Would You Post Ticket Fees At The Start Of The Buying Process?

A big H/T to Thomas Cott for pointing out an article by Harriet Meyer in the 1/30/2014 edition of The Guardian that I would have otherwise missed about UK ticket agencies agreeing, albeit after a great deal of pressure, to show the related fee structure at the onset of the ticket buying process.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-024According to the article, UK based consumer advocate group Which? wants the process to go another step by requiring box office providers to explain their fees.

The issue of ticket fees is no less sticky for nonprofit performing arts orgs and for the Iron Tongue Of Midnight’s Lisa Hirsch, the issue has been an ongoing thorn in her ticket buying side. She’s published several articles on the topic and has no problem calling it like she sees it.

These fees are the kind of nickle-and-diming that piss people off even more than high ticket prices. (source)

I upgraded to an orchestra seat for an additional $67, including the annoying $10 ticket exchange fee, because while there are plenty of available seats now, I am not much of a gambler. (source)

Dear Metropolitan Opera […] I really hate those additional fees over and above the cost of the ticket. And yours are the highest of all. (source)

And I consider handling fees for online orders to be vile. (source)

Unfortunately, I don’t see changes like those transpiring in the UK to begin popping up here in the US anytime soon but I’m curious to know what you think. I’m especially interested in hearing from ticket buyers and managers.

In order to encourage participation on what I consider a fundamentally important topic, clearly, there is plenty of potential for blow back but I think it is important to invite as much straightforward discussion as possible. To that end, I want to remind managers that you’re welcome to post comments anonymously using a moniker ([provided you still abide by the basic comment policy parameters).

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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27 thoughts on “Would You Post Ticket Fees At The Start Of The Buying Process?

  1. Knowing the costs up front seems a far more honest way to conduct business. Unless it’s a one-off rock concert, I don’t bother buying symphony tickets anymore online. For some reason I can’t stand paying $28.65 for a $20 ticket. $4.75 for processing and another $3+ for a “convenience fee.” Seems silly to pay that when I’m doing all the work and printing my own ticket. Besides, that extra 40% is a bit much. 3 individual tickets online means I can only go to 3 concerts for $100 or so. Whereas if I buy them in the ticket office, I can $25 for a $25 ticket and go to 4 concerts for $100. (or even call and order over the phone so the fee is only $5 rather than $8.65.)

    Wouldn’t the non-profit arts organizations prefer that I attend and talk about 4 different concerts rather than just 3?

  2. I’m certainly guilty of programming a purchasing system with online fees. At least they’re disclosed at the start of the process… But really, do online ticketing fees stand up to critical thought?

    I believe the fees have their genesis in the credit card processing fee. Sure that’s a real expense, and its understandable that an org might want to recover that ‘additional’ expense. But if we think of it as an additional expense, aren’t we implying that the physical box office is not an expense? The time required for personnel to handle a phone or walk up order is also a real expense, and possibly higher than an online system. I think this points to a larger issue of orgs placing more focus and value on monetary outlays than outlays of human capital.

    • Those are all excellent points Karen, especially the perspective on in-house box office costs. One aspect where this discussion is useful is helping patrons understand where fees are controlled by the orchestra and where they are out of their hands and set by a third party provider (venue, ticket agency, etc.).

    • In the Minnesota Orchestra’s $50 million plus renovation of the Orchestra Hall lobby the MOA did away with the box office and attendant staffing. If you want to purchase a ticket you now have to go to the 6th floor of an office building 3 blocks away- you also have to find and pay for parking. The old lobby had a driveway that you could use to pull into and buy tickets.

      The ongoing ticketing problems for the audience have been a huge topic in the last month since concerts have resumed. People trying to place phone orders have been on hold for an hour and tickets purchased online that were supposed have been emailed were never sent. This resulted in long lines at a will call desk before the concert. I guess the MOA didn’t plan on us being back quite so soon.

      Talk about dissing your audiences- and yes, there are still ticketing fees.

