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Time to break TicketMaster’s monopoly?

That TicketMaster has a monopoly on the sale of event tickets in North America is not in dispute.  Now that they have achieved that monopoly, however, how should they behave?  Case in point, my own attempts to buy tickets for Leonard Cohen’s Ottawa show on May 25 / 26.  After advertising all last week that the tickets would go on sale at 10:00 AM today, not a ticket was available by 10:03.  It’s inconceivable that all 4,800 seats sold out in 3 minutes.  Inconceivable.

No,  two things happened:

  1. Ticketmaster’s partnership with American Express – the Front of the Line program which allows AMEX card holders to purchase tickets 7 days in advance of the general public – is being abused by scalpers who snap up tickets in advance of the show and sell them on eBay.
  2. Ticketmaster themselves have effectively become ticket scalpers with their sister site TicketsNow which sells tickets for prices dramatically higher than their face value.

As of 10:03, eBay sellers had the tickets.  I could buy from a gentleman in Norwalk Connecticut.  However, no tickets were available locally in Ottawa, where the show was taking place. 

The venue for the show is Canada’s National Arts Center – a tax payer subsidized facility constructed in the 1960’s to showcase Canadian art.  A Canadian artist is coming to play the venue.  No tickets are available to Canadian fans, except via US scalpers. It’s offensive. 

It’s clear there’s no competition in the ticketing business any more.  Perhaps it’s time trustbusters on both sides of the border looked into TicketMaster’s business practices.  Imposing limits on pre-sales, and requiring TicketMaster to halt it’s own scalping business would be a good place to start.

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{ 12 comments… add one }

  • G. Gower March 2, 2009, 2:12 pm

    I had the same experience – logged on at 10:00am, and the only tix I could get were in the $250 per seat range. Plus taxes, plus convenience fee. No thanks. But even those were gone in a minute or two.

  • Joseph March 2, 2009, 5:56 pm

    Perhaps it’s time trustbusters on both sides of the border looked into TicketMaster’s business practices.

    Trustbusters can only do what the law allows. As long as TicketMaster isn’t abusing its monopoly, as anti-trust law defines abuse, trustbusters would lose their case in court if they tried.

  • essmom March 2, 2009, 6:15 pm

    Leonard Cohen U.S. tickets just went on sale this morning (3/2/09) at 10 a.m. When I logged on at 10:30 a.m., tickets were gone but Ticketmaster linked directly to their site called “TicketExchange Marketplace,” and anything sold there they get a cut of. Tickets were already on sale there for double original price up to over $1000 per ticket (highest Ticketmaster price was $251). Other scalping sites, such as Ticket Tango, offered tickets for $34,000 per ticket and NO I’M NOT KIDDING YOU. I think a sensible solution might be for sites not to allow immediate turnaround of tickets. Hardly anyone is going to buy tickets and minutes later sell them away, no one except scalpers. There also should be a reasonable maximum amount allowed to be charged for resale of tickets, say 50% more.

    Tom Waits worked with Ticketmaster for a recent tour whereby only original ticketbuyers were allowed in via presentation of their credit card & photo ID. It’s possible to be fair but is there $$ in it for them?

    Contact the chair of Senate’s subcommittee on antitrust, competition policy and consumer rights, Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia, phone (202) 225-1605. Tell his office to make TicketMaster accountable, and to deny their virtual monopoly with the LiveNation merger. Tell his office about your horror stories of trying to buy tickets. Contact and complain to the BBB in your area (www.bbb.org). Contact your local government officials, the FTC (www.ftc.gov), state dept of consumer complaints. If we don’t speak up, nothing will be solved and business “as usual.”

  • Alec March 2, 2009, 7:17 pm

    Joseph,

    I am not a lawyer. However, TicketMaster clearly demonstrates market power. You cannot have an event of a meaningful size successfully without their involvement. They’ve also demonstrated pricing power — it’s no secret that the price TicketMaster sets on their TicketsNow site is the price that all of the scalpers also adopt.

