Acquiring Sundance Film Festival Tickets (legally)

For more than ten years, I have attended Sundance Film Festival, usually with group of 8 or more people. Without knowing how the system works, getting tickets for one or ten films is not easy. Unless you are a Utah resident or have the cash to become a member of the Patron Circle, below is a guide on the options for getting tickets to Sundance film screenings.

Legit Option A: Buy Ticket Packages or Passes

Ticket packages and passes are great ways to enjoy the festival. They come with both tickets and credentials which allow broader access to festival venues. Another benefit is that package and pass holders have priority ticket selection. These are highly sought after options and in effort to ensure fairness in distribution they are made available thought something similar to a three dimensional matrix where you never know whats going on until its too late. Meaning, one has to register for a randomly assigned buying window -which- does not necessarily guarantee access to any pass or package. If one has acquired a pass or package, they have to wait again until early January for another randomly assigned window to allocate tickets to the films one wishes to see and that does not guarantee one will be able to acquire tickets – I have had cases where I could not get any tickets – just vouchers which can be exchanged at the box office or venues. It’s a bit irritating, but its probably the fairest process for distributing tickets I have observed.

The buying window for packages and passes is usually 3-4 days long. By the last day, only the most expensive options are left – if any at all. To increase chances of getting a window in the first 48 hours where options are abundant, be sure to have several people register for the pass buying window. Its important to use real people/addresses, they screen for duplicate registrations. By way of example, when 5 or 6 people register for a pass buying window, at least two always get a selection time in the first 48 hours. Note that in each buying window one can buy a total of two packages and passes, but not two of the same. Note that transferring passes and packages is complicated!

Legit Option B: Day of Showing Ticket Line

This is an ‘early bird gets the worm’ type of deal. Each night the box office managers takes inventory of unallocated tickets for each film. I can’t say for sure, but it seems they do keep a number of hold backs for all but the most high demand films. Around midnight, they post the film schedule on the box office door with the number of tickets available for the next days showings. The Festival Box Office in Park City opens at 8:00am every morning. As of recent there are 6-8 different lines open at once. This means that the first 6-8 people have a good chance of getting tickets for the films they wish to see. The first 20-30 people have a decent chance. After that the inventory is limited to the less popular films. This is where the early bird tactic comes into play. At 5am, there are usually 3-5 people in line – they have been there all night. At 5:30 there are 10; at 6am there are 20 plus. By 7am there are usually 100+. What I am saying here is if one shows up to the festival with no tickets, but can get to the box office by 5:30am every day, there is a great change of getting tickets to all but the high demand films. Note: one person can only by 4 tickets for one film.

Quasi Legit Option C: Extra Tickets

Similar to other ticket markets, people have extra tickets for a variety of reasons. Although ticket resale is not allowed at the festival, it does occur and there is no efficient exchange for those with extra tickets. Consequently, its pretty easy to get tickets from someone who has an extra. The best way to acquire a ticket is to arrive at the screening venue 20-30 minutes before the film begins. Take a position by the festival shuttle bus stop (or the flow of foot traffic from such) and just ask the passers by if they have an extra ticket. Some times they just give them away an other times its a face value exchange. Tickets as of recent are $20.

 

Louis C.K. vs. Scalpers – What Does it Mean?

Business Week and a variety other rags were abuzz this week about Louis C.K.’s efforts to one up scalpers by selling tickets to his shows on his website for $45, period. TicketNews scooped some data on the subject from SeatGeek, which suggests that Louis’ efforts have so far been a success. Some have speculated that this is a blow to scalpers and Ticketmaster. No question, its was a big success for Louis, but I don’t think this is a sign of things to come.

Why?

1. This was possible because Louis, much to his credit, went to great lengths to find venues that were not married to Ticketmaster.  Not impossible, but not something many artists are able to put the time into between updating Twitter and evading the paparazzi.

