For cheap tickets, go online
David Ellison's Consumer Watch
BY DAVID ELLISON
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Houston, July 12 2008
Greg Wheeler did not like shopping online until about a year ago when he started purchasing half-priced theater tickets over the Internet.
"I can go online and I can see the new stuff going on in town," said Wheeler, who works in the human resources field. "Then I buy half-price tickets. You can't beat it, especially now that everything is so expensive. It's just great to be able to take the family out and expose yourself to something different."
He is a part of the ticket-purchasing revolution that has taken buyers out of lines and off the phones. The overwhelming majority of the tickets for the arts, concerts and sporting events are now bought online through outlets like Ticketmaster or the so-called secondary market created by sites such as eBay, StubHub, Ticket Liquidators, Vivid Seats and others.
The online secondary market enables consumers to sell to other consumers, a growing trend that has put a dent in the business of the traditional scalpers.
"Really, what's happened over the last five years is more or less a ticket evolution, or maybe even a revolution in a way people have started to change their practices on buying tickets," said Sean Pate, head of communications for StubHub.
As a result, the consumer sometimes can find nice savings.
"Since we discovered (StubDog.com), I also buy tickets and add a couple of extra tickets so that my children can invite their friends," said Lilian Wannall. "That's the nice thing about having discount tickets."
Convenience has a fee
Traditional outlets like Ticketmaster and venues' box offices have been selling event tickets for decades either at the locations or by phone. But ticket sales started to increase online in the last decade as consumers got more comfortable using credit cards on the Internet.
Albert Lopez, a Ticketmaster spokesman in Hollywood, said the company started selling online in 1996. Now, 70 percent of the revenue comes from online purchases, he said. The company also is in the secondary ticket-sale business with Ticketexchange.com, which allows season-ticket holders to sell their seats.
"I think business will continue to migrate to the Web. The Internet provides convenience," Lopez said.
That convenience, however, comes with a fee tacked on to each ticket price. But if you're able to get tickets below face value, you still can save money.
"Let's assume that you can buy at the last minute and buy cheaper because if they could have sold them from the beginning at full price, they would have," said Betsy Gelb, a marketing professor at the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. "So, the customers who benefit the most are the ones who are willing to not plan ahead."
The trade-off, she said, is that the seats you want may not be available.
At StubDog, the tickets are sold at half price because the company gets tickets for seats that otherwise would have gone empty. Sam Levassar, StubDog's CEO, said the tickets are available for shows in Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and Los Angeles, with plans to expand in other major markets.
"It's actually unbelievable how expensive tickets have gotten," Levassar said. "And what it means for consumers is that they will be able to try something that they might not normally try for half price and without the risk."
Robert Ross, audience development manager at the Ensemble Theatre in Houston, agrees, saying his venue uses StubDog as an audience-development tool to attract people who normally wouldn't attend a production.
"They are a clearinghouse, I would say, for organizations who have light nights," Ross said. "They offer you an opportunity to sell tickets at half price so you have some revenue as opposed to none."
Pate said the 8-year-old StubHub, now owned by eBay, and other secondary outlets that sell tickets to a variety of events also offer tickets below face value. But if it's a premium event in high demand, the price certainly will skyrocket.