Ticket fee 'explanation' goes down as a classic
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Ticketmaster may be the most powerful force on Earth.
That may sound crazy, but who else can scoop up every game ticket available, jack up the price 54 percent, and then sell out in a matter of minutes?
It pulled this off recently with the Mario Lemieux game. (It's officially called "New Year's Eve at the Winter Classic,'' pitting Penguins alumni against their counterparts on the Washington Capitals, but it's all about seeing Mario play hockey again.)
The Penguins announced tickets at $25, a very low price considering the demand. But absolutely nobody got tickets at that price. Ticketmaster handled them all, waving its electronic wand that added $13.50 under that all-inclusive, four-letter f-word: "fees.''
Why? Because it could. It had the monopoly.
What did those fees cover?
Ticketmaster ain't telling.
I contacted the company in California, asked for the media relations person, and spoke to a woman who couldn't have been nicer or less helpful. She had an exasperating ability to say nothing in a dozen assorted ways.
Unfailingly polite, she said I couldn't quote her. She could speak only "on background.'' She then spent the next five or 10 minutes explaining that the fee "is broken out among many parties,'' of which she could name not one. She eventually suggested I go to an article in the July 2009 issue of Rolling Stone for "a decent illustration of how the fees are structured in the industry.''
I kid you not. She recommended a 17-month-old magazine story to explain her company's fee structure. The only useful information she offered was this: "We can sell 14,000 tickets in one minute.''
A computer search for that Rolling Stone story turned up nothing on fees but plenty on how Ticketmaster has managed to infuriate everyone from Bruce Springsteen to the smarter members of the U.S. Senate. Ticketmaster's merger this year with Live Nation, the concert promoter, certainly hasn't made the company any more open.
I had called Ticketmaster because Jack Connors, a Penguins season-ticket holder in Ohio Township, called me after failing to secure a ticket online for the Mario game. He tried long enough to wonder what possibly justified a 54 percent markup and where it all went. Mr. Connors said the haul from fees alone for the New Year's Day game between the current Penguins and Capitals would come to around $1 million.
A service charge, a building facility charge (which would go to Heinz Field in this case), a processing charge and an e-ticket convenience charge -- all these things might be in the fee package. But unlike, say, a bag of potato chips, a ticket needn't list its ingredients.
Every party in the ticket-selling game thus has plausible deniability. It's easier to get the recipe for fracking fluid from a Marcellus Shale driller than it is to get a breakdown of fee splits from the legal monopoly that is Ticketmaster.
That e-ticket "convenience" charge is the one that gets a lot of people. Buyers are being charged for using their own paper and ink. The explanation? That charge covers the technology.
Not even airlines try to get away with this. And how about the oft-maligned U.S. Postal Service? Through PayPal, one can go online and buy for $2.57 the postage to not only mail a 10-ounce book from here to East Cupcake, Mo., but to track it online every step of the journey.
Ticketmaster is much closer to a monopoly than the Postal Service these days.
Tom McMillan, Penguins spokesman, said of the $25 base price: "Obviously, we could have charged a lot more. ... This isn't a money-making event for us. We're just trying to cover our costs. There's a cost to just opening the stadium and paying to fly all the alums in and put them all up in hotels and things like that.
"We wanted to make it a lower price so more people could just have a chance to experience the Winter Classic."
Well, any organization wanting to keep prices low can't use Ticketmaster. It's just that simple.
Until that changes, fans, if you want to see a big game or concert in this great country of ours, break out your credit card and remember these two words:
First Published December 26, 2010 12:00 am