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Richard Jordan: 10 questions Ticketmaster must answer about its ‘buy now, pay later’ Broadway scheme

Patti Murin and John Riddle in Frozen. Photo: Deen van Meer Disney's Frozen is one of the Broadway shows for which Ticketmaster is offering its 'book now, pay later' plan. Photo: Deen van Meer
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Last week, global ticketing agency Ticketmaster launched its new FlexPay plan in the US. It will allow customers to buy tickets to hit shows and concerts in advance and pay the cost over six to 12 months with interest charges applied on top.

This book-now-pay-later package is something that we, as an industry, should scrutinise closely. It’s masquerading as a good news story for ticket buyers but if it is handled in the wrong way, there are significant downsides.

The impression Ticketmaster wants to give is of helping to make art and entertainment accessible to everyone. But the truth is that such a scheme stands against everything the arts should represent in appealing to a more diverse audience.

On many hit productions, theatres have reduced their allocations of regular-priced tickets in favour of more premium seating aimed at wealthy patrons, which has caused a greater elitism in theatregoing.

However, Ticketmaster’s new scheme is not the solution, even though it claims that anyone, from any income bracket, can now afford to see a hit show or concert.

Audiences can, of course, decide for themselves if they wish to purchase tickets in this way. But we should be anxious that die-hard fans of an artist or show might be vulnerable to such a scheme and use it to buy tickets now that they can ill-afford later.

Ticketmaster needs to answer a number of questions about the scheme before it is widely adopted:

  1. Will the company sell the tickets at face value, or will they still charge service fees?
  2. Will Ticketmaster hold tickets back specifically for these FlexPay schemes, meaning that for a certain allocation, the only way to secure a ticket for a hit show is by paying interest on it?
  3. Given the interest charges applied on these FlexPay sales, customers’ personal information – their credit ratings and history – will be shared and accessed. Will there be clear, watertight assurances needed by the seller regarding onward use of their data? And what protections will be in place against security breaches?
  4. How will the sale of these tickets work? Will they be held at the box office for collection to ensure the sum has been paid off before the customer picks them up?
  5. What if the box office claims the balance hasn’t been settled when the customer arrives at the theatre? That could result in some potentially very ugly scenes at the theatre box office.
  6. Will customers be asked to bring loan paperwork to the box office in case of confusion?
  7. What happens if these tickets are a gift and the person attending is not the one who bought them?
  8. Will the scheme be available only to residents of the country in which the performance is taking place?
  9. What is the arrangement regarding returns if the customer is unable to attend the performance? Does Ticketmaster put these up for resale, consequently double-dipping on any service fees?
  10. Is Ticketmaster under any obligation if the ticket is resold to pay back the interest accrued on the plan?

The answers may well be covered at the time of booking in a pop-up web page with legalese in small font that asks customers to hit “agree” before purchase.

Customers should certainly read the small print carefully, though in the rush to purchase seats for a sell-out show before the sale times out, such salient information could easily be ignored.

Comparing this new practice with the current secondary-sales market, which is under increasing scrutiny, there is an irony that the latter at least ensures the customer is paying up front and not running up interest or debt as a result.

Ticketmaster’s announcement came in the same week that Travelex announced it would be ceasing its support after 15 years of sponsoring the National Theatre’s reduced-price ticket scheme. This is a great loss and one that has genuinely afforded access for many people to live theatre.

National Theatre director Rufus Norris has already commented that finding a new sponsor for this programme is “a huge priority” for the National, and one where “many things will go before we give up on this.”

National Theatre’s cheap tickets in doubt as Travelex pulls sponsorship after 15 years

Perhaps a company such as Ticketmaster should step up to the plate as a headline sponsor. Over many years, it has amassed millions from the entertainment industry. It would certainly be a better example of giving something back to the performing arts and the audiences that have kept it in business – instead of launching a scheme that wants to charge interest to enthusiastic (and often first-time) attendees for the privilege of theatregoing.

In the meantime, those wanting to see a sold-out show but unable to afford a premium-price ticket are much better sticking with the day-seats and lotteries that many productions successfully run themselves. They are also a more honourable practice than one that risks an audience member going into debt because all they wanted was to see their favourite show.

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