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Paperless Tickets Driving Wild Pricing Patterns

Paperless Tickets Driving Wild Pricing Patterns

Used to be that ticket prices would consistently fall in the days leading up to a concert event. As paper ticketing has become more prevalent, there are signs that ticket pricing patterns are more volatile as events grow near. I propose that those changes are a direct consequence of paperless ticketing, the device that was intended to curb ticket resale (what?). Data compiled by Brady Fowler show some patterns that support this notion. In reading the analysis on the linked article, U2 and Rush experience near show time price spikes, while Taylor Swift and the Rolling Stones show wild fluctuation in ticket price in the days leading to show.

In the last couple of years I have experienced the influence of paperless tickets in a two specific instances and one general case.

Taylor Swift 1989 Tour: I attended both the San Diego and Atlanta shows (my wife is a big TSwift fan). In San Diego, I waited until 30 minutes before show time to buy two general admission standing only tickets by the front of the stage for 150% of face value. This was from a street scalper who had the tickets listed on StubHub at the same time I was negotiating the purchase. At the Atlanta show, I waited until two hours before the show before caving in on a pair of loge level tickets that had been at 200% of face value all day.

Meghan Trainor Tour at Blue Hills in Boston: 30 minutes before show time, I purchased 2 paper tickets from a street scalper at 40% below face value. Meanwhile, SeatGeek listed slightly less desirable tickets for immediate download at about 90% of face value.

Generally, it’s not unusual to use the resale market to attend concerts on a last minute basis. I will do this if I can find last minute tickets well below face value. Used to be really easy when paper tickets were in effect, but with paperless available from most of the popular ticketing apps, I have to be ready to buy very close to show time, nearly committing to attend before I have a ticket. Consequently, I have not been able to see as many shows lately.

By no means is this quality research, but I think there is something to the observation. Perhaps a scholar somewhere is working on this very question?

 

Ticket Bots: Scapegoats for Uninspired Ticketing eCommerce

Ticket Bots: Scapegoats for Uninspired Ticketing eCommerce

Two weeks ago, a large population of disenfranchised Tragically Hip fans raged on the web about their inability to buy tickets for the bands final tour due to lighting fast sell outs. The blame for lack of tickets quickly pointed to ticket scalpers because as tickets were not available on the primary market, they were freely available for significantly higher prices on Stub Hub and Ticketnetwork affiliated websites, among many others. This is not the first time there has been wide spread outrage followed by promises for new legislation. Adele, Bruce Springsteen, and Miley Cyrus fans have been down this road before, too. This time the blame was squarely pinned on ticket bots. That is, technology that enables ticket resellers to use software that emulates human ticket buying behavior at a high rate of speed, fooling ticketing websites into selling many, many valued tickets at a very high rate of speed. This week, and Op Ed in the New York Times followed the same ‘bots are bad’ talking points with some specific focus on Broadway tickets and discussion about criminalizing the practice in New York State.

While I do not advocate for the use of bots in this context or like that I can’t buy great tickets for the shows I want to see because bots are beating my human hands to the click, I am not blaming scalpers; I am blaming Ticketmaster, Live Nation and every other ticketing platform out there that is unwilling to keep current on what everyone is ecommerce has already figured out. That is, bots and scraping are a fact of life in all aspects of ecommerce. The way to beat bots is not by inconveniencing consumers with outdated captcha, but to leverage technology that can act as a better gate keeper.

For example, I have several times now used Ticketmaster’s website and iPhone app to seek out tickets for shows I want to see. It must be that the developers of the app have not used it because every time you want to search for a seat, you are asked to click on three pictures that have to do with flowers, puppies, or whatever. Today it was store fronts.

Example:

pick-one-ticket

Doing this on a mobile device is painstaking and they make you do it every time you look for a new set of tickets. Meanwhile the bots get around capcha in a couple seconds.