2. Capping on the previous point, the desired seating capacity for the tour venues is roughly 2,000 – 5,000 seats. There are more options for smaller, desirable venues with those kinds of capacities. The same would not be true if one wanted to accommodate much more than 5,000 – Ticketmaster (or an evil twin) has them locked up.

3. Louis is explicit that scalping will be monitored and enforced. That is going to deter a good portion of risk averse hobbyists who typically scalp tickets. The more sophisticated enterprise has ways to manage risk and return which will result in fewer tickets being purchased for the purpose of resale.

Skimming the resale prices on Ticketnetwork.com and StubHub, it looks to me like the pros are building risk / return into the ticket prices. For example, in Boston, tickets are at least four times face, in Cleveland, they are closer to ten times face value as of this writing.

Kudos to Louis C.K. for being different and giving Ticketmaster something to think about. Still business as usual for resellers.

 

Should Public Policy Favor Ticket Resellers?

Lawrence White, an economist at NYU wrote a commentary on Huffington Post in support of ticket transferability and the State of New York’s recent renewal of a law, “that allows venues to sell non-transferable paperless tickets only if buyers have the option of a transferable alternative, including the right to resell their ticket above or below face value as they see fit…”

The gist of White’s position …if you buy the ticket, you should own it, and be able to do with it as you wish — use it, resell it, or give it away. That is where a secondary market comes in… [t]hese developments give flexibility to a first-instance ticket buyer, whether because the buyer cannot attend an event because of changed plans, or because the buyer wants to sell some of a multi-event series of tickets such as a season ticket. They also benefit the late-instance buyer whose plans change so that attending the event is now a possibility.

I agree with notion that a ticket should be transferable. There are too many inconveniences and short sighted outcomes when tickets are restricted from resale. However, the law should not dictate transferability, especially when the secondary ticket market is largely driven by profit motivated resellers. A comment posted by Ejay McCarthy in response to Professor White’s article claimed, “I tried to buy Justin Bieber tickets for my nieces, but it was sold out in a matter of minutes. Go to ebay right now and you can find them from 200 per ticket all the way up to 3500 per ticket.” That experience has been shared by more than enough average consumers to fill Madison Square Garden to capacity. The secondary market still has too many options for crowding out the public from primary ticket sales.

Public policy that dictates ticket transferability is unnecessary. Why not have laws that regulate the number of tickets resellers can acquire from the primary market? They do not exist because laws like that would interfere with the free market.

 

Red Sox Tickets: A Buyers Market

There have been a couple of articles in popular press recently (here, and here) talking about the relationship between the Red Sox decline in standings to resold ticket prices. Again, with the help of my friends at SeatGeek.com, I thought it would be interesting to look at how average resale ticket prices are doing as compared to last season.

red_sox_ticket_prices

The above chart observes average resold ticket offer prices for the first 34 games of the 2011 and 2012 season. The chart makes it a little hard to tell, but this years average resale price of $68.17 is down about $12 from last seasons average of $80.65. Who the home team plays has a big influence on resold ticket prices – those wild up ticks on the chart are predictably the Red Sox Playing the Yankee’s. Comparing average resold prices for the first season match-up between these two teams, 2012 is down about 21% on average. By comparison, the games against the Oakland Athletics are down a whopping 53% on average.

The summary: the data confirms it is a buyers market. I predict that the best value games over the summer will be the Blue Jays and White Sox. When the Yankee’s return in July, I would estimate that half decent seats should be in the $90-100 range; better seats should be considered a deal in the $150-175 range.  For those that are new to buying tickets on the secondary market, in weekend match-ups, Sunday is your best bet for a deal.

 

Are Miami Marlins Ticket Prices Falling?

