There comes a point in every jukebox musical where the audience is encouraged to their feet, sometimes sooner rather than later, to dance, sway or sing along with the music. It always strikes me as not only as a deeply fraudulent way to guarantee a standing ovation, but a cheap device, too: the audience are effectively paying good money to entertain themselves.
And nowadays, with a majority of theatre tickets being sold online, too, audiences are often paying a big service charge for doing exactly the same thing: making the transaction themselves. Of course, there’s a back office cost of supporting the online infrastructure, but it’s surely nothing like the inflated transaction and handling fees that are added to the top of the ticket price. It is, literally, a licence to print money.
I love the add-on euphemistically titled “convenience fee” that is sometimes added when you buy tickets online in the US, and the “delivery charge” for printing out your own tickets at home: here, you’re being charged for the automatically generated PDF file, then you spend your own money on printer ink to actually print them. It always reminds me of the great Bette Midler line about being asked for payment to use a Parisian toilet: “But I did it all myself!”
The ticketing companies, by contrast, do nothing themselves: they don’t make the shows, pay the actors or theatre staff, or support the upkeep of the venues. They merely act as intermediaries between the public and the producers. And neither the public nor the producers have any say at all in which ticketing companies are being used to deliver that service. It’s a like-it-or-lump-it world.
And of course, with some events — where demand is always going to exceed supply — those ticket agencies not only control access in the first place, but can also manage the ongoing, behind-the-scenes traffic in ‘secondary ticketing’. Fans of the Rolling Stones have been reported this week to have had their fury ignited by the fact that, after tickets sold out for their return gigs at the O2 Arena next month within seven minutes, they were being steered by Ticketmaster instead to their own secondary ticketing site Get Me In! According to a story in Monday’s Evening Standard,
Two tickets in the A2 block – which is right in front of the stage – were being sold for £15,400 each. Their face value is thought to be just £406.
As Harvey Goldsmith, who has produced previous Rolling Stones tours, tweeted:
Why is it on rolling stones you can only get tickets through Get Me In. Nothing less than £660- 15400??
— Harvey Goldsmith (@HarvGoldsmith) October 19, 2012
Get Me In! was at pains to point out that they are only the intermediary and don’t set the price, telling the Daily Mail:
When a seller sets a price, like £15,000, that is just a listing and there is no guarantee that the ticket will sell at that price.
But the fact of the matter is that they are facilitating access to such outrageous demands, and there are people who may pay it. Meanwhile, true fans are being sidelined by profiteers. And however much Get Me In! protests that they don’t set the rates, they’re enablers, at least, to the iniquitous (and ubiquitous) practice.
The ticketing business is in urgent need of being cleaned up, instead of cleaning up on the fans. Just the other day the Independent reported that a new rival to Ticketmaster plans to “sweep away hidden charges”.
AEG, the operators of the O2, are set to launch their own ticketing platform, and Dean DeWulf, its European vice-president, has commented,
We will not charge fans for doing us a favour and printing out their own tickets with their own ink.
That’s a start, for sure; but there’s a lot further to go. It’s high time that ticketing services are brought into line, rather than hidden online with multiple charges being applied that the producer of the show never sees. Ticketing is, after all, the most basic level of service that venues have to supply, given that the show is entirely dependent on its efficiency and actually being able to make its sales through. It’s of premium importance; but that doesn’t mean it should be delivered at a premium price.