Ticketing

No matter the event, you'll likely be slugged with extra charges for tickets.
 
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01 .Add-on charges

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In brief

  • The full price of your tickets is not revealed until check-out, after add-ons such as handling fees and print-at-home charges are added.
  • Consumers have almost no choice in ticket prices when the marketplace is dominated by agencies with exclusive ticketing rights to venues.

You wanted tickets to Shore Thing – the annual New Year’s Eve dance music event at Bondi Beach – and found tickets going for two different prices:

  • If you bought the ticket from the smaller ticketing agency Moshtix, you would have paid $129 per ticket plus $5.60 booking fee.
  • If you got a ticket from Ticketek, one of the two major ticketing agencies, you would have paid $139 for the ticket and another $8.50 to pick it up.

The event is held at the same venue and there is no seating preference, so why the $12.90 difference?

As CHOICE found out, add-on charges for tickets vary from event to event and from one ticketing agency to another. These costs, such as phone booking charges and venue pick-up fees, are not upfront and you’ll only discover how much extra you have to fork out when you’ve almost completed the booking and are about to pay up.

Furthermore, the “best available” seats you choose or have been assigned may exclude seats – usually with the best view – that have already been privately allocated by the event promoter as complimentary tickets to corporate sponsors. We explain how ticketing agencies dominate the market and what hidden costs you should watch out for.

Please note: this information was current as of March 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


No industry watchdog

In Australia, there is no regulatory body overseeing the setting of ticket prices or pricing structure of tickets. Live Performance Australia (LPA), peak body for the live entertainment and performing arts industry, says its members usually state in advertisements that “additional charges” apply to the advertised price, in a bid to be as transparent as possible about ticket costs.

LPA spokesperson Suzanne Daley Carr says while the LPA has not received any consumer complaints in recent years about add-on fees, it set up a new complaints handling and dispute resolution policy last September (complaints@liveperformance.com.au) to address consumer complaints when they are not resolved by an LPA member.

CHOICE verdict

Ticketing add-on charges are decided and controlled by ticketing agencies, and a lack of regulation means some agencies’ charges are more punishing than others. CHOICE believes add-on fees should be upfront so consumers can see all the extra charges, and therefore total price of their ticket, before filling in personal details and providing payment details.

 
 

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02.Industry duopoly and their charges

 

Two major players

In 2007, Australians spent $1.23 billion on close to 19 million tickets for live performances (excluding sporting events). This huge industry is dominated by Ticketek and Ticketmaster, the two major ticketing agencies operating in most states. Despite the existence of regional agencies, Ticketek and Ticketmaster have carved up major portions of the ticketing market in exclusive contracts with major venues.

Ticketek is the exclusive ticketing agent for:

  • Sydney Cricket Ground and Football Stadium.
  • Melbourne Cricket Ground.
  • Princess Theatre in Melbourne.
  • Adelaide Entertainment Centre.

Ticketmaster is the exclusive agent for:

  • Telstra Dome in Melbourne.
  • Sydney Entertainment Centre.
  • AAMI Stadium in Adelaide.

To get exclusive ticketing rights, these companies have to pay the venue owners “key money”, which they recoup through high ticket profit margins. The result is a duopoly that does little for competitive pricing. Consumers may score cheaper tickets when venue owners or event promoters don’t have exclusive contracts with any ticketing agents and compete on pricing, but this is rare. Event owners and producers may have a choice of venue, but they have no choice of ticket seller when the exclusive ticketing rights of the venue have been signed over to a particular ticketing agency.

Who charges what?

  • BASS (SA) Booking fee is included in the advertised ticket price: $3.30 per ticket (online, phone, mail or courier), regardless of the event.
  • BOCS (WA) Booking fees: $6.60 per transaction (regardless of number of tickets) online or through the phone; $2.20 per ticket if the tickets are bought from an agency. For general admission tickets, an additional $2 charge is levied for tickets to be sent via registered post.
  • Canberra Ticketing (ACT) Booking fee: $7.20 per transaction for bookings made online or by phone. Handling fee: $1.10 for tickets to be mailed. No charge for venue pick-up.
  • Qtix (Qld) Booking fee: $1.50 to $3 per ticket.
  • Moshtix (national) Booking fees: the basic charge is up to $3.50 for online bookings and $5 for phone bookings. For bookings at Moshtix outlets, fees range between $2.50 and $4, with a $1 retail fee on top. A 2.5% charge is included in the booking fee for credit card bookings.
  • Ticketmaster (national) Booking fee: up to $9.15 per transaction online or up to $8.80 over the phone. Handling fees: no charge for printing your tickets at home or picking them up at the box office. A charge of up to $4.50 applies for express mail and up to $3.75 for registered mail.
  • Ticketek (national) Booking fee included in the ticket price. Handling fees: up to $8.50 per transaction for phone bookings. For online bookings, a charge of $4.95 applies for printing your ticket or tickets at home, $6.95 to pick them up at the box office or have them mailed to you and up to $10.45 for registered post.

What's in a ticket price?

While event producers set the cost price of tickets, including classes of seats and how many VIP seats to block out, ticketing agents determine the ticket add-ons, such as transaction or booking fees, print-at-home charges, postal costs and credit card fees. These add-ons are called “outside ticket” charges. There's also an “inside” ticket fee – paid to the ticketing agency by the event owner, producer or promoter – which is usually included in the advertised ticket price.