And so, back to the bots. Bots are everywhere, and many of them serve us well. For example, the google bot that makes the web easier to navigate. But what can be done about bad bots without inconveniencing consumers? There are actually businesses that specialize in bot regulation, the one I know is Distil Networks. In the process of writing this piece I came across a pretty ironic bit of information; StubHub uses Distil Networks to protect their ticket selling platform, which explains why its so easy to search and purchase tickets on their website. Perhaps bots would not be such a big problem if primary market ticket sellers checked out what the competition is doing?

 

 

Acquiring Sundance Film Festival Tickets (legally)

Acquiring Sundance Film Festival Tickets (legally)

For more than ten years, I have attended Sundance Film Festival, usually with group of 8 or more people. Without knowing how the system works, getting tickets for one or ten films is not easy. Unless you are a Utah resident or have the cash to become a member of the Patron Circle, below is a guide on the options for getting tickets to Sundance film screenings.

Legit Option A: Buy Ticket Packages or Passes

Ticket packages and passes are great ways to enjoy the festival. They come with both tickets and credentials which allow broader access to festival venues. Another benefit is that package and pass holders have priority ticket selection. These are highly sought after options and in effort to ensure fairness in distribution they are made available thought something similar to a three dimensional matrix where you never know whats going on until its too late. Meaning, one has to register for a randomly assigned buying window -which- does not necessarily guarantee access to any pass or package. If one has acquired a pass or package, they have to wait again until early January for another randomly assigned window to allocate tickets to the films one wishes to see and that does not guarantee one will be able to acquire tickets – I have had cases where I could not get any tickets – just vouchers which can be exchanged at the box office or venues. It’s a bit irritating, but its probably the fairest process for distributing tickets I have observed.

The buying window for packages and passes is usually 3-4 days long. By the last day, only the most expensive options are left – if any at all. To increase chances of getting a window in the first 48 hours where options are abundant, be sure to have several people register for the pass buying window. Its important to use real people/addresses, they screen for duplicate registrations. By way of example, when 5 or 6 people register for a pass buying window, at least two always get a selection time in the first 48 hours. Note that in each buying window one can buy a total of two packages and passes, but not two of the same. Note that transferring passes and packages is complicated!

Legit Option B: Day of Showing Ticket Line

This is an ‘early bird gets the worm’ type of deal. Each night the box office managers takes inventory of unallocated tickets for each film. I can’t say for sure, but it seems they do keep a number of hold backs for all but the most high demand films. Around midnight, they post the film schedule on the box office door with the number of tickets available for the next days showings. The Festival Box Office in Park City opens at 8:00am every morning. As of recent there are 6-8 different lines open at once. This means that the first 6-8 people have a good chance of getting tickets for the films they wish to see. The first 20-30 people have a decent chance. After that the inventory is limited to the less popular films. This is where the early bird tactic comes into play. At 5am, there are usually 3-5 people in line – they have been there all night. At 5:30 there are 10; at 6am there are 20 plus. By 7am there are usually 100+. What I am saying here is if one shows up to the festival with no tickets, but can get to the box office by 5:30am every day, there is a great change of getting tickets to all but the high demand films. Note: one person can only by 4 tickets for one film.

Quasi Legit Option C: Extra Tickets

Similar to other ticket markets, people have extra tickets for a variety of reasons. Although ticket resale is not allowed at the festival, it does occur and there is no efficient exchange for those with extra tickets. Consequently, its pretty easy to get tickets from someone who has an extra. The best way to acquire a ticket is to arrive at the screening venue 20-30 minutes before the film begins. Take a position by the festival shuttle bus stop (or the flow of foot traffic from such) and just ask the passers by if they have an extra ticket. Some times they just give them away an other times its a face value exchange. Tickets as of recent are $20.

 

Dynamic Pricing: Two Minutes Too Late?

Dynamic Pricing: Two Minutes Too Late?

As reported by the New York Post, among other popular press, Ticketmaster has figured out that dynamic ticket pricing could help them capture additional profits, sell more tickets and head off the secondary market. But, this announcement, almost two years after I wrote a call for dynamic pricing, two minutes too late.

