Customer service at the box office just the ticket
Customer service at the box office just the ticket
- March 13, 2007
ASK venue managers or producers how much they can charge for a ticket to a performance and the answer will be something like: “As much as you reckon people are willing to pay.”
The cost of tickets has come under scrutiny in New York, where adding not only a booking fee and often a transaction fee but also a restoration fee, to go towards upkeep on historically significant theatres, can bump up the price of each ticket by more than 10 per cent. Theatre-goers also question why, when technology enables you to book online and print your ticket at home, the transaction fee often is the same, if not higher, as having the ticket posted out.Producers blame the venue managers for charging for everything from security to toilet paper; venue managers say they have to bargain constantly with ticket agencies to keep booking and transaction fees low enough not to scare off customers.
It’s a battle for financial survival at Australian box offices, too. So far, no one has added a restoration fee to the cost of tickets. Richard Fitzgerald, general manager of Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne, says theatre-goers “wouldn’t accept it here”, even though his 120-year-old building could benefit from upkeep assistance.
The entertainment business’s combined big guns are still trying to get a fix on scalpers while, behind closed doors, it’s hand-to-hand combat over contract details with the ticketing agencies. You get the occasional sniping when you talk to those who decide what we pay at the box office, but everyone agrees, publicly at least, that ticketing in Australia is clean, fair and at least trying to be transparent.
“It’s easy to bash the ticketing companies,” says Fitzgerald, who has just re-signed a contract with Ticketek. “But if you look at doing it on your own, the cost would be astronomical. The agency has the network, with the equipment set up, and there’s also the value of the marketing, which is huge, and they maintain and keep alive and fresh a database of customers. The ticketing fees and charges don’t really make that much of a difference in the overall price, and to get the prices down is almost impossible.”
Many venues are moving to set up their own ticketing services as software for increasing online sales is being refined.
The Victorian Arts Centre uses Ticketmaster because they have a long relationship dating back to before the government-owned Bass agency was bought by the American company. The Arts Centre’s programming and presenter services manager Milos Miladinovic says about 50 per cent of venues and events formerly managed by Ticketmaster are using their own integrated systems. He says Ticketmaster’s network provides large-scale, mass marketing opportunities and it’s cost-effective to channel his centre’s 1.2million tickets through the agency.
Sydney Opera House and Queensland Performing Arts Centre, on the other hand, have invested in systems that allow them to finetune the customer relationship.
QPAC has run its own ticketing from the day the four-theatre venue opened in 1985.
“There’s definitely an international trend to bring ticketing in-house,” QPAC’s marketing and ticketing director Anne-Maree Moon says. “Promoters and organisations are becoming a lot smarter when it comes to marketing and audiences, and they’re demanding more from ticketing agencies. The costs are not cheap and we didn’t want to pass on those costs to patrons.”
Ticket prices are agreed on by the promoter or producer and the venue, which is usually in an exclusive contract arrangement with the ticketing agency. Fees and charges can vary widely show by show. For example, a B reserve ticket to Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai, which opens in Canberra in March, will set you back $89, which Ticketek’s website tells us includes the (unspecified) booking fee and GST. Some in-house agencies, such as QPAC’s Qtix, state how much of the face value of the ticket is taken up in booking fee (a modest $3 maximum for that agency) but it is wrapped into most commercial agencies’ advertised prices.
On top of your Varekai ticket’s face value, there’s an added transaction fee: you can pay $7.95 to have the ticket sent to you by regular post (allowing seven to 10 working days or up to six weeks, according to which statement on the site you believe) or, if you’re the worrying kind, ask to have it sent by registered post, at a cost of $9.95.
If you want to see George Benson and Al Jarreau at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, you’ll have to pay $159 for your ticket through the other of the big two agencies, Ticketmaster. That includes a booking fee, which is again not specified; if you want the ticket sent by ordinary mail or if you pick it up from the venue or a ticket outlet, there’s no extra transaction fee. Registered post will cost you $3.25, express delivery $4.20.
“A lot of the big agencies will charge a booking fee and then a transaction fee, but no one kicks up a stink,” Moon says. “The agencies are doing some good stuff on a marketing level and making it possible to print your tickets at home, but then you’d think the fee would come down.”
Scott Lorson, chief executive of Ticketek, says that the fees for what is known as ezyticket (internet print at home) have come down by $3, or nearly 40 per cent, since the beginning of the year, and the Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd-owned company is gradually phasing in a fee structure that will eliminate what appear to be haphazard variations in transaction fees.
Ticketek’s clients range from car races to musicals, and Lorson points out that their “multimillion-dollar investment in state-of-the-art technology” enables them to sell out a concert at Sydney’s Telstra Stadium within an hour.
Enter the scalpers. Anna Hoffmann, policy and strategy adviser with Live Performance Australia, says the industry is organising itself to try to stay ahead of aggressive and “highly organised” scalping mechanisms.
“It needs to be looked at from a consumer protection perspective,” she says. “Online ticketing has made all our lives easier but it has also made the scalpers lives easier. The big ticketing companies could do it themselves, putting in software tomorrow so they could auction off tickets, but everyone knows it’s a matter of getting all the industry players on the same page of the hymn book.
“The important thing is for customers to know that when they buy a ticket, it’s a real one. You buy off eBay and you can’t be sure.”
Hoffmann says the worst outcome would be for governments to “make quick decisions that would bind industry members into legislation that would be impossible to put into effect”. LPA is responsible for updating the code of practice, which places transparency high on the agenda.
Fitzgerald says that while it’s good to have an advocacy organisation, it’s difficult for such an organisation to represent everyone, from the theatres to the producers and the ticketing agencies. “It’s the ticketing agency that, in a sense, becomes the umpire within the industry and it’s an important role,” he says. “They do a lot of the accountancy for us and they add a greater level of security for the punters, to get refunds for example.
“We don’t have any say over the transaction fee, but we know the ticketing agency has been trying to standardise it and we’ve been encouraging them to reduce it. The booking fee is at their suggestion, too, but you might be able to influence it at contract time.”
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