Beware Paperless Event Tickets


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It's called paperless ticketing - you gain entrance to the concert or show by swiping the credit card you used to buy the tickets. The problem? Since only the card that bought the tickets can use them, that destroys your ability to sell your tickets, or buy them on the secondary market. What does Ticketmaster call this? Why, "convenient," of course.

Last month, I wrote about How to Score Cheap Tickets and Avoid Rip-Offs – the gist being to hit the resale market but watch your back.

Then I got an email from Chris Grimm, a representative of the Fan Freedom Project  that started earlier this year. He wrote…

Thought you might be interested in a trend that might make those cheap tickets disappear forever. The trend is restrictive ticketing – like non-transferable paperless tickets or will-call only. These ticketing systems eliminate traditional tickets and instead tie your admittance to an event to your credit card. This practically eliminates the ability to transfer tickets easily, which would mean a lot of those ticket holders who are trying to off-load their tickets at the last minute for whatever price they can get will be stuck.

In other words, with a paperless system, without the purchasing credit card, the ticket goes from “admit one” to “admit none.” The Ticketmaster paperless system is like that, and popular artists like Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber use it. It’s far from universal for now, although Ticketmaster’s CEO thinks it eventually will be.

So why the push to paperless? Here’s a blurb from Ticketmaster’s Frequently Asked Questions page…

The event provider (promoter, artist and/or venue) has elected to employ Ticketmaster’s paperless ticketing in an effort to best ensure that fans can purchase tickets at the price they initially set for the event.

Basically, they’re saying paperless ticketing prevents scalpers from buying up tickets at face value, then jacking up prices on the resale market. This is kind of funny since artists like Neil Diamond have been caught buying tickets to their own shows and marking them up for resale – with the help of their promoters and Ticketmaster itself. While the less rich and famous among us might sometimes flip a ticket at a higher price to make a quick buck, the resale market also offers the opportunity to purchase tickets cheap, as well as get rid of tickets you can’t use.

This next little bit from Ticketmaster’s paperless ticketing FAQ is also amusing, given the questions that follow it: “Fans have unanimously enjoyed the added ease and convenience of their [paperless] experience.”

Unanimously? Convenience? Here are questions after that on the list…

“May I use a ‘Virtual Credit Card’ to make online purchases?”

Nope, because you have to swipe a physical card at the venue, even though virtual credit cards help prevent identity theft.

“What other restrictions should I be aware of?”

You can’t use gift cards of any kind – including those from Ticketmaster itself.

“Can I buy the tickets but not go to the show?”

Ticketmaster says, “If you buy tickets for friends or family, sometimes you only have to go to the gate, not through the gate. Simply accompany them to the venue.” Of course, it’s not simple if you don’t live near the venue.

They then add, depending on the venue’s rules, “Sometimes the ticket buyer must enter the venue with their party.” And how do you know which venues do this? You have to call before you buy. How convenient.

The list goes on.  Of course, these are the people who charge a “convenience fee,” remember? (Speaking of fees, you might be entitled to a small refund next year because of a class-action lawsuit against Ticketmaster.)

And as for unanimous approval of the paperless practice, that’s obviously an absurd claim. For proof, see FFP’s survey of season ticket holders. Or read the Toronto Sun story of an angry mother who couldn’t get her kids into a Bieber show without forking over her credit card and an authorization note. Trusting your teens with your credit card at a venue filled with their heartthrob’s merchandise? Super convenient.

But if you’re worried about the death of the secondary market for tickets, don’t. Because Ticketmaster has its own resale market: TicketExchange, where they take an extra cut on the tickets they already sold by hitting resellers with fees.

One of Ticketmaster’s biggest rivals, resale marketplace StubHub, was the initial backer of the Fan Freedom Project. FFP is doing things like testifying to local governments, voicing fan complaints, and helping them contact legislators. Legislation was recently introduced in Florida to block resale restrictions, New York already has a similar law in effect, and several other states are looking at the issue.

Stacy Johnson

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