The Bruins announced their ticket pricing plan for the 2016-17 campaign Monday. Would prices head even higher? Would they remain the same?
To the delight of Bruins fans everywhere, the organization announced ticket prices will remain stagnant for next season. Within this announcement, there was an interesting statement made by Glen Thornborough, senior vice president of marketing and sales. The Bruins halted their association with a large amount of known “high volume resellers” from outside the local region. These resellers — close to 200 of them — have bought area tickets in bulk for a very long time to sell them at prices higher than face value generating massive profits. The tickets that the Bruins had been selling to profiteers for several years will instead be filled by close to 10,000 individuals already on the season ticket waiting list.
“People need to read between the lines. The Boston Bruins were at 90 percent season-ticket rate,” said John Higgins, owner of popular reseller Higs Tickets in Boston. “They want some of those seats that they sold for $48.00 back so they can charge season ticket holder’s $75.00 to $85.00 for the exact same seats. I still have the emails from the Bruins sales team asking me if I could recommend any out-of-state ticket brokers that they could cold-call and try to sell season tickets to.”
Thornborough is not only the Bruins senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Bruins, but he’s also the TD Garden itself. Within his role, he is also in charge of corporate sponsorships, premium club memberships, and general ticketing operations.
Speaking of general ticketing operations, let me tell you a story about the Bruce Springsteen show I attended earlier this winter. The tickets sold out long in advance so the only choice to find tickets was the dreaded Craigslist search, secondary online websites, or the classic scalper outside the building. I ended up choosing to wait for late release tickets at the box office. Springsteen almost always sells a sizable amount of tickets at the box office last minute. While waiting in line we saw hundreds, if not a thousand people, that had been sold counterfeit or fake tickets. Families had traveled from all over, well outside of New England to only realize that a con artist had ripped them off for hundreds of dollars a ticket. These tickets looked pretty damn legitimate, too. It was hard to tell the fakes from real tickets. Even the hard tickets can be replicated to almost mirror Ticketmaster. People were literally crying at the box office realizing they weren’t getting in the building. Not a word of it in the news.
Now enters the idea of ending ticket resale by websites outside of the region. At a glance, it is a fantastic idea: End the practice of companies from outside of New England taking advantage of families; reselling tickets at double and triple the face value price. At the same time, an opportunity opens up for up to 1,000 new season ticket holders.
In addition to this new approach by the Bruins, Ticketmaster has developed a new strategy to combat counterfeit ticketing: Credit Card Only entry. The venue identifies seating areas that are in high demand and makes a certain portion of the arena Credit Card Only entry only. At the Springsteen concert, many of the loge seating that was along the stage used this new system. Basically it consists of buying your tickets online or over the phone and is the same as paperless tickets. However, the venue will deny entry to those areas unless you show up with the credit card or ID used to purchase the tickets. So what if you buy the tickets for a friend? What if you can’t end up attending? Ticketmaster Ticket Transfer has been developed in order to send the tickets to anyone you desire through their online website.
Imagine the entire city of Boston enforcing this concept of entry for sporting events and concerts: You would never have to worry about being ripped off with fake tickets again.
“Paperless ticketing is not transferable and has never been transferable through Ticketmaster,” Higgins said. “So if you want to take your kids to Justin Bieber, you better plan on going yourself, bringing your credit card, and for that matter leaving one of your kids at home because there’s only a two ticket limit! But another option would be buying the VIP tickets that come with the $12 T-shirt for $750.00 a ticket From Ticketmaster.
“Legitimate ticket brokers are easy to point the finger at and blame. But we have a 200 percent guarantee unlike any other industry. If you have an issue with my company, you walk right across the street from the Garden and I will make it right. If you are stupid enough to go on Craigslist for tickets, well, that’s your problem.”
Like other kids who grew up in Boston, I’ve been going to Boston sporting events for decades. Year after year the situation would never change: Career scalpers working at the same corner of Kenmore Square or Causeway Street were probably making more annually than some ticket buyers at their full time jobs. There has been several occasions in the past when local authorities claimed they would be cracking down on ticket scalping — but in reality it never happened. If Credit Card Only ticketing is enforced for all seats, it may be the end of old school scalping as know it. Most tickets are already bought by credit card or online venues cutting into the profits old school scalpers used to make. If every seat transitioned to Credit Card Only ticketing the old school avenue of resale might be completely eliminated from the game.