First, we need to understand why Ticketmaster is pursuing dynamic ticket pricing now. As The New York Post pointed out, “According to concert tracker Pollstar, total ticket revenue dropped to $4.25 billion — the first decline since 1995.” and that “Ticket sales for the top 100 acts fell from 40.5 million to 35.7 million, the lowest number since 2005.” Theoretically, implementing dynamic ticket pricing would enable Ticketmaster to respond to declining revenues by capturing more profits on the more popular tickets while pricing less desirable tickets to consumer demand. This all makes sense, but I wonder if the secondary market beat Ticketmaster to the party in their own way.

The secondary market is growing while the primary market is declining. Though there is no central source for secondary market ticket sales, StubHub is a good litmus. According to a spokesperson, “we have seen double digit percentage sales growth, year over year.” In addition, the StubHub Annual Report states that “Gross dollar sales of concert tickets increased 20 percent from 2009.” While StubHub and other resellers I have consulted describe average ticket prices on the decline, the secondary market remains healthy with prices above $100 – well ahead most primary market average prices.

The observation I make is that while Ticketmaster has taken its time coming to this realization, the secondary market has become a dynamic ticket pricing mega-facility. Bolstered by the popularity of ticket aggregators like StubHub, SeatGeekFanSnap and TicketLiquidator, the secondary market has become a lot more consumer friendly. By no means is everyone happy with the secondary market, but given the choice between Ticketmaster’s high fees and the difficulty encountered finding tickets for popular events, the secondary market is a not a shabby alternative. Time will tell if dynamic ticket pricing will help Ticketmaster, but I think ticket resellers are a couple of years ahead of the game.

Red Sox Tickets at Bargain Prices?

Red Sox Tickets at Bargain Prices?

It seems the market has flipped at Fenway. Now is a good time to buy from the secondary market in Boston (yes, I really just did say that!).

“For more than seven years, the Red Sox have claimed that for every home game, the number of tickets sold and distributed has eclipsed the seating capacity of America’s Most Beloved Ballpark. But recently, the task of filling those seats has grown more difficult. Television ratings are down, and marketing campaigns have been revved up…” – Boston Globe

Read the full story: http://bit.ly/9TKyOh

Two idea’s:

1. Call Ace Tickets about one or two hours before the game and make an offer on tickets you are interested in, I like to start at 20% below face and work up from there. They are sales people, so hold your ground. It never hurts to ask if they have a pair in your fixed price range.

2. If you are buying from a street scalper, work in round numbers, e.g. $100 for a pair, $120 for a pair, etc. As I have noted before, approach politely, even a scalper can be charmed in this market!

Resale Prices: What Goes Up…

Resale Prices: What Goes Up…

This article is a follow-up on a concern often expressed by readers and friends alike that for one reason or another, a particular concerts ticket prices will not come down because everyone want tickets to that show! Most recently, I have been asked specifically about Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift. During my research, which was a few years ago, I observed resale ticket prices on the internet for more than 150 concerts over the course of a two year history. Of those, only a handful of concerts had cases where average prices did not fall and in no case did average prices go up. I feel confident in stating that, as a general rule, resale ticket prices will fall from the day the tickets first go on sale.

In further illustrating this point, I asked my colleagues at SeatGeek to prepare two graphs charting average resale ticket prices for two John Mayer concerts from February of this year. The first show took place on February 24th in Boston – a town that has a huge college population and enough Mayer fans to create a lot of demand on both the primary and secondary market. The second show I picked was the first of two concerts Mayer performed at Madison Square Garden on February 25th. I chose this show because Madison Square Garden is a very popular venue and because the city has a vibrant resale market which significantly increases speculation (people buying for the explicit purpose of reselling tickets for a profit). So, everyone wants a ticket, supply is short and prices are high, right? Not really.

