‘Official platinum seats’: How Ticketmaster benefits from sky-high Tragically Hip ticket prices

Don’t put all the blame on scalpers for the limited availability and sky-high prices of tickets for the Tragically Hip’s upcoming tour: Ticketmaster and the band are getting a piece of the action, too.

Fans scouring Ticketmaster for seats may have noticed an option called “official platinum seats.” The ticket seller markets them as “some of the best seats in the house,” but sells them at a significant markup to the face value of seats with similar views.

On Wednesday, for example, Ticketmaster was offering platinum tickets for $1,150 for floor seats at the tour’s July 30 date in Edmonton. Floor seats sold for $116 to $166 the day tickets went on sale, making the platinum tickets up to 10 times more expensive.

Luciana Brasil, a lawyer who represented plaintiffs in class action lawsuit over the inflated price of resale tickets in the late ’00s, said this practice is misleading, although not necessarily illegal. She noted Ticketmaster is careful to clarify the tickets are being sold for the first time out of a block set aside for artists and event promoters, preventing the company from running afoul of jurisdictions that ban the resale of tickets for more than their original price.

“There’s nothing wrong with artists and promoters holding off some seats and eventually releasing them and charging more money for them, legally. The question is whether morally that makes sense,” she said. “Having announced the illness so close to the sale, it was clear that it was going to be a stampede to get tickets. So why was it necessary to set aside tickets and put them on sale for a higher price?” 

In late May, the Canadian rock band announced lead singer Gordon Downie had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, making its upcoming “Man Machine Poem” tour the band’s last. Demand for tickets was overwhelming, with fans directing most of their ire towards scalpers when they found they were unable to get tickets for anything close to the original face value.

A representative of the Feldman Agency, an entertainment company that lists the Tragically Hip on its roster, declined to comment. Management and event production company Eggplant Entertainment Inc. did not respond to requests for comment.

Ticketmaster and its parent company, Live Nation Entertainment Inc., declined to answer specific questions on the record about what percentage of tickets were sold as platinum seats and how the proceeds of their sales are distributed.

Fans of the Hip expressed confusion about the platinum tickets online.

“Does anyone have details on what deal is with the platinum seats for the upcoming Tragically Hip show?” wrote one poster on the online bulletin board Reddit. “I can’t find any info through Ticketmaster or the Google. Is it a VIP package?”

Would-be concert-goers interviewed by The Post described a chaotic scenario as they rushed to buy tickets, getting notifications that the concert was completely sold out. Seconds later, new, much more expensive tickets mysteriously appeared on resale sites like StubHub or as platinum seats through Ticketmaster.

Robin Grant, a 34-year-old Tragically Hip fan from Winnipeg, ultimately bought platinum tickets for $675 through Ticketmaster. Before doing that, she considered purchasing less expensive tickets through eBay Inc.-owned reseller StubHub — and got some curious responses from customer service about where those tickets were coming from.

In a mobile chat conversation provided to the Post, Grant asked StubHub how she would be able to enter the concert if she purchased resale tickets, since the venue required fans to present the credit card that made the original purchase at the door. StubHub responded that it wouldn’t be an issue, because the tickets were coming from an “approved seller.”

Grant asked if that meant the tickets were coming directly from Ticketmaster, “instead of just any old person.”

“Technically they are coming from that source (most likely),” the StubHub customer service representative responded. “With credit card entry, the only way it would be allowed is if we have approved the seller to list as so… we guarantee the tickets will be valid for entry.”

I would rather all tickets be priced at what demand dictates people would be willing to pay right out of the gate, even if it seems steep

StubHub did not respond to requests for comment. Ticketmaster issued a statement saying that it “does not have a relationship with StubHub and does not put tickets directly onto the secondary market.”

Grant said she found it difficult to understand why the tickets weren’t just listed at the price they would fetch on the open market in the first place.

“Personally, I would rather all tickets be priced at what demand dictates people would be willing to pay right out of the gate, even if it seems steep, to deter scalpers and allow fans access to tickets first,” she said. “It may be considered by some as price gouging, but at least the process would seem somewhat more transparent and fair to the consumer.”

Such opaque and confusing ticket selling practices are certainly not unique to the Tragically Hip tour.

Ticketmaster offers platinum seats for many events. A recent report by the New York Attorney General found more than half of all tickets are never made available to the public at the face-value price, since they go to fan club members, credit card rewards clients and industry insiders instead.

Pascal Courty, an economics professor at the University of Victoria who has studied secondary markets for tickets to live events, said performers keep concert ticket prices well below what they would fetch on the open market on purpose.

“They print low prices on the tickets, but we don’t really know how many tickets are offered in the primary market for that price,” Courty said. “The face value on tickets is an abusive practice.”

Financial Post

cbrownell@nationalpost.com

Twitter.com/clabrow

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