Thursday, May 28, 2009

How To Buy Broadway Theater-Concert & Sporting Event Tickets Without Getting "Scalped"

Did you ever hear the expression "the more things change, the more they stay the same"? This is certainly true when it comes to the ticket industry. An industry that has provided a very good living for my family and everyone employed at our small Broadway ticket business called Applause.

So what do I mean by this talk of things changing but really remaining the same in the ticket business? It's simple really. For over 70 years, licensed ticket agencies in New York City have been buying and selling Broadway, Concert and Sporting Event tickets to the general public, corporations that entertain their best clients, hotel concierge that fulfill guest requests and the travel industry for New York City vacationers. Although it seemed like there were only a handful of licensed ticket agencies like Applause, there were always many other ticket companies out there that operated outside of New York City. They did so to avoid the SERVICE CHARGE "cap" as well as to not have to pay taxes that those of us operating a business in New York have had to.

So our company and others like Applause that operated within the rules of the "ticket reselling laws" ran very good ticket businesses with the emphasis on "service, knowledge and reasonable service charges". We still do so to this day and are proud of it.

Around 10 years ago, some fairly astute companies that had fantastic technology in ticketing figured out a way to bring the technology to the Internet, added inventory for Broadway shows, concerts and sporting events then allowed the public to buy tickets electronically. Although we buy all sorts of products and services on-line these days, the technology has helped the public get every possible ticket for any event at their fingertips inside of a few keystrokes. There is still one problem that continues to exist with regard to buying tickets for events today. The public is often being fooled into thinking they can buy specific seating locations and then when they go on-line or call a ticket company to make a purchase, suddenly the ticket broker might say something like "sorry, we don't have section 121 but we have tickets between sections 123 and 126, but the seats are not in stock yet". Which really is a way of the ticket broker "lining up" a sale, making the customer wait for days, weeks, maybe even months to get the "actual ticket". This is all due to speculation on the part of the ticket broker. It has gone on this way for decades and will continue to be this way for all of time I suspect. Basically the ticket broker often doesn't own the specific seats he markets at times but is hoping to acquire them, keep his customer happy then finally close the sale. One problem is that customers like to have "tickets in their hands" soon after they place an order, not have to wait a long time to get them.

To show you that "the more things change, the more they stay the same", I would like to refer you to the recent problems the ticket industry is having with regard to some Bruce Springsteen concerts that have recently taken place at the Izod Center in New Jersey this past month as well as the new set of concerts Mr. Springsteen and his band will have on September 30, October 2 and 3 of 2009 at the Giants Stadium complex. The latter dates are going on sale to the general public on June 1, 2009.

The May concerts that just played had much controversy for sure whereby fans accused TicketMaster and other secondary market ticket sellers of playing games with tickets. Consumers were forced to pay scalper prices even before the primary ticket seller allowed the events to go "on sale" to the general public. This makes no sense of course thus bringing great attention to all of us in the ticket selling industry. I simply don't want my company Applause to be painted with the same "tainted brush" that so many of these ticket companies are confronting these days. These practices have gone on for decades and will continue to do so forever.

In today's local New York and New Jersey newspapers, there are articles written about Bruce Sprinsteen's new Fall 2009 Giants Stadium tour dates and another controversy with ticket distribution. For instance, Anne Milgram, New Jersey's Attorney General has filed charges against several ticket resellers. In the lawsuit, Ms. Milgram has accused these firms of "illegally advertising and selling tickets to upcoming concerts by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Giants Stadium". I believe the charges involve one New Jersey, one Connecticut and one Chicago based ticket company with "advertising and selling concert tickets to consumers without actually having those tickets in its possession". This brings to light that there are probably dozens and dozens of ticket companies that often display tickets on their web sites, but really don't own actual inventory. These companies were offering at least several hundred tickets to Mr. Springteen's upcoming concerts at hundreds of dollars above the printed price on the ticket (face value) and have done so more than a week before the actual concerts go "on sale" to the general public on June 1, 2009. One of these companies had the nerve to offer seats in sections 214 and 130 (in row 30 and row 45). These sections only have seats up to row 11 and row 41 respectively. So they are trying to sell "phantom seats" or seats that clearly don't exist. Once again, they hope to advertise, make sales and then "fill" their ticket orders, deceiving the public that they really are buying what they think they are buying.

Apparently undercover agents made purchases then documented that these ticket companies don't posses any inventory. I don't think Mr.Springsteen is going to be happy about this second "scalping" issue that is sure to upset his huge fan base. It appears that many on-line ticket brokers are trying to drive up ticket prices according to Ms. Milgram's office.