Thanks to a writer for the WSJ, I was clued in on false reports that secondary market ticket prices for the Miami Marlins were in a nose dive. With the help of my friends at SeatGeek.com, I set out to do some myth debunking (sorry Miami Today and Alex Groberman). Average ticket price for 2012 are up about $13 based on secondary market prices for the first 35 games of the season. According to SeatGeek.com, average ticket prices were $35.14 in 2010, $36.26 in 2011, and currently are about $49.58 for 2012. The chart below provides a visual of 2011 and 2012 ticket prices to date.

miami_marlins_ticket_prices

Miami Marlins Ticket Prices

To be sure, the opening game of the season at their new ballpark has boosted average resale prices for 2012, but I would say overall they are slightly improved with a little help from price speculation for the upcoming Red Sox games you see on the right of the chart.

In the Miami Today piece, Phil Miller, a sports economist, was quoted as saying that Miami is, “not a really good baseball market.” While I agree, the quote in itself is an oversimplification. In many markets, early to mid season standings are not consistent predictors of ticket price/demand. We see this all the time in markets where there is not a fanatical base of followers, a la San Francisco, Cleveland, etc.  Interestingly, recent scholarly literature by Lemke, et. al. from Lake Forest College noted that the “effect of league standing on attendance has lessened over the years.” More broadly, factors that can influence ticket demand / attendance change from game to game, weather, time of year, inter-league play v league play…. when it comes to explaining attendance or ticket resale prices in sports, the devil is in the details.  The Lemke paper also concluded that new MLB stadiums produce “one of the most erratic relationships over time” when it comes to resold tickets.

For the Marlins, I think its too early to tell whether prices are really up or down.

Dynamic Pricing: Two Minutes Too Late?

As reported by the New York Post, among other popular press, Ticketmaster has figured out that dynamic ticket pricing could help them capture additional profits, sell more tickets and head off the secondary market. But, this announcement, almost two years after I wrote a call for dynamic pricing, two minutes too late.

First, we need to understand why Ticketmaster is pursuing dynamic ticket pricing now. As The New York Post pointed out, “According to concert tracker Pollstar, total ticket revenue dropped to $4.25 billion — the first decline since 1995.” and that “Ticket sales for the top 100 acts fell from 40.5 million to 35.7 million, the lowest number since 2005.” Theoretically, implementing dynamic ticket pricing would enable Ticketmaster to respond to declining revenues by capturing more profits on the more popular tickets while pricing less desirable tickets to consumer demand. This all makes sense, but I wonder if the secondary market beat Ticketmaster to the party in their own way.

The secondary market is growing while the primary market is declining. Though there is no central source for secondary market ticket sales, StubHub is a good litmus. According to a spokesperson, “we have seen double digit percentage sales growth, year over year.” In addition, the StubHub Annual Report states that “Gross dollar sales of concert tickets increased 20 percent from 2009.” While StubHub and other resellers I have consulted describe average ticket prices on the decline, the secondary market remains healthy with prices above $100 – well ahead most primary market average prices.

The observation I make is that while Ticketmaster has taken its time coming to this realization, the secondary market has become a dynamic ticket pricing mega-facility. Bolstered by the popularity of ticket aggregators like StubHub, SeatGeekFanSnap and TicketLiquidator, the secondary market has become a lot more consumer friendly. By no means is everyone happy with the secondary market, but given the choice between Ticketmaster’s high fees and the difficulty encountered finding tickets for popular events, the secondary market is a not a shabby alternative. Time will tell if dynamic ticket pricing will help Ticketmaster, but I think ticket resellers are a couple of years ahead of the game.

Red Sox Tickets at Bargain Prices?

It seems the market has flipped at Fenway. Now is a good time to buy from the secondary market in Boston (yes, I really just did say that!).

“For more than seven years, the Red Sox have claimed that for every home game, the number of tickets sold and distributed has eclipsed the seating capacity of America’s Most Beloved Ballpark. But recently, the task of filling those seats has grown more difficult. Television ratings are down, and marketing campaigns have been revved up…” – Boston Globe

Read the full story: http://bit.ly/9TKyOh

Two idea’s:

1. Call Ace Tickets about one or two hours before the game and make an offer on tickets you are interested in, I like to start at 20% below face and work up from there. They are sales people, so hold your ground. It never hurts to ask if they have a pair in your fixed price range.