In the below charts (courtesy: SeatGeek.com), ticket prices are represented by blue and red lines. The blue line is average resale ticket price over time without any controls on price. In both cases, average price starts at about $120 per ticket ($20-30 above face value including fee’s) and proceeds on a roller coaster ride with a nice crash in the last five to seven days. I often recommend buying resold tickets in this time frame because the crash consistently seems to occur in the five to seven days leading up to a show. I will propose why this is the case in a moment.

The red line is average ticket price excluding tickets sold for more than $120. I control for price to rid the analysis of highly priced tickets (usually the best) that tend to skew the average price which helps us see a more consistent average price. Some people are willing to drop $500 for a pair of front row tickets at anytime and those ticket resales skew average prices upward.

Notice the bump in average price in the five days leading up to the shows? That is you and your friends realizing a week before that they don’t have a ticket and they are all running to the resellers for tickets – but this does not have to be you! If you are looking for values, be brave and wait out the storm. I specifically suggest looking for resold tickets on the 3rd or 4th day leading up to an event. Referring to my article titled SOLD OUT?! Three Strategies for Getting Tickets, I would concurrently pursue strategy 1 and 2 on these days until I found the tickets I wanted. For example, I bought two tickets for the February 24th Mayer show for $92 each from TicketMaster the day before the show. As the chart illustrates, average prices were at or below $90 on that day, so the resale market was no better or worse than the primary market. Strategy 1 just happened to work for me so I did not have to revert to a reseller – however I did have to wait quite patiently.

John Mayer, TD Banknorth, February 24, 2010John Mayer, MSG, February 25, 2010

For those who want a little more information on why prices tend to drop in the final days leading up to the show, I have three proposals.

1. Resellers want to get ticket out of their inventory before they have to sell them to street scalpers or otherwise toss them out, so they price to sell.
2. People like you and I bought too many tickets for friends who don’t show and we are now selling them at face value on eBay and Craigslist, which arbitrages the higher prices that resellers seek.
3. The combination of one and two creates enough supply to support the demand wildly high prices are not supported.

TicketMaster would like to think that they are participating in the arbitrage by selling tickets at the last minute, but I think the number of people who know to look on the primary sellers website is not sufficient to have an influence, but it is nice for those in the know!

SOLD OUT? Three Strategies for Getting Tickets

SOLD OUT? Three Strategies for Getting Tickets

It’s been about three years since I originally wrote this post. I came back here to check it for relevance and made a couple of light edits. This is still by far one of the most common questions that are posed when people ask about tickets. Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, One Direction, Madonna, [insert] your favorite team… in each case, the below are consistently applicable methods for finding tickets for events where tickets are not available for sale on Ticketmaster.com or Live Nation.

Here is the skinny; a concert can “SELL OUT” at the box office, but a concert is rarely actually sold out. To friends and readers a like, below are three solid strategies for getting tickets to Lady Gaga and other concerts coming to your town this summer. Caveat: acquiring highly desired items is not supposed to be easy, effort is required. In following this advice you will need to try each method (especially 1 & 2) more than once until you are successful.

Strategy 1: Visit the primary sellers website (TicketMaster, etc) on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings between 9:45 and 11am in the two weeks leading up to the show you want to see – I like trying to find tickets at 10 and 10:30am, which is when they release previously held back tickets. I have snagged great tickets this way for everything from Coldplay to Pearl Jam.

Strategy 2: Scour seatgeek.com or TicketNetwork.com in the ten days leading up to the show of your choice up until 72 hours before. Both sites scour different reseller ticket sources and allow you to search by price, which eases the search process. Ignore tickets that are out of your price range and don’t let high prices scare you – in some cases brokers price tickets higher as a defensive strategy against arbitrage. If you don’t see a price you like, wait. Pointers: I like SeatGeeks the best at this point becuiase

Strategy 3: On the day of the concert with no tickets in hand, go the the venue 2 or 3 hours before showtime and stroll the tailgates looking for extras. This is probably best done by an extrovert, but the idea is you surf the barbecue and beer parties making friends and asking if anyone has an extra ticket. Scalpers utilize the strategy all the time and they usually try to buy tickets for below face value. Most people are very happy to sell tickets for the price they paid, less fees.

