Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Ticketmaster Circus

Never run away to the circus over the Internet. Sadly, that's the lesson we draw from spending several hours trying to buy tickets to the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus, which opens a five-day stand in Pensacola tonight.

In cyberspace, not only is the circus coming to town but so is the Internet fraud forest popularly known known as Ticketmaster. (We say "popularly known" because as you can read below not all web sites that look like Ticketmaster are Ticketmaster.)

More likely than not, as assistant Pensacola Civic Center manager Phil Ashler confirmed to us by telephone last week, if you try to buy event tickets from Ticketmaster over the Internet it may well cost you far more than if you simply drive down to the Civic Center and buy them in person -- gas included.

Indeed, based on our own experience it might be cheaper to buy your own elephant and ride there in high style.

Contrary to most folks' experience with Internet sales, when it comes to Ticketmaster it can be more expensive to buy on-line than in person. A lot more. Broadly speaking, there are two reasons for this:
  1. Ticketmaster itself advertises a "ticket price" that has little relation to reality. If a bricks-and-mortar retailer advertised prices equally divorced from the reality of what is actually being charged, the Florida Attorney General's consumer protection division would have them in court by nightfall.
  2. Ticketmaster licenses a great many other go-between agents to sell tickets to the same event at even higher prices with even more add-ons. Most of these "go-between betweens" claim to be selling "discount" tickets or have web sites that cleverly spoof the official Ticketmaster site.
Here's a screen shot of the real Ticketmaster's "advertised price" for two common tickets offered to a web site visitor earlier today:

"$40 per ticket"? That's just to hook you in. As you start to fill out the forms, give up your personal data and credit card number, and hit the "continue" button to proceed to the next page, the price mounts. At each subsequent screen, Ticketmaster accumulates so-called "service charges," "delivery fees" and other add-ons that wind up inflating the original stated price by anywhere from 18.5% to 50% more. And that's before taxes.

Here's a screenshot of what those same two "Section 109" tickets, above, will cost before the state and county's 7.5% sales tax:

Remember, that's what the "good guys" who really are Ticketmaster are charging. There are scores of other agents who have wedged themselves in between the Ticketmaster middlemen and you who routinely receive ticket allotments from Ticketmaster, too. On the web, they do their best to make themselves look like an official Ticketmaster site or a trustworthy Internet discount ticket agent. In fact, though, most have inflated ticket prices to the same event even more -- before aping the Ticketmaster system of adding on extra charges for "service," "delivery," and even a separate charge for printing an e-ticket at home on your own printer!

Section 106 tickets, which we known to be effectively identical to the "section 109" tickets shown above, are advertised by one such typical web site for $65 apiece -- nearly 40% more:

But after filling out the forms and "continuing" to new screens, guess what? The price escalates to nose-bleed levels as mysterious and sundry service and maintenance and other synonymous charges are folded in, plus a $15 charge for "2-day delivery" (the cheapest this one makes available).

On one "middleman's middleman" web site, after a bit of searching we found this menu listing the types of add-on charges that can inflate your ticket prices to breath-taking levels:

It would be only slightly more honest if this web site added "76% per ticket - Sucker charge."

Ticketmaster has earned a terrible reputation in some quarters, as this Wikipedia article makes clear. After trying to buy circus tickets over the Internet, we see why. Although mentioned in the context of music events, the same Wikipedia observation might be said of its circus ticket pricing practices:
Ticketmaster is doing its part, like most corporations, to exploit music and ruin it for everyone with outstandingly high ticket prices and ridiculous additional charges.
"Why Ticketmaster Sucks" makes some of the same points, and adds a strongly-worded caution about the risks to your privacy when you shop on line with Ticketmaster. And E-opinions about Ticketmaster are nearly uniformly of the same view.

So what's the weary consumer to do? Here's what: shut down that 'puter, hop a ride, and run away to the Civic Center to buy your circus tickets in person.


vickie muhley said...

The civic center is failing. They will do business with anyone.

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For many people buy things from the internet is quite common, but for others like me for example, it is not a regular activity, I still dont like the idea of providing my credit card number on the web.

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