How online resellers exploit Delaware audiences who vastly overpay for shows

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Damian Giletto, The News Journal

Before Andy Truscott came to work at The Grand several years ago, he bought a ticket online from The Grand to see comedian Mike Birbiglia — or so he thought.

It turns out by opening one of the first ticketing web links he saw, Andy ended up on the site of an online ticket resellers. Unknowingly, he ended up paying $85 for a ticket that he could have purchased directly from The Grand for $45.

Andy thought the price was a little steep, but he didn’t question the legitimacy of the sale.

It was only months later when he started a position at The Grand that he searched the organization’s Tessitura database to find that he had no account, no ticketing history, because he hadn’t purchased his ticket from The Grand.

Ticket reselling, the cyber version of scalping, is not illegal. The practice is, however, unsavory at best and exploitative.

An unsuspecting patron ends up vastly overpaying a for-profit third party for the ticket, and the nonprofit performing arts organization can often be blamed for any mistakes when the patron shows up at its door.

Somebody makes a tidy profit by misrepresenting his role while both patron and organization can suffer. And since it is not illegal, the only response is for organizations and ticket buyers to stay informed and educated.

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What’s happening?

With off-the-shelf technology, virtually anyone can create a website. Put tickets in the site name and now you are a vendor.

“Since ticket resellers don’t have the overhead of maintaining a staff or operating a building, they can invest their budget in Search Engine Optimization on Internet browser sites that can place their website at the top of a search list,” Truscott says. “They will also create fraudulent events on Facebook to lure patrons in.”

Cleverly designed to emulate a theater, these sites offer tickets at inflated prices, hoping that site visitors haven’t done their homework or that they’re so rushed, they don’t take the time to consider the accuracy of the prices.

In response to increased public outcry about the practice, sites now have miniscule disclaimers on their site, confirming that they are not the actual theaters presenting these shows.

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But those disclaimers are intentionally difficult to find or understand. One reseller states in light gray type at the very bottom of its photo-filled Norah Jones page:

“We are in no way associated with or authorized by the The Queen and/or Norah Jones and neither that entity nor any of its affiliates have licensed or endorsed us to sell tickets, goods and or services in conjunction with their events.”

An early March check on a resellers site revealed:

• One comedian’s tickets for $100-$121 when The Grand still had them available for $43-$50.

• A popular singer’s show at The Queen was offered for $378 when the actual venue was selling them for $65.

• “Hamilton” tickets from the Kimmel Center could be purchased for $517-$1,811 except for the fact that the Kimmel has not yet put Hamilton tickets on sale to the general public.

In some circumstances, the reseller has purchased legitimate tickets from the venue and turned around and offered them for more. But in other situations, the reseller actually offers specific seats that it doesn’t yet possess and will then purchase them for a potential buyer using their credit card information provided during the online transaction.

The Grand has encountered resellers that will become donors to the organization to gain early access to seats for the sole intent of reselling them.

What’s the problem?

We live in a free-market capitalist country, so what’s the harm? Reselling puts an additional burden on the nonprofit theater.

If a Grand show is cancelled, we have no way to reach patrons who purchased through a third party. If they show up at a dark theater, the patron only has Grand staff in front of them to vent their anger and frustration.

And some resellers are unscrupulous enough to sell the same tickets more than once. When several people show up expecting the exact same seats, the theater is left to resolve the situation, and not everyone is going to be happy.

“The Grand often gets blamed for other peoples’ crimes,” says Terry Cruz, director of marketing. “They think we are part of the scam.”

Amy Watson Bish, associate director of marketing at The Grand, agrees, “It can poison our relationship with the patron, and creates an environment of mistrust and suspicion.”

In other circumstances, patrons will visit these bogus sites, see the higher prices and walk away entirely, convinced that The Grand charges unreasonable prices across the board.

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What are theaters doing in response?

The Grand takes several measures to discourage the resellers, Cruz says.

Marketing emails and collateral publicity notes that The Grand is the only authorized seller of its tickets and advises that use of third parties is done at the patron’s own risk.

The marketing staff is in the process of purchasing a template video developed for theaters to warn patrons of the growing problem.

The box office tracks repeat offenders and flags their accounts. And, patrons can be required to pick up tickets in person with a photo ID; this thwarts resellers from distant states from obtaining tickets.

Other theaters are employing scanners to catch bogus or duplicate tickets, and are also ramping up attention to the issue to raise public awareness.

There are several ways patrons can avoid being exploited:

• Only buy through theaters’ official website or phone numbers. Keep those numbers in your phone for future use rather than search the Internet.

• Look on any unfamiliar site for any third-party disclaimers; if you see them, look for tickets elsewhere.

• Take an extra moment on the site to look for other content that confirms it is a legitimate theater website. Reseller sites are bare bones, streamlined to sell tickets. Are there tabs for the mission, staff, donating? If not, it’s not likely the official site. Does the URL end in .org as most nonprofits would?

• If on the phone, ask the operator about local restaurants and parking? If they don’t know, they probably aren’t local.

• And if they can’t give you an exact seat number or if the tickets are over $100, those should be red flags.

With increased awareness of the issue and a little more caution of the part of ticket buyers, disappointments can be minimized, if not avoided.

“Like all theaters,” says Bish, “The Grand wants you, our patrons, to have the best experience possible. We can’t guarantee that experience when a reseller is involved.”

Delaware Arts is an occasional column by state arts leaders. This one is by Mark Fields, executive director of The Grand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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