Two red ticketsAdd-on charges vary from one ticketing agency to another, as well as from event to event. West Australian ticketing agency, BOCS Ticketing, charges a one-off $6.60 booking fee, regardless of the number of tickets you buy online or over the phone. The two larger ticketing agencies are not so generous. Ticketmaster can charge up to $9.15 for online bookings, while Ticketek has a transaction charge of up to $8.50 for phone bookings.

Paul Dainty, founder of Dainty Consolidated Entertainment, a promoter of major events such as the Rolling Stones and U2 says ticket add-ons by agencies are justified. “There’s technology they have to keep up to date with and their capital reinvestment is pretty enormous. It’s a good business when you’ve got a lot of inventory to sell, but when the business goes quiet, these companies have huge overheads to cover to provide their service.”

Moshtix’s managing director, Adam McArthur, disagrees. “By investing in technology, the overheads are lowered. Moshtix’s operation remains profitable with high ticket volumes and low operational overheads.”
Ticketmaster levies the transaction or handling fees as a lump sum after you've selected your tickets, while Ticketek’s charges depend on how you want your tickets issued (see Who Charges What). BASS, a regional ticketing agency in SA, run by the Adelaide Festival Centre, has a different pricing structure. For example, a $99.50 general admission ticket to see Chris Isaak included the $3.30 booking fee (regardless of how you booked) and $4.70 commission, or inside ticket fee, BASS charges the event owner or producer.

Seating access

When you book tickets online you’ll have a rough idea of where you might be seated or standing, but generally you can’t choose the location of your seat. Most ticketing agencies sell tickets on a computer-generated “best available” seating system that excludes complimentary and sponsor tickets privately allocated by the event owners or producers.

LPA’s Ticket and Revenue Survey for 2006 and 2007 shows that 1.7 million free tickets were issued in 2006 and 2.3 million such tickets were given out in 2007. Then there are pre-sale tickets offered online – often at a premium – which may also decrease the chances of equal access to seating. Last August, CHOICE subscriber Rosie Bright bought two silver-class tickets for $165 each from Ticketek to see Bob Dylan at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. “We assumed that silver class tickets were good but ended up getting tickets that were very close to the back and needed binoculars to see the band properly,” she says.

Consumers have better access to seating in venues such as the Sydney Opera House, which runs its own box office and allows you to choose your seats for some performances. Cirque Du Soleil’s website features a graphical interface allowing you to select your seats from a map that shows exactly what seats are available for each show session.

Independent event websites, such as www.mytickets.com.au help consumers compare and buy tickets by listing details and ticket information for all events. If two ticketing agencies are offering tickets to the same event, patrons are most likely to find the best price on this website.

Worst seat in the house

In December 2008, Bill Mulford bought four tickets at $50 each for the Commonwealth Bank Series Australia v South Africa cricket match at Bellerive Oval in Hobart. He said no seating plan was available on either the Ticketmaster or Tasmanian Cricket Association (TCA) websites for checking the allocated seats..

“As such, I accepted Ticketmaster’s statement that these were the best seats available,” says Mulford. “Imagine my surprise and great disappointment to find that at least two of the allocated seats were directly behind a large roof-supporting pole. Two of us had to spend the entire day having our appreciation and enjoyment of the game seriously marred by this obstruction.” He complained to Ticketmaster, who referred the matter to TCA. In the end, TCA refunded him $36 in total for the two blocked seats.

The reselling of tickets above their face value, known as “scalping”, generally drives up the prices of tickets. Scalping is illegal at major sports venues in Queensland and Victoria but not illegal in NSW, as the government believes event organisers should be responsible for stopping scalping.

Most ticketing agencies specify that scalping via auction sites is a breach of sales conditions. To prevent scalping, the purchase of 10 tickets or more is typically handled by a ticketing agent’s group booking sales team. The agencies can also cancel the tickets and blacklist the credit cards used to buy tickets suspected of being scalped.

In 2007, when Creative Festival Entertainment (CFE), promoter of the Big Day Out, tried to stop tickets from being snapped up by scalpers, eBay took it to court. CFE had printed warnings on the tickets that any resold for profit would be cancelled. The court found this was deceptive and misleading, as the company couldn’t possibly track down all the tickets that had been resold for profit.

Generally, if you sell your tickets via an online auction site such as eBay because you cannot attend the event, it is not considered scalping – provided the selling price is not more than the face value of the ticket.

Ticket Evolution

Consumers will soon be able to buy cheaper tickets through new discount ticketing site www.lastix.com.au launching in June 2009. MyTickets’ last-minute service will allow event owners, promoters and sporting organisations to advertise unsold tickets on the website 14 days before the event date. During this time, consumers can buy tickets at reduced prices, access “two for one” type offers or buy a “last tix combo” package where, for example, they watch cricket in the day and go to a concert in the evening.

On the day of performance, Lastix may also offer consumers tickets that did not sell out despite the oft-advertised “selling out fast” media hype. “With Lastix, consumers will access great last-minute ticket deals and hopefully get the chance to experience entertainment they might not normally see,” says Christopher Plowman, Chief Executive of MyTickets. The good news is that you can grab a really good bargain through Lastix. The downside is that if you really want to see a particular show or game, leaving it to the last minute risks not getting tickets at all.

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