2. If you are buying from a street scalper, work in round numbers, e.g. $100 for a pair, $120 for a pair, etc. As I have noted before, approach politely, even a scalper can be charmed in this market!

Control vs. Fans Rights

Earlier this afternoon, a panel discussion at Ticket Summit in Las Vegas entitled, ‘The Merger” was held to discuss the Live Nation / Ticketmaster merger that was approved by the Justice Department earlier this year. The panelists included Jeff Kline of Veritix, Doug Lyons of Tickets.com, and Don Vaccaro of ticketnetwork. For ticket brokers, the timing of the panel discussion could not have been better as almost simultaneously, Live Nations stock price is being hammered by news of a revenue dip and slow summer concert sales. This made harping on Live Nations business model very easy.

While Live Nations stock price tumbled, the panel got to the root of a key issue from the ticket resellers perspective and that is the issue of control. If a fan buys a paperless ticket, why can’t they sell it or gift it later? Why can’t someone in California buy a pair of tickets for a friend in Florida? Because Live Nation / Ticketmaster wants to keep those tickets out of the hands of resellers. Huh? wait. So inconvenience millions upon millions of fans because you want to control who can sell a ticket? Essentially, yes, though Ticketmaster usually veils the explanation. This discussion leads to the issue of ‘fans rights’ which is relatively new talking point in the ticket resale community.

For ticket resellers, fans rights are a convenient platform from which to argue that less control of tickets is better for the fan. This is of course because less control also means there are more opportunities for the secondary market. And that is really the point that this panel and industry leaders, including Chris Tsakalakis of StubHub wants to get across to consumers and industry players. Let the market run free and everyone can win.

A good question raised by the panel discussion is why can’t ticket resellers be viewed as just another distribution channel? What is the problem with presenting options to a diverse customer base? In recent years, major league sports have begun to partner with resellers (Ace Tickets and the Red Sox in Boston and StubHub partnering with the MLB, for example), so why can’t concert promoters and Ticketmaster do the same?

More to come from Ticket Summit 2010.

Resale Prices: What Goes Up…

This article is a follow-up on a concern often expressed by readers and friends alike that for one reason or another, a particular concerts ticket prices will not come down because everyone want tickets to that show! Most recently, I have been asked specifically about Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift. During my research, which was a few years ago, I observed resale ticket prices on the internet for more than 150 concerts over the course of a two year history. Of those, only a handful of concerts had cases where average prices did not fall and in no case did average prices go up. I feel confident in stating that, as a general rule, resale ticket prices will fall from the day the tickets first go on sale.

In further illustrating this point, I asked my colleagues at SeatGeek to prepare two graphs charting average resale ticket prices for two John Mayer concerts from February of this year. The first show took place on February 24th in Boston – a town that has a huge college population and enough Mayer fans to create a lot of demand on both the primary and secondary market. The second show I picked was the first of two concerts Mayer performed at Madison Square Garden on February 25th. I chose this show because Madison Square Garden is a very popular venue and because the city has a vibrant resale market which significantly increases speculation (people buying for the explicit purpose of reselling tickets for a profit). So, everyone wants a ticket, supply is short and prices are high, right? Not really.

In the below charts (courtesy: SeatGeek.com), ticket prices are represented by blue and red lines. The blue line is average resale ticket price over time without any controls on price. In both cases, average price starts at about $120 per ticket ($20-30 above face value including fee’s) and proceeds on a roller coaster ride with a nice crash in the last five to seven days. I often recommend buying resold tickets in this time frame because the crash consistently seems to occur in the five to seven days leading up to a show. I will propose why this is the case in a moment.

