Ticket Reseller War Stories

About three years ago I wrote about the problem of ticket resellers creating website names that approximate that of performance venues or using names that imply they are the central ticketing source for your city. At the time, my venue saw people who had bought tickets at a big mark up or for events that weren’t actually happening once a year or so. Now that I have moved to new position in a new city, I see it happening ALL THE TIME.

Perhaps one of the reasons this issue is coming to light regularly is that we changed our seating configuration about two years ago resulting in the removal of two rows and various individual seats. The resellers are selling people tickets to those non-existent seats so the problems is very evident very quickly. I just attended a meeting of colleagues around the state and many of them are reporting similar issues with ticket resellers.

Right around Christmas this year, we had a show cancel and in the process of issuing refunds, we had to tell a gentleman that we couldn’t process a refund to his credit card because it wasn’t the card that purchased the tickets–it was the ticket resller’s. He was irate to say the least, especially since he paid about triple the actual cost of the tickets. He demanded we call the company and tell them the show was cancelled since he felt, perhaps correctly, that they wouldn’t believe him.

Much to my surprise, after waiting on hold for quite some time, I was able to get the company to process a refund for him.

We include a warning in all our email newsletters encouraging people to only purchase from us–but that only reaches people who have already successfully purchased tickets from us, not those wishing to attend for the first time.

If you are running into this, there are a couple things you can do. First is to do an online search using various terms like “tickets venuename theater yourtown,” varying the order and removing your venue name and only using generic terms like theater, dance, music. See what sites come up and see what they are selling your tickets for.

Contacting them to tell them to stop probably won’t work, but at least you will be aware of what customers might be seeing.  I don’t know if Google is doing a better job fighting  SEO attempts by these sites, but when I ran a search before writing this post, there were far fewer reseller sites appearing as results before my venue or even on the first page than there were in December.

However, the one that did come up before us is offering tickets in rows that no longer exist to a show that sold out in October.

Something we have done is worked with our ticket vendor to disallow credit card sales from out of state ZIP codes. We are smack in the middle of a state so it isn’t a big deal. Even if you are on a border, you may be able to do this for a significant geographic region across borders. Most ticket reseller purchases we have encountered are from the West Coast or Mountain West.

Be aware though that resellers get around this by using Visa/MasterCard branded gift cards which don’t require ZIP codes.

Another thing to watch out for is people posting on your Facebook events page saying they bought tickets but can’t make the show, encouraging people to send them a direct message and they will sell them cheaply.

Generally what these people, as well as many of the reseller sites will do, is place an order with you after people have contacted them about their “extra tickets.”  I would encourage you to delete these messages when you come across them. One of the big giveaways is that the Facebook account has been created in the last couple months and the person doesn’t live anywhere near you. They probably won’t have a record of purchasing tickets from you either. They may populate their page with pictures and friends connections to add some verisimilitude, but if you look carefully there are some clues.

Today we had a guy offering tickets for an event tonight that was born in Canada, apparently lives 300 miles or so away from us in Florida and is the CEO of a company in Poland.

I am sure there are much more sophisticated techniques other groups are using on larger venues where the return on investment makes it worth it, but I figure this will provide people with a general sense of what to watch out for.

Anyone got any stories or tips they want to share?

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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3 thoughts on “Ticket Reseller War Stories”

    • Will call is not really an option given customer expectations about being able to print at home or have their tickets mailed to them.

      A lot of big concert venues and acts have tried to cut down on this type of fraud by requiring ID or the credit card that purchased the tickets in order to gain admission and it has been a public relations disaster.

      Even on a smaller scale, how excited would you be to go to a theater where you had to wait on one line with 1000 people to pick up your tickets and then another line to be scanned in and find your seat?

      None of that would solve the problem of websites selling tickets that didn’t exist.

  1. Because all the events I go to are small (theaters with 60–200 seats, outdoor theater with around 400 seats), I had forgotten about the queuing problems at large venues.

    I see ticket reselling as a major problem—most of the revenue ends up going to the resellers rather than to the artists and maintenance of the venues, so ticket prices go up while support for the artists goes down. Perhaps what is needed is a move away from transferable tickets to something more like what is used for admission to many corporate offices and university events: an id card. The admission scanner then just checks whether the id is associated with a permission to enter. One id could be used to let in parties of people, but they would have to enter together. I’m thinking that the ID should not be a per-venue thing (who wants to carry more cards), but piggy-backing on existing IDs (driver’s licenses, state ids, bus passes, …) that people already carry.

    There undoubtedly would be problems for people who have no ID and do not want to get one.

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