Operators of nonprofit regional theaters such as Galveston’s 1894 Grand Opera House plan to seek legislative protection against brokers who buy up blocks of tickets to resell at huge markups.
The practice, sometimes called scalping, is legal but often angers patrons who don’t realize they’re buying tickets from a third-party vendor at premium prices and end up feeling duped, said Maureen Patton, executive director of The Grand.
“We recently noticed within the last few years that some of our customers were paying far more for their tickets to some of the shows than what we advertise on our site and at our box office,” Patton said.
“We’ve had some people pay double, triple and sometimes 10 times more than what was advertised for some of our popular shows. Those tickets were purchased on secondary market sites, which aren’t affiliated with The Grand in any capacity.”
The Grand, as well as other historical venues across the country, is caught in a situation of almost theatrical irony in which brokers use high-tech methods to bulk-buy and mark up tickets, and angry patrons use online forums such as Yelp to write bad reviews against the venues, Patton said.
Most third-party sites use dynamic pricing, which is the practice of pricing items at a level determined by a particular customer’s perceived ability to pay, according to reports. The goal of dynamic pricing is to allow a company that sells over the internet to adjust prices on the fly in response to market demands.
Customers, who feel as though they were duped, have responded with outrage by not only writing bad reviews, but even going as far as accusing theater owners of price gouging.
“We discovered during our single tickets sale day that someone who wanted Wynonna Judd tickets said they weren’t going to pay over $200 per ticket for her — but really wanted to see her,” Patton said. “We corrected her immediately and said she was likely on a third-party sales site, which is legal, but tickets are far costlier than at our own box office.
“It’s a terrible problem that all of us face in this ticketing world. We lose sales in a case when someone looks at a site that says Wynonna tickets are over $200 (they start at $48); or we have furious patrons when they show up and discover the tickets they purchased for hundreds of dollars have a price on them of something far less.”
Knowing how and when to look for good seats is a lesson that customers should diligently research, said Jim Clark, former executive director of The Lutcher Theater in Orange, Texas.
Theaters like The Grand and The Lutcher operate as nonprofit entities that receive most of their funding from the state, major corporations and cities to help support them, Clark said.
“When this sort of stuff happens where customers have spent two to three times per ticket, we don’t normally see the customer again,” Clark said. “It’s a very negative experience — especially if it was their first time experiencing the theater.”
Ticket brokers are taking advantage of tax dollars that are given to theaters through grants and corporate support, Clark said.
Both theaters are a part of the Southwest Performing Arts Presenters, a consortium of presenting organizations in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. The organization, in the near future, will try to introduce legislation to help regulate the reselling of tickets on the secondary market, both Patton and Clark said.
“Our goal is to keep the price of tickets as low as possible,” Clark said. “It’s our mission to bring people to the theater to enrich their lives.”
Customers who want to get the best bang for their buck should always visit the venue’s site and/or box office before making a purchase to a show, Patton said.
The Grand’s site, www.thegrand.com, is the official site at which to purchase Grand tickets. Customers also can call its box office at 800-821-1894.
“It’s so important for our customers to know where to go to first when buying their tickets,” Patton said. “There are several sites out there misleading our customers; they look really legit.
“They even have a photo of our stage on some of them. We want to make our customers aware and to be vigilant on where they purchase their tickets from. It’s a very bitter learning experience and a lesson learned one at a time.”
Patton and Clark reiterated there’s nothing wrong with purchasing tickets on third-party sites. However, they said to make sure that you’re making smart purchases.
“Trust me, you’ll never do it again if it happens to you,” Patton said. “Although we can’t stop it from happening, we are willing to help out in any way we can. We’re not the only ones suffering with this situation; however, we want to make sure that along with having a grand night at our theater, that it didn’t break the bank for you to do so.”