    One might argue that they’re guilty of tied selling as well. Their deal with AMEX means that unless you have an AMEX card, you’re virtually guaranteed to not be able to purchase tickets.

    There is no competition, and TicketMaster’s policies are an abuse of the consumer, IMO.

    But like I said, I am not a lawyer.

  • April March 3, 2009, 3:01 am

    It’s possible that Amex Front of The Line is being abused by scalpers. As a fellow Ottawa resident I tried to use my Amex to get Front of the Line tickets and within 10 minutes of sale couldn’t get anything less than the $251 tickets. This on a PREsale. How is that even possible?

    It’s too bad, considering that I’ve heard Cohen really wants to keep his shows accessible.

  • Peter Childs March 3, 2009, 1:18 pm

    Waiting for regulators to do anything about this will just lead to a VERY LONG wait.

    Far better to concentrate on venues and get them to break with ticketMaster or impose selling criteria in their contracts with them.

    On the CBC news the NAC described Ticketmaster as a good ticketing partner. Possibly a boycott of the NAC would demonstrate that their customers have a different opinion. And that it’s customers not ticketing partners that pay the bills.

    The other advantage is that a well executed boycott could leave scapers with unsold tickets – which could dent the value of scalping and decrease the proportion of tickets bought for that purpose.

  • Haywood Jablome June 16, 2009, 12:19 pm

    Walk away and don’t go. The market exists because people are willing to pay those prices. Maybe a bit of economic recession will help put things in perspective for people.

  • TicketCyclone October 28, 2009, 1:48 pm

    As a ticket broker first I must say that I and most ticket brokers are not happy with Ticketmaster and we would love to see more competition in the primary ticket market.
    With that being said it is very easy for 4,800 seats to sell out in less than 3 minutes. Let me explain, lets assume that are 4800 seats are available for sale (no tickets be held by the band, venue record label, etc.) which is never the case. If the average customer bought 4 tickets by phone, online and at retail outlet that Ticketmaster could complete 1000 sales in 2 minutes ( the online system is made to handle over 5000 sales a minute), than in 2 minutes Ticketmaster could sell 4000 tickets. So even if the average person bought only 2 tickets the show would sell out in less than 5 minutes. It is easy for us all to blame the big kid on the block but the fact doesn’t support it.

  • Michael Lehet October 30, 2009, 11:35 am

    @TicketCyclone – So you'd like to see "more competition in the primary ticket market" but in my eyes, your very profession is the reason that this is happening. You should be happy that you can exploit Ticketmaster like you do because you're able to supersede fans and scoop up tickets and sell at a markup.

    Why don't you just let Ticketmaster sell tickets? Instead you feel it necessary to exploit a system and get your cut of the money? How is that fair? Are you giving anything back to the concert promoters? Where are your profits going? Oh that's right…you're lining your pockets with them!

    Today I tried to get Lady Gaga tickets and within seconds tickets were sold out but AMAZINGLY you have dozens of tickets on your site available for a 100% markup…where are your profits going?

    If anything you're worse than Ticketmaster!

  • Christine February 9, 2010, 11:33 am

    Upset that this is an ongoing problem and the courts are letting it happen. I think there needs to be a class action law suit against ticket master for this Monopoly like there was on Microsoft. The consumers are being swindled and were letting it happen by not boycotting them or standing up to them. I paid 70 to join a fan club to get tickets ahead of time from ticket master before the general public. I was there a second that Ticket Master Released tickets to Fan Club members with the required code. I got row 24 on the left of the stage. Not even in the center section. Also paying several hundred dollars on top of that. What is wrong with this senerio………………. Everything.

  • Charles W. Gray April 14, 2010, 9:54 am

    @TicketCyclone

    The gall you have, Sir to even get on here and speak. You ARE the problem, and you ARE worse than Ticketmaster. You disgust me. YOU are the type of vermin that gives Capitalism a bad name in the first place. F#$k you, and your filthy ilk for robbing EVERYONE of thier money, and of robbing the lesser among us of some well desereved R&R.

    • exasperated April 4, 2011, 12:51 pm

      Very well said!

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