Ticketmaster's new blog: 'We get it -- you don't like service fees'
Ticketmaster is the company everyone loves to hate, and today it acknowledged as much. Quietly, the ticketing behemoth that's now part of Live Nation Entertainment launched a blog, making a very real effort to finally put a consumer-friendly face on the largely automated, fee-heavy operation.
In a post attributed to CEO Nathan Hubbard, the company admitted the following: "We get it -- you don’t like service fees. You don’t like them mostly because you don’t understand what the heck they are for." Hubbard doesn't totally break down the allotment of the fees, but reiterates some of what is already known. He wrote, "Most of the parties in the live event value chain participate in these service fees either directly or indirectly -- promoters, venues, teams, artists and, yes, ticketing companies."
So fees are not going to go away, but Ticketmaster is making an effort to let customers know what kind of financial commitment they'll be making the moment they come to the site. For years, Ticketmaster waited until a potential concertgoer was nearly done with purchasing a ticket before unveiling the fees, which typically add a minimum of $10-$15 to the price.
Now, at least for most events, prospective buyers will see a portion of the fees as soon as they select the tickets. So, for example, let's say you want to see Nick Cave's Grinderman at the Music Box @ Fonda (you should). A drop-down menu tells you that the $30 is actually $40.30. It's not until one clicks through the site that the fees are broken down, with a $2.50 facility charge, which goes to the venue operator, and a $7.80 "convenience charge," some of which goes to Ticketmaster, the promoter, credit card companies and artists.
Yet the actual cost of the ticket still isn't $40.30.
The final price comes to $47.30, thanks to an additional "order processing fee" and the $2.50 charge to print your own ticket. All told, fees add $17.30 to a single $30 ticket. In instances where the promoter owns the venue, the latter is double-dipping of a sort. The Goldenvoice-run Fonda comes with a $2.50 faculty fee, and Live Nation's own Palladium tacks on $1.
Company chief Irving Azoff acknowledged some of the shortcomings of the new features on his Twitter page. He wrote, "can’t boil all fees down to a per ticket fee until we know how many tix are bought and shipping method chosen, so it has to happen later."
Hubbard went on to write on the company's blog: "The problem is that historically we haven’t told you how much you have to pay for a given seat until very late in the buying process. And our data tells us this angers many of you to the point that you abandon your purchase once you see the total cost, and that you don’t come back. The data also says (and this is the important piece) that if we had told you up front what the total cost was, you would have bought the ticket!"
As a potential solution, Azoff would like to see all-in ticketing for all concerts, meaning the price is fixed from the start. He's been a champion of the policy, and has been utilizing it for certain Eagles dates (Azoff manages the Eagles). Azoff tweeted that "all in pricing will mean that print at home and order charges go away."
Still, what comprises the cost of a concert ticket remains a bit of a puzzle. Going before Wall Street investors earlier this year, the company noted that the average face value of a ticket in 2010 is $55.65, and artist fees amount to anywhere between $34 or $47 of that total.
All-in pricing doesn't mean tickets will become cheaper -- only that fees won't continue to be tacked on. Yet customer service is a bit of an art, and there's no doubt one feels better about a purchase when one isn't suddenly hit with an extra $17.
Last week, for instance, I purchased a pair of tickets to the Arcade Fire's upcoming concert at the Shrine. I used the band's presale, which directed me to CrowdSurge. My $49.50 tickets came with a $5.22 service fee. I was pleased that the service fees seemed relatively reasonable, and I was curious to compare it to those from Ticketmaster.
Ticketmaster had a higher service fee, coming in at $10.50. Ticketmaster also added pricing tiers, and with some Arcade Fire tickets offered for $45, the cost with fees was said to be $55 from Ticketmaster's pull-down menu. That would be in line with what I had paid -- seemingly.
My ticket, prefees, was $49.50, and let's look at the total cost of Ticketmaster's $49.50 face value ticket. Once order processing and shipping fees were tabulated, such an Arcade Fire ticket from Ticketmaster tallied $68 -- a full $13 more than my presale cost from CrowdSurge. With Ticketmaster still infusing additional fees into the final state of the purchase, what Azoff trumpeted as "full disclosure" might be a bit of a stretch.
-- Todd Martens
Images: Screenshot from Arcade Fire's Tickemaster page, and a screenshot from Live Nation's presentation before Wall Street investors.