The red line is average ticket price excluding tickets sold for more than $120. I control for price to rid the analysis of highly priced tickets (usually the best) that tend to skew the average price which helps us see a more consistent average price. Some people are willing to drop $500 for a pair of front row tickets at anytime and those ticket resales skew average prices upward.

Notice the bump in average price in the five days leading up to the shows? That is you and your friends realizing a week before that they don’t have a ticket and they are all running to the resellers for tickets – but this does not have to be you! If you are looking for values, be brave and wait out the storm. I specifically suggest looking for resold tickets on the 3rd or 4th day leading up to an event. Referring to my article titled SOLD OUT?! Three Strategies for Getting Tickets, I would concurrently pursue strategy 1 and 2 on these days until I found the tickets I wanted. For example, I bought two tickets for the February 24th Mayer show for $92 each from TicketMaster the day before the show. As the chart illustrates, average prices were at or below $90 on that day, so the resale market was no better or worse than the primary market. Strategy 1 just happened to work for me so I did not have to revert to a reseller – however I did have to wait quite patiently.

John Mayer, TD Banknorth, February 24, 2010John Mayer, MSG, February 25, 2010

For those who want a little more information on why prices tend to drop in the final days leading up to the show, I have three proposals.

1. Resellers want to get ticket out of their inventory before they have to sell them to street scalpers or otherwise toss them out, so they price to sell.
2. People like you and I bought too many tickets for friends who don’t show and we are now selling them at face value on eBay and Craigslist, which arbitrages the higher prices that resellers seek.
3. The combination of one and two creates enough supply to support the demand wildly high prices are not supported.

TicketMaster would like to think that they are participating in the arbitrage by selling tickets at the last minute, but I think the number of people who know to look on the primary sellers website is not sufficient to have an influence, but it is nice for those in the know!

SOLD OUT? Three Strategies for Getting Tickets

It’s been about three years since I originally wrote this post. I came back here to check it for relevance and made a couple of light edits. This is still by far one of the most common questions that are posed when people ask about tickets. Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, One Direction, Madonna, [insert] your favorite team… in each case, the below are consistently applicable methods for finding tickets for events where tickets are not available for sale on Ticketmaster.com or Live Nation.

Here is the skinny; a concert can “SELL OUT” at the box office, but a concert is rarely actually sold out. To friends and readers a like, below are three solid strategies for getting tickets to Lady Gaga and other concerts coming to your town this summer. Caveat: acquiring highly desired items is not supposed to be easy, effort is required. In following this advice you will need to try each method (especially 1 & 2) more than once until you are successful.

Strategy 1: Visit the primary sellers website (TicketMaster, etc) on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings between 9:45 and 11am in the two weeks leading up to the show you want to see – I like trying to find tickets at 10 and 10:30am, which is when they release previously held back tickets. I have snagged great tickets this way for everything from Coldplay to Pearl Jam.

Strategy 2: Scour seatgeek.com or TicketNetwork.com in the ten days leading up to the show of your choice up until 72 hours before. Both sites scour different reseller ticket sources and allow you to search by price, which eases the search process. Ignore tickets that are out of your price range and don’t let high prices scare you – in some cases brokers price tickets higher as a defensive strategy against arbitrage. If you don’t see a price you like, wait. Pointers: I like SeatGeeks the best at this point becuiase

Strategy 3: On the day of the concert with no tickets in hand, go the the venue 2 or 3 hours before showtime and stroll the tailgates looking for extras. This is probably best done by an extrovert, but the idea is you surf the barbecue and beer parties making friends and asking if anyone has an extra ticket. Scalpers utilize the strategy all the time and they usually try to buy tickets for below face value. Most people are very happy to sell tickets for the price they paid, less fees.

If you follow through on each one of these strategies I can almost assure you will find a pair of tickets at or near face value. Now, if you need evidence to support the suggestion that prices will be favorable in the few days leading up to the concert, see Resale Prices: What Goes Up…