To quote the New Jersey Attorney Generals office the lawsuits say that "the advertisement and sale of the tickets by the three companies constitute the use or employment of unconscionable commercial practices, deception, fraud, false pretense and/or misrepresentation to New Jersey consumers". If its happening in New Jersey, it is happening all over probably right? Ms. Milgram further went on to say that "you cannot make fraudulent or misleading statements" and that " you cannot tell consumers you have a ticket to sell when in fact you do not have that ticket". Lastly she went on the record as saying "there's no question that they didn't have the tickets. It's plain fraud". The lawsuits are trying to stop these companies from marketing, advertising and selling tickets they clearly do not own. In addition they seek restitution for affected consumers. The state is threatening to revoke or suspend the license of one of the New Jersey licensed ticket companies. These lawsuits are a part of a greater investigation into the February 2, 2009 sale of the first set of Bruce Springsteen concerts that took place earlier this month. Apparently thousands of fans complained that they couldn't obtain tickets from TicketMaster and had to buy them through one of the large on-line secondary market ticket companies for considerably higher prices than they felt they should have paid if secured through the primary ticket distribution method. Although TicketMaster made refunds and paid some damages to some consumers, Attorney General Milgram feels that "the industry is in need of serious reform".

In my professional opinion as a more than 31 year licensed ticket agent", mostly selling tickets for Broadway theater, I understand Ms. Milgram has an obligation to protect the needs of the New Jersey public. Unfortunately I think she will come to agree with me as she studies the industry over time, that "the more things change, the more they stay the same. Some ticket brokers are often looking to make a quick buck. It's not necessarily at the expense of the public (as many don't mind paying high ticket prices). It's often that these "sketchy" ticket brokers simply want to "make some sales ahead of the competition".

People that don't mind paying higher prices to obtain tickets are probably not affected by this discussion but its always the "average" person that is left to wonder why they should pay sometimes double, triple and even up to several times more than the "face value" of the ticket for an event. It's companies like the ones mentioned in the lawsuit that have been giving those of us licensed and legitimate ticket brokers a "bad name". Ms. Milgram will learn that there have always been illicit ticket brokering practices for decades now. Those "scalpers" that charge "highway robbery" prices just because an event was in demand. And although I personally helped to lobby and give testimony in New York legislature meetings years ago to help deregulate "service charge pricing" restrictions in New York, my goal was to keep legitimizing my company as a reputable ticket seller. The old laws used to "cap" our service charge at 20 %, an extremely low margin to make a living running a business and paying taxes in New York City. So now in a sense, we have invited competition to New York as the deregulation allows ticket companies to sell tickets at any price they want to. Although we can charge what we want, its another thing to expect the consuming public to pay outrageous prices, particularly in this downward economy.

So now that we all can accept that ticket brokers can charge whatever they think is fair market pricing, today's lawsuits against these three ticket companies points out something I have always been concerned about my entire 31 year career in the ticket industry. The subject of "scalping" is as old a profession as prostitution. Many feel that the public is not having a gun held to its head with high ticket prices as people can always refuse to pay the high prices. But there is no reason for ticket companies to traffic in "pretending" to sell seats they clearly "do not own". In my opinion, it is intentionally forcing consumers to "over-pay" for tickets that they could very likely be able to purchase at the regular box office price or even the usually fair service charges of the primary ticket distributor of the venue, in this case TicketMaster.

In my own business of selling Broadway tickets, we offer tickets for some of the shows that we "do not have physical inventory" for. Please allow me to explain this. There are shows that DO NOT sell out their inventory most days, so we advertise a BELOW FACE VALUE "special" on our home page that we have the public call us for. Then we explain that although we don't have the actual ticket, we can buy it on their behalf, add on a small service charge then sell it for a very reasonable price. In fact we sell these tickets below the regular printed price of admission. But it is important to note that we "never confirm" that we have these tickets nor do we bill the consumer's credit card until we have indeed secured the tickets. We can all understand that a rock concert ticket is a different sort of animal when compared to the Broadway theater ticket. There are only a handful of performance dates for Bruce Springsteen and other concert artists during the course of a year but hundreds of performance dates for a Broadway show, which plays eight performances a week. So in general, rock concert ticket demands are much greater than Broadway theater, possibly bringing the "scalpers" loads of extra profits they simply do not wish to part with.

Even after a mostly "deregulated" ticket industry in this country, the public still has to put up with the shenanigans of a "few bad apples" in the ticket business. This will always be the way it is. I think the important thing for the public to remember when buying tickets is to really research the company they want to buy from.

Some tips you may want to consider when shopping for tickets:
1.Ask for the ticket company's State they do business in as well as their license #.
2.Ask how long the company has been in business.
3.Ask for references of other ticket buyers.
4.Check out the web site's FAQ section of the site.
5.Make sure you can speak with a live ticket agent. Also ask if you can place a phone order not just a web site on-line order.
6.Get the exact seat location wherever possible.
7. Get a guarantee of delivery date of your tickets.
8.Most importantly, like many things in life, if it seems too good to be true, then maybe it is too good to be true.

Our 21 year old company Applause Theater Service, specializes in providing a very friendly and knowledgeable ticket service for obtaining Broadway tickets in New York. Although our specialty is being the "local Broadway expert", we would be pleased to lead you in the right direction if you ever need concert tickets or sporting event tickets. We don't usually have our own concert and sporting event tickets in stock but we can refer you to other trustworthy, local providers that will take good care of you.

Of course when you find yourself looking into obtaining tickets for Broadway, we hope you'll consider using our ticket service. If you have a chance to look at our web site, you'll get a feeling for who we are. Good luck.

Rich Gladstone
Applause Theater Service
311 West 43rd Street, suite 601
New York, New York 10036
local phone 212-307-7050
toll free 800-451-9930
web site

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