Sunday, April 19, 2009

So Maligned, So Misunderstood...

Poor Ticketmaster. So big, so maligned, so misunderstood.

Maybe it has something to do with those Springsteen tickets that somehow disappeared immediately from Ticketmaster's web site and ended up on a secondary market site called "TicketsNow" - at inflated prices, of course. Just a small detail: "TicketsNow" is owned by Ticketmaster. A settlement with the New Jersey attorney general's office cost the ticket behemoth only $350,000.

Or, maybe it has to do with the four class-action suits in Canada that have been filed against Ticketmaster, including one for $500 million. Apparently some concert-goers got a bit huffy following the purchase of 2 tickets for a concert of "Smashing Pumpkins" on the TicketsNow web site for $533.65 instead of the $133 that it would have cost if the tickets were available at regular prices.

And to add insult to injury, Ticketmaster has been ranked only 5th in the "Worst Company in America" competition (today is the last day to vote as it goes up against number 12-seed United Health Care). Looks like Ticketmaster is an odds-on favorite to go to the semifinals against the winner of Citibank vs. Sprint (hey, I don't make this stuff up! http://consumerist.com/tag/worst-company-in-america/). I'm betting on a Ticketmaster vs. Chrysler final.

Truth be told, Ticketmaster is just a symptom of a business that can be very dirty. At least with Ticketmaster (or its subsidiaries), you actually get the tickets you pay for – even if they are sometimes at outrageous prices. Pity more the poor folks who purchase tickets from bogus web sites or find that the tickets that they receive are simply counterfeits of the real deal.

We all have friends that have been scammed – just this past week two couples I know who bought tickets for a July concert of Springsteen in Dublin discovered that their tickets came from a fake web site. They were lucky, as the credit card company refunded their money.

The grimier sides of the ticket business also have ramifications in other areas. Just a few months ago I ran into an unexpected problem that caused a legitimate ticket company delays and not a few headaches: a number of the clearance companies we contacted rejected our application – they simply did not want to touch a company involved in the ticket business.

It didn't matter when we explained to them the business model: "Nope", the underwriters said, "too many charge-backs, too risky". Fortunately, a solid clearance company was finally found that understood the business model.

America in recent years went soft on "secondary market" sales, and in many states "scalping" has been legalized, much of it simply out of frustration and a lack of desire to deal with the problem. Looks like, however that there is some push-back, not only from a frustrated and angry public, but even in the form of federal legislation, as proposed recently by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY).

I get a little nervous, though, when Ticketmaster hails the proposed legislation, as its CEO, Irving Azoff, recently stated: "Ticketmaster recognizes that the ticket resale industry needs far-reaching changes to better protect consumers and ensure fair access to tickets". Indeed.

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