Buying show tickets? Be careful where you shop

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Palace Theatre
Peter Ramsey, president and chief executive officer of Palace Theatres in Manchester, told the Senate Commerce Committee his customers are falling victim to online resellers. Screenshot

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CONCORD, NH – A woman arrived at the Palace Theater box office in Manchester recently with an online receipt for four tickets to “Newsies,” a kids’ show with no seat over $15. The box office couldn’t find tickets under her name because she had unknowingly bought them from a third-party site she believed was the Palace’s.

The woman also learned she had overpaid at $60 a seat. She wanted her money back from the theater that hadn’t taken her money.

She’s not alone.

Directors of New Hampshire entertainment venues – and those across the country – say they are increasingly faced with angry customers who don’t learn until showtime that they’ve unwittingly bought tickets from someone other than the venue at prices they didn’t need to pay. Worse, they may have paid for seats that don’t exist because they were sold to someone else or the reseller never had them.

“The reality of the situation is we have people that are buying our tickets for very nefarious reasons and selling a $50 ticket for $400,” said Sal Prizio, executive director of the Capitol Center for the Arts. “Somebody’s being duped into buying that ticket, and we get all the shrapnel from it. We get all the blame. We get all the bad press or bad public relations from it, not the third-party person that’s in some other state doing this.”

And venues are also losing money.

Sal Prizio, executive director for the Capitol Center for the Arts, is warning patrons to buy tickets from the theater, not resellers, who he’s found overcharge and sometimes sell fake tickets. Photo/Annmarie Timmins

Third parties bought and resold $13,000 in tickets to two Capitol Center shows last year using stolen credit cards, Prizio said. The credit card companies refunded the credit card holders, who had not purchased the tickets, and then demanded the Capitol Center refund them the $13,000.

That left the Capitol Center – and the people who’d bought the tickets from a reseller – with a problem. The theater had to cancel the tickets because they had been bought with a stolen credit card. The person who’d bought from the reseller no longer had valid seats. Calls to the resellers went unreturned. And there was little time, and a public relations risk, to reselling the tickets.

“It’s like a triple whammy in that case,” Prizio said. “They’ve lost out on their money. They have fake tickets. We lost out on the money. We’re struggling to resell tickets. Then we get a whole bunch of people with duplicate tickets that are showing up screaming in our face. And we have no record of them because they bought them from a third-party site.”

Sen. Shannon Chandley, an Amherst Democrat, has introduced Senate Bill 201 aimed at protecting ticket buyers. The bill would impose a fine for selling tickets for more than $1 over face value. Other states have imposed similar laws or other restrictions that forbid a reseller to operate without a license or include the venue’s name in its web domain or subdomain address.

The report’s author, global law firm Squire Patton Boggs, said regulation efforts are growing as the secondary ticket market grows. “What was once a small offline industry of ticket resellers, or ‘scalpers,’ as they commonly are known, has grown into a multibillion-dollar online industry,” it said.

Chandley’s bill appears to be facing an uphill battle.

Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee raised concerns during the bill’s public hearing about preventing individuals from reselling their own tickets if they couldn’t make a show or saw an opportunity to resell for a profit. Drew Cline, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, echoed concerns about restricting a free market and raised another one: Because the bill limits resale prices to the face value of the ticket, ticket holders could not recoup what can be significant processing fees.

Chandley told the committee she’d be willing to revise the bill. Reached last week, Chandley said she does not have an amendment ready but would consider narrowing the scope as long as it still protects small-venue owners.

“If there is a problem, what is the solution?” she said. “I think this comes very close to providing the kind of solution we need.”

Prizio, who was at the hearing, and other venue owners think their best hope may be telling their customers, again and again, to buy tickets only from them, in person, by phone, or online.

“This bill doesn’t fix all the problems, but at least it’s a start,” Prizio said. “Like, we’ve got to start somewhere with something because the last few months it’s gotten so out of control that we are forced to be in a position now where we’ve just got to keep educating people.”

That’s a challenge, venue directors said, because some third-party sellers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and patrons are increasingly buying tickets online. Third-party sites are not violating New Hampshire laws by reselling tickets at higher prices.

Here’s what venue owners and managers are seeing and how they suggest patrons protect themselves.

This webpage belongs to a ticket reseller, not the Palace Theatre, which had the same seats available for $15. Screenshot

Confirm you are on the venue’s website

Buyers who search Google for tickets at a specific venue are likely to get third-party sellers in the top results. Peter Ramsey, president and chief executive officer of Palace Theatres in Manchester, said that’s because small nonprofit venues like his can’t compete with third-parties’ Google advertising budgets to land in the top spots.

Clicking those third-party links takes buyers to a page that could be confused for the venue’s webpage, Ramsey and Prizio said. Ramsey offered Vivid Seats as an example.

Vivid Seats lists its tickets on a page for “Palace Theater Manchester.” A site called Tickets on Sale advertises tickets for “Capitol Center Concord NH.” Both show a copy of the theaters’ seating charts. On its page, Tickets on Sale notes that it is a reseller and may charge more than face value for tickets. That disclosure doesn’t readily appear on Vivid Seats’ page.

In an email, Vivid Seats spokesperson Julia Young said the company lists tickets for resale by individuals and “professional resellers.” She said the ticket holder sets the price.

“For over two decades we have worked to uphold the highest standards of transparency and promote a healthy and competitive online event marketplace. Every ticket sold on Vivid Seats’ platform is backed by our industry-leading 100% Buyer Guarantee,” she wrote.

Young added, “At Vivid Seats, we take every measure to ensure our customer’s experience is safe and secure.” As part of its guarantee to buyers, the company states on its website that it will not share credit card information and offers only valid seats that are “identical, comparative, or even better than the ones you ordered or your money back.”

Don’t overpay

The most common problem, venue operators said, are sites that overcharge when the venue has seats at much cheaper prices.

Vivid Seats is advertising tickets to the Palace Theatre’s April 23 “Rent” show for $66 to $581 a seat. The theater’s website has plenty of tickets for that show in those same rows, none over $46. Tickets-Center is offering tickets to the March 1 showing of “HITS! The Musical” for as much as $129 each. The Capitol Center still has dozens of tickets available, none more than $64.

“I would never copy your website,” Ramsey said. “Who the heck would do that? What makes me mad as a person who feels bad for my patrons, is that someone who was not aware would have (over)paid.”

You may not get the seat you bought – or any seat

In some cases, ticket resellers offer tickets they don’t yet own with plans to purchase the ticket from the venue after they’ve taken a buyer’s money. If the seat is sold by the time the third party tries to buy it, the seller gives the buyer a different, less desirable seat at the same increased cost.

Ramsey said he’s discovered third parties selling tickets to shows that are already sold out.

“I think the essence of this story is that in the world we live in now is there are people who are scamming everything,” he said. “And they figured out how to do it with tickets on sale online.”

Scott Hayward, owner of Tupelo Music Hall in Derry, told the committee some third-party sites are also selling tickets they don’t own and have no intention of buying. In these cases, the buyers get a fake confirmation number that won’t work at the door, he said.

“This fraudulent practice happens quite a bit and results in completely despondent patrons when they realize that they lost the money (they) paid for the tickets and can’t enter the show,” Hayward told lawmakers in an email. “This is especially problematic when the show is sold out and the patron is celebrating a special occasion such as a birthday.”

This story was republished under New Hampshire Bulletin’s Creative Commons license.


About this Author

Annmarie Timmons

Senior ReporterNH Bulletin

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.