If you follow through on each one of these strategies I can almost assure you will find a pair of tickets at or near face value. Now, if you need evidence to support the suggestion that prices will be favorable in the few days leading up to the concert, see Resale Prices: What Goes Up…

N.Y. State Ticket Report: Where’s the Data?

N.Y. State Ticket Report: Where’s the Data?

New York City is an exceptionally vibrant market for secondary market ticket sales. In the U.S. the Big Apple is nearly head to head with Las Vegas in scalping activity and high resale prices.  It is no secret that New York has sought to curb ticket resale through various forms of legislation over the years. In June 2007 the states position changed when then Governor Eliot Spitzer opened ticket resale to the free market. The bill is presently extended through June 2010.

Despite the expected benefits of a free market in New York, legitimate issues persist. A report recently presented to the Governor & Legislature of New York State sought to evaluate these issues in considerable depth. The report offers some background on ticket resale issues in New York and answers some specific questions placed before the Department of State. Though it raises valid and highly relevant points, its conclusions are seriously flawed. The most concerning is the absence of valid data used to reach conclusions about primary and secondary market ticket sales activity.

The report, which was commissioned by the New York State Department of State, initially claims that “[T]he Department conducted a comprehensive analysis of ticket prices and their availability for popular events on both the primary and secondary markets”. Based on that statement, I expected the report to contain an empirical study of primary and secondary market ticket sales. However, three paragraphs later, the report states that “These recommendations are the product of an analysis that was hampered by the Department’s inability to compel any segment of the industry to produce valuable ticket sales and availability information on either the primary or secondary markets.” Notwithstanding that these two statements conflict with one another, how does one make any empirical claims about primary or secondary market ticket sales activity without data?

In defense of the State Department, I know first hand that some ticket sellers are unwilling to share market data for any reason. However, the claim that no one would cooperate did not make sense. In my own experience, StubHub, one of the leading ticket resale market places, has always been willing to provide data to valid research efforts. In checking the Departments claim, I asked StubHub if the New York Department of State had approached them for data. A representative for StubHub confirmed that the Department of State met with them in December of 2009, but according to Joellen Ferrer, a spokesperson for StubHub, “We were not approached by the [Department] for data”.

So, what data did the Department use to support the key findings of the report? Turns out the data were gathered by browsing select ticket prices posted on primary and secondary market ticket seller websites. This may sound like an acceptable method for gathering ticket price and sale data, but it is actually open to a great degree of error. The reason is that ‘offer price’ and ‘sold price’ are not always the same. Sometimes ticket resellers will offer a ticket for $500 that is simultanously being offered somewhere else for less. In other cases, someone may call the reseller and pay $400 by negotiating. Clearly, there is no way to know what tickets sell for or how many are for sale without having the transactional data. Therefore, claims such as  “[T]he Department failed to establish any causal connection between the existence of price caps and the availability and cost of tickets on the primary and secondary market” cannot be supported by research that is not based on actual transactional activity.

The lackluster manner in which this report was prepared is unfortunate for two reasons. First, New York is an exceptional case for ticket sales and there is a legitimate need to empirically evaluate and address unique market conditions. If those issues are going to be properly addressed, the solutions need to be based on facts and not casual observations. Second, the quality of this report pales in comparison to one that was produced ten years ago by the Department of Law titled, Why Can’t I Get Tickets?, which is one of the best in-depth analysis of ticket scalping produced by a state office.  The Department of State should look to that report as an example on how to approach this difficult issue and make a more substantial effort in doing their homework.

In a future writing, I will highlight some of the relevant issues raised by this report and propose how the state should approach the issues.

Wiseguys Tickets: Good for Fed’s, Bad for Resellers

Wiseguys Tickets: Good for Fed’s, Bad for Resellers

The recent allegations against Wiseguy Tickets (which their lawyer does not seem to deny) represents a step forward for law enforcement in the illegal and unfair practice of hacking primary ticket seller websites to get the best tickets. Simultaneously, this case represents a step backward for ticket resellers.