        • I’m not sure Drew- I know there are comps available and the next 3 weeks concerts (all great repertoire with major conductors and soloists) are also being offered on Groupon. I’ve heard from patrons about their displeasure with the ticketing issues and disbelief that this could be happening. I’m sure in long term this can’t possibly be seen as a positive course of action.

          The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra (MOMO) sold out all the concerts we presented in the past 17 months. I suspect the MOA’s actions (and inactions) are all supporting Michael Henson’s contention that the business model of presenting serious classical concerts is broken and fundamentally flawed; and as of March 6 there is no indication that Mr. Henson is going anywhere.

  3. I think the biggest issue with announcing fees in advance is to get the third party ticketing company that many of us use to program that into their online ticket software. Not sure how many would be willing to go to that programming expense. Many times, an online fee is charged by the third-party ticketing company that orgs have no control over. We also have a venue ‘preservation’ fee that we are charged by the city and add on to ticket prices instead of building them in (which I know other orgs in similar situations do add in.) As a manager, I try very hard to keep fees low but there are some that we just can’t control and need to pass on to the ticketbuyer. Low fees were definitely a factor in who I selected as our new ticket vendor.

  4. Here’s my deal: I hate fees so much that I include them in the ticket price for my own events. $15 is $15. $45 is $45. $70 is $70, and that’s it. My income is much less ($12.80, $39.91, $61,25) but I budget for that. It’s not hard. I feel like I’m being scalped half the time, but that’s better than giving my audiences a bad taste in their mouth for my event. Oh, I use Eventbrite, mostly.

    • I was hoping someone would bring those points up, I tend to gravitate toward the same approach but the only genuine downside from a marketer’s perspective is how that looks compared to other local arts groups that do not post fees but advertise prices using the base tix price only. In reality, your inclusive price may be lower than another group’s cumulative price but the face advertising value projects a different picture.

      In return, you’re forced to spend more time pointing out these differences in your promotional material (which, granted, many not be a bad thing in all situations) or simply accept that the general ticket buying public internalize an inaccurate perception.

      If nothing else, this just goes to show how the ticket fee issue becomes much more of a drain (like arts marketers need that like a hole in the head).

  5. It’s like you’re reading my mind. I said much of the same in a comment reply above and the issue of letting ticket buyers distinguish fees that are beyond the orchestra’s control is one that deserves more attention, if for no other reason than to begin having a positive influence on improved development and efficiency from box office providers and/or ticket vendors.

  6. Thank you for the shout-outs, Drew! And these are great comments about the situation and why the arts org often can’t do a thing about the fees. But sometimes arts orgs can, and I wish they would. The Met tacked a $7.50 fee and a $2.50 fee on top of my $310.00 ticket to Die Frau ohne Schatten, but jeez! Those Columbus Symphony fees are crazy and the question Heather asks is a very good one.

    • Interesting that you mentioned The Met’s fees, tomorrow’s post examines the potential impact from last week’s Bloomberg article by Manuela Hoelterhoff, who went off on The Met’s overall user experience. From me perspective, items like ticket fees and adequate bathrooms go hand in hand.

      • Oh, man. I saw that article. Some stupidity in it, but she was right about a lot of the problems.

        I also had no idea that somehow the architects forgot a decent lobby. REALLY? Rudolf Bing NEVER NOTICED??? Trying to remember whether she sourced that claim.

        • I agree that there are items to quibbler with but by and large, she does a good job at pointing out obvious problems that have equally obvious solutions. And good question about souring the lobby; she references the Center’s redesign in general but nothing specific. I find the comments to the post quite entertaining in that they were rather stereotypical hard-core/old-school; but some rightfully point out that some changes are far easier said than done, at the same time there are plenty of examples of halls built in recent years that do a wonderful job at providing an excellent patron experience.

          • I think I will skip the comments!

            The circulation space issues at the Met are serious and she is right about that. Fixing that would be enormously expensive because, as she implies, you’d need an addition to the building. Seattle Opera managed to greatly improve the patron experience when they redesigned the hall; the lobby was expanded and made to feel much more open by the addition of a huge glass wall. This would be tough in NYC given the cost, the constraints of the plaza, and the weather.

