answered (does this restrict the free market, does it damage consumers, etc.). But as more and more tours begin using this Restricted Paperless Ticketing system, this may very well become the norm. While there are other ticketing outlets out there who are changing the game in ticketing, Ticketmaster is a giant and anything it does typically trickles down.

Fortunately for Dave, Carter, Boyd, Stefan, Tim, Jeff and Rashawn (members of my favorite band), I value their music over Ticketmaster and won’t let it stop me from seeing them live – and I guess Ticketmaster knows that too.

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