It’s also important to note that “known resellers” in the region that continue their relationship with the Bruins will now pay a nine percent higher price than the regular ticket price. Could this also trickle down to the consumers looking to pick up last minute tickets? Tickets bought through anyone but the Bruins could potentially increase due to the premium other companies are forced to pay to acquire them. This is an unfortunate potential side effect that isn’t fair to local ticket businesses or the average fan.
“Someone should ask the Bruins how they get away with charging four different prices for the exact same section and row over the course of the year,” said Higgins. “They explained it as ‘dynamic pricing.’ I explained it as they are also in the ticket reselling business. They might start at $100.00 a seat in the balcony — and if the game is good like the March 5 game against the New York Islanders — they are already up to $168.00 a seat! Same section and row, they just change prices on the fly.”
The Bruins were not first to the idea of limiting ticket resale. The Red Sox announced this winter that they created a new site called Red Sox Replay where buyers and sellers can transfer the tickets securely without concerns of counterfeit ticketing. However, it shuts out previously secure resellers like Ace Ticket who had their 10 year relationship with the team come to an end.
I’m absolutely for the idea of secure ticket transfer and lower prices for seats but it shouldn’t come at the cost of organizations who have been providing trusted, consistent service for decades. If the company is local — and legitimate — they should have an opportunity to purchase and sell tickets responsibly.
It certainly seems like the time of showing up to the park an hour before the game and scoring tickets outside might be coming to a halt. Organizations like the Red Sox and Bruins see an opportunity to end street sales that felt more like drug transactions than legitimate business. It would also make the concept of counterfeit ticketing nearly impossible.
At the same time, these new in-house ticket resale sites generate even more money for the Red Sox and Bruins. “The bigger question is why these teams took so long to go down this route,” said analyst Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali in the Boston Globe story. “I think that teams may not have realized how much money they were leaving on the table.”
So if ticket resale and counterfeiting are limited — and these new concepts are enforced — one hard and undeniable truth still remains for local sports franchises: The face value prices are already too high in the first place.
The past three out of four Red Sox seasons have ended with losing records. For the pain of watching Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval stumble around to a 78-84 record last year, Sox fans were rewarded with a 1.4 percent increase in ticket prices overall. Over the past two years, Fenway Sports Group has seen revenue increase from $357 million to $370 million. Fenway Park already had the most expensive ticket in baseball at an average of $52.34. This isn’t even taking into account a few $10.00 beers, or a $7.00 sausage. Add on trying to take a family of four to the game, and it’s hundreds of dollars a visit easily. In February of 2014, the Bruins raised their ticket prices for the following season by 25 percent in the loge and 40 percent in portions of the balcony.
So while the local teams transition to an increase of in-house ticket resale, publicizing they are doing it for the concern of the customer, don’t be foolish. The teams can easily focus blame for high prices on “known resellers” and street scalping while they pad their wallets through in-house ticket resale. Want to use the new Red Sox Ticket Transfer? Immediately expect to be charged 15 percent the ticket price plus a $5.00 “processing fee.”
Boston might enter an age where franchises and resellers sell 100 percent guaranteed, legitimate tickets to their fans but in a reality the high game day prices aren’t going anywhere. Face value for a regular season Bruins game in the loge sell for $90 to $155, and balcony $48 to $107. Unfortunately there is a demand for these seats no matter what the price reaches. Ownership realizes that people will pay no matter how high they go.
Amazingly enough, our already financially successful franchises will still be ripping off the average consumer. Tickets will just be more secure and you won’t have to listen to scalpers scream “WHO NEEDS TICKETS?!? SELLING TICKETS?!? BUYING?!? SELLING?!?” outside Kenmore Square. TD Garden, or Gillette Stadium. Instead, a team like the Red Sox will take over for the street scalpers and charge you 15 percent on top of the face value, and throw a phantom $5.oo processing fee as icing on the cake.
Staying home and watching the games in high definition sounds better and better as the years go on. The couch seats are cheap and already 100 percent guaranteed.