When Pete Van Baalen’s wife Ruth decided to buy an anniversary gift for her husband, she opted to get tickets to see Brian Wilson at the Embassy Theatre last August.
Knowing her husband is a longtime fan of Wilson and the Beach Boys, she went online and searched for “Brian Wilson Fort Wayne.” What the search yielded — right at the top as the first search results on the page — was a website owned by neither Brian Wilson nor the Embassy Theatre.
Instead, unbeknownst to her, she was clicking on a site for a third-party seller.
Your search results may vary
“When she gave them to me, I saw that the price on the tickets was $220 a piece,” said Van Baalen, marketing director for the Sweet Family of Businesses at Sweetwater. “I realized that she had gotten the tickets from brokers, and she could have gotten better seats for only $65 each.”
That experience is not unique, and the issue of third-party sellers is not only causing distress for ticket buyers. It’s also preventing some from attending events and concerts altogether.
“I had someone say to me the other day that they’d love to see Richard Marx, who’s coming to the Clyde in February,” Van Baalen said. “But he saw that the tickets were $200 and said, ‘I can’t afford that.’ I told him that the tickets for that show start at $35 and none are as high as $200. So here’s someone that decided not to go and could be missing out because they see the ticket prices being charged by these brokers.”
The Clyde Theatre is well aware of the problem. Daniel Butler, marketing director of the Clyde, sees it happen all the time.
“We just announced the Dennis DeYoung show here at the Clyde Theatre,” Butler said. “And if you Google ‘Dennis DeYoung,’ the top search result will be a site that doesn’t look like ours, and it has an upcharge that doubles the price of the ticket.
“We encourage people who are coming to our shows to verify that they’re actually on the clydetheatre.com website. Or come to our box office and buy them. If you see tickets online and have any questions, call our box office before you checkout.”
Convenience a doorway to fraud
The reliance on ticket buying through the internet has changed everything over the years. Where sitting outside a venue overnight to buy tickets to the biggest shows in town used to be a thing, now people sit anxiously at their computer or with their phone waiting for the tickets to become available.
That convenience has led to a lot of fraud, even if this particular form isn’t illegal.
“The internet is growing,” Butler said. “It’s sad that we have to deal with this kind of problem. We’re still trying to figure out the best way to combat it.”
Randy Brown, executive vice president and general manager of the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, has seen this situation unfold in his 30 years with the venue. His approach comes after seeing too many people scammed by these brokers.
“We had a situation recently where a mother brought her three daughters to see Disney on Ice,” Brown said. “She paid twice face value for them, and then it turned out the tickets were no good, so they were turned away. I found out and managed to find them before they left, and I was able to help her buy tickets that were valid. But by then she’d paid overall three times the actual price of admission to see the show. And even that can only be done if there are still seats available to the show.
“When Paul McCartney was here last summer, we turned 50 people away who had bought tickets that were no good. And if an event is sold out, there isn’t anything we can do for them.”
How to avoid confusion
Rather than just dealing with the fallout from these brokers, Brown and other arena managers around the country are being proactive.
“We’re doing what we can and working with Ticketmaster,” Brown said. “But we’re getting a lot of resistance from the third-party sellers. I’ve spoken to the state legislature about this, but we’re being outgunned by lobbyists who are working on behalf of the ticket brokers. So we have to be a much more aggressive player.”
Brown and Butler both encourage ticket buyers to proceed with caution and purchase tickets only through the venue site. Be aware of what the ticket prices should be versus what you’re being asked to pay.
Brown said that he saw tickets to the recent Five Finger Death Punch concert being sold for $300 when the Coliseum’s top ticket price was $77.50. He also saw tickets for the upcoming KISS concert on third-party websites before the tickets were even on sale at the Coliseum.
One way to avoid any confusion is, if you live near the venue, walk into the box office where a person who works for the site can assist you. That may even save in ticket fees that are charged through the sites like Ticketmaster.
But Brown concedes that the internet remains the most popular way to purchase tickets which is why people have become vulnerable to the scams since it’s the print at home tickets that can be fraudulent.
“Now our ticket sales are 80 percent over the internet,” Brown said. “The phone option has almost entirely gone away, and we have much less traffic at our box office. So if people are going to use the internet, we have to find ways to protect them.
“The NFL has gone 100 percent electronic tickets, and the NBA is about to do the same. That’s been the biggest shift in the last few years. Five years ago, there were zero electronic tickets, and five years from now, it’ll be 100 percent.”
Ticket buyers should also be aware of Fans First Coalition which is helping to steer fans away from the overpriced and fraudulent tickets sold by third-party sellers. Information about Fans First can be found on the Coliseum website.
Brown said it’s just one way that venues are working to spare their patrons the heartache that so many have experienced over the years.
“It’s really about best practices,” Brown said. “It’s an education process.”
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