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:
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.”
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.