Look like an admission to me: Wiseguys lawyer, Mark Rush, stated that “Wiseguys were simply businessmen who came up with technology that essentially allowed them to get to the head of the digital line for Internet tickets, much like fans who used to camp out overnight to be first in line to buy tickets at the box office.” That statement brazenly glosses over the ‘access policies‘ enforced by primary market ticket sellers and Federal laws that prohibit hacking private computer networks – which include ticket sellers websites.

The Good: It is about time the FBI took a serious and public stand against those who use ‘bots’ to illegally obtain event tickets. The practice is boldly and openly practiced with seemingly little enforcement action. Showing some creativity, the fed’s allegations focus on fraudulent and illegal access to private computer networks in an effort to obtain event tickets. They approach the case in this way because there is no federal law against buying tickets with the intent to resell them, or ticket scalping as a practice, though there are some state laws. Hopefully for the consumer enforcement action to this end with increase.

The Bad: News of this case is a setback for ticket resellers who seek to shed the ‘scalper’ image of the past. Ticket resellers should be speaking out against this illegal and unfair practice.  This kind of news does not help advance a positive image of the industry and only angers fans who are unfairly denied access to event tickets.

It will be interesting to see how Ticketmaster/Live Nation address this issue. Seems to me that they could spend millions trying to sue those who hack their sites, but if I were them, I would be hiring some technical talent capable of plugging the security holes exposed by this case.

Federal Indictment on Wired.com

Q&A: Best Time to Buy on the Street

Q&A: Best Time to Buy on the Street

This post is in reply to a message from my email bag. Elie asks the question, “How late may I show up after the face-off of an NHL game and be able to grab cheap tickets?” This question was asked in follow up to my article titled “Buying from a Scalper”.

This question is a bit tricky. The best time to buy a ticket from a scalper at any event – regardless of the kind of event – is dependent of a few variables. Each variable has some unique advantages and challenges.

1. Event location: if one is in Boston, you have the likelihood of more resold ticket availability and therefore the opportunity for more leftovers after the event begins. If you are in a smaller city like Tulsa or Reno there may be a lower quantity of resold tickets to choose from. If I am in Boston looking for tickets to a Bruins or Celtics game, I can be sure there will be some tickets to choose from after game time and that the scalpers will want to sell tickets at enticing prices. In Tulsa the demand for resold tickets could be lower and therefore the number of tickets available for a game post-start are going to be less. What this really comes down to is scalpers are in business and they like to have a product to sell for every event they can. In Boston, there are more scalpers and therefore the potential for more inventory. Tulsa, less so.

2. Team rank: team ranking effects both price and availability. If the Sharks play Dallas in San Jose, expect more options after face-off. Visa-versa, less options. Of course, there may be a lot of devoted sports fans in Dallas, that could drive availability.

Other variables to consider are weather, early in season, and late in season games. Sometimes the masses decide to go to a game because it is a great day for a game and sometimes the wild card is at stake.

I could not profess to know the dynamics of every market – I don’t. What I do know is if you try to buy for a game that is less important to you, you will gain an understanding of how to buy when it matters. I once bought tickets for a Cubs game on the street; there were plenty of seats options during the first inning at fair prices below face value. I then went to a White Sox game and found a small quantity of grandstand tickets for $15 and a few really good tickets for $80 in the second inning. $80 is not a good deal for White Sox tickets!

Elie – your specific question was about Toronto. Canada loves its hockey teams. If you are shopping in Toronto, I would suppose the best values are ten minutes before to ten minutes after because scalpers snap up those tickets in droves. If they play away, take into account who they are playing.

Now that fansnap.com and seatgeek.com are in full swing, I would advise buyers to check both of these sites to check availability and price 24 hours before the game. The more tickets and price options you see, the better chances you have of getting a deal after face-off/tip-off, etc. The less options… well, you get the idea.