            Seattle also killed lines for coffee by simply putting out self-service tables and asking for $1/cup or something. It was crazy – they just decided that the good experience beat the liquid profit center – and it was fantastic for opera goers. I don’t know whether the Met has space to do this.

            The Met could improve sandwich offerings and provide more places to get food and bottled drinks at a comparatively low cost. Adding more bathrooms means plumbing, meaning $$$.

  7. Thanks, Drew and Lisa. The fees I mentioned went to Ticketmaster. They’re fees we have to pay for any event through them – Symphony, Musicals, other concerts, etc. I honestly don’t think I’d object to them so much if they were for processing and labor done within the non-profit org itself, but they bug me on two counts. 1: They’re not for the non-profit org, they’re for the very-for-profit org and 2: I really am doing all the work, so paying for an “order processing” fee is just silly (and greedy).

    I’m lucky enough to live close enough to downtown so that I can easily make a trip down there specifically to get tickets. Or, when I plan a group outing, I tell my friends to give me their money by X date because I’m already going to be there on Y date and can kill two birds with one stone.

    Another symphony in town allows for tickets to be bought online without any additional fees. I can order tickets and they’ll either be mailed to me or held at will-call.

    Whenever possible, i.e. in these cases, I prefer that all the money I spend for an event actually go to the organization putting on the event.

  8. Can one of you wonderful entrepreneurs/arts geniuses/programmers give the Event Brite/Ticketmaster folks a not for profit software system a kick in the pants to develop a slick easy to navigate back end to make in house online ticket management a reality for all arts organizations from an IT customer service perspective at the box office? I do not knock Event Brite or Ticketmaster–they provide a real customer driven service. That said–the customer eating this expense sucks, and the presenter eating this expense sucks…at some point down the road enough is enough. We live in a digital world where clearly there is HUGE demand for this convenience. It seems to me, it might be possible down the road to hire personnel in house to keep these costs lower—naive man that I am…I do realize how specialized however this kind of data management is-With an organization as big as the MET or any arts center, one would think that it would not take long to see those fee reductions add up to lower ticket prices for the average consumer, better attendance perhaps, happier customers and overall experience. Are we all just convinced it is worth it and that we can’t make our own in house versions? Anyone tried and failed? Anyone with real numbers to back up why this model is a model to fail? There is real expertise with online ticketing–I get that–they just need to work for us!

    • Much of this discussion comes down to profit margin and how much profit is fair profit and does it cross the line into predatory practices. Much of the difficulty in making those determinations is the lack of data but showing all fees up front and assigning a justification (even if it is ultimately corporate spin) still puts the consumer in a better position to begin making educated decisions or even demands for fairer practices.

      As an example, some of the serves I offer clients via The Venture Platform is by way of functionality add-ons that provide very specific features. Many of these add-ons are services provided by third party provider, such as the dedicated SSL certificate and installation. This specific feature is actually provided by my hosting provider and the cost I pass along to my clients is precisely what they charge me; meaning, there is zero markup.

      Whenever possible, I apply this same formula to any add-on provided by a third party instead of tacking my own fees on top of it.

    • The ticket processor is a vendor with legitimate expenses, and those expenses belong to the arts org. Patrons can complain about Ticketmaster et al until they’re blue in the face, but until arts orgs stand up and insist on a ‘fee-less experience’ for their customers, it won’t happen. All those ‘convenience’ fees are a cost the org chose by its own determination of its business structure (in-house work vs. outsourced work). I realize that some orgs are compelled to use vendors (like the Columbus Symphony has to use Ticketmaster) but that doesn’t mean they get a free ride to put the burden on the patron.

      • Although I agree with a good bit of your perspective, it is worth pointing out that there are groups that have zero control over which online ticket provider they must use. For example, if the orchestra has only one venue option in their city and that venue is operated by a separate entity, they are stuck with whichever provider that venue operator wishes to use. Granted, there are politics to play behind the scenes but ultimately, the decision is out of their hands. Interestingly enough, this is another area where independent patron advocacy groups can has a positive impact on their local community by placing leverage on whichever group decides on which provider to use.

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