Concertgoers willing to pay for convenience Phone, outlet sales show no decline

August 15, 1991|By Eric Siegel

High ticket prices may have kept plenty of would-be concertgoers away from the music this summer, but apparently not everyone is looking for a bargain.

Each month, thousands pay premiums that can total 20 percent or more of the ticket's face value when buying by telephone or at outlets other than the venue's box office.

"Convenience will always be the name of the game," said Ralph J. Beyer, senior vice president with Ticketmaster, which bought out Ticketron and Ticket Center earlier this year and sells tickets for 60 concert and sporting venues in the Baltimore-Washington area.

Ticketmaster officials expect to sell more than 3 1/2 million tickets annually through 50 local retail outlets and more than 100 phone lines.

Exactly how much is charged depends on several factors: the nature of the event, with family shows generally lowest; whether the venue is a club or concert hall and how much business it does; and the price of the ticket itself.

At outlets such as Hecht's, the charge ranges from $2 to $3. Tickets ordered by phone generally require an additional $1 handling fee per order.

Ticketmaster say its charges are justified by the high costs associated with the business, such as sophisticated computerized equipment, the portion of the fee -- at least 25 percent -- that is paid to stores acting as outlets, and 800-number phone bills that run upward of $40,000 a month.

Officials say that there is no decline in the use of the service because of the economy and that the trend, in fact, is toward the more expensive phone orders and away from the outlets.

Tickets to concerts at Merriweather Post Pavilion are higher still because of a $1.75 parking fee added to all tickets, no matter where they are purchased. General manager Jean Parker says the premium is added to avoid hassles collecting money in the lot. She said the amount is based on an industry average of 2.8 concertgoers per car, which works out to about $5 per car.

There are bargains to be had, however, in the surcharge realm.

The Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts, the non-profit organization that runs the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre and the Pier Six Concert Pavilion, charges "only $3.50 per order by phone, whether you order one ticket or 10," said managing director Hope Quackenbush.

The organization provides varying amounts of tickets to Ticketmaster, but it handles all phone orders through a private Telecharge system it began 15 years ago.

"That $3.50 covers all our costs, including mailing the tickets to the buyer or holding them at the box office," Ms. Quackenbush said.

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