Greed and technology have conspired to make the ticket-buying experience for most desired live events an utterly miserable experience. It doesn’t need to be this way. But it is. In many ways, the debasement of the ticket-buying experience is a microcosm of many enduring societal risks: the misuse of technology, impersonalization of consumers, corporate conflicts of interest, industrial consolidation, a history of unscrupulous behavior in sports and entertainment, a general lack of empathy toward the everyday citizen, and bald avarice.
Many of the complaints about ticketing in the live event industry could also be made about the workplace, air travel, and healthcare: necessities where the stakes are much higher. But the ticket industry seems like low-lying fruit, and it is essential to readers who are fans of attending sporting events and (presumably) other fun things. If we as a society can’t solve this seemingly trivial problem facing the human race, what hope do we have against things like rogue AI, climate change, or giant space-tarantula invaders (should they exist). Making the purchase of tickets for events may seem like nothing, but it’s a proxy for everything.
(Note: Much of this critique may sound like humblebragging (“Look how hard it is to do all the cool things I get to do!”) and first-world problems along the lines of “Don’t you hate when the butler’s shoes scuff your marble floor???” but: a. I think it’s important to have context so my complaints are not entirely hypothetical and abstract; b. I never had money to go to many concerts and games when I was young, and now I prioritize going to live sporting and music events over nearly anything, even planning vacations and trips to visit friends and family throughout the year around games and concerts; c. I don’t have children or a spouse, so all of my income is “disposable,” up to and including my rent and basic needs which are “wasted” to the extent that they benefit me, a wholly expendable member of society furthering the species in no appreciable way; and d. I pay my taxes.)
This screed was prompted by a long history of miserable ticket purchasing experiences in my lifetime, in particular three within the past week.
Buying tickets to live events come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of outrage. Perhaps your experiences have been much better than mine — I hope they have been. But in my experience there are three main versions of the ticket-buying experience, all of which I’ve experienced many times.
Other ticketing problems include the following:
I don’t know the perfect fix to problems with purchasing tickets to live events, but here are some possible solutions and alternatives:
At the end of Dazed and Confused, as Mitch Kramer lays down in bed with Foghat’s “Slow Ride” in his headphones, a few of the high school seniors (and Wooderson) are on their to buy Aerosmith tickets. (“Top priority of the summer!”) Pink looks wistfully out the window at the passing Texas roadside. There are some uhh enhanced inhalations and exhalations of a sort. Jokes we never hear are told. Laughs are had. Smiles, chuckles, and high-fives abound. They’re not frantically clicking their computer screens, cursing the purgatory of the dreaded online waiting room, or trying to wrap their head around what a convenience charge is (a concept that I’m sure would have appalled them). For our friends in Dazed and Confused, there’s no anxiety about them getting their concert tickets. As the credits roll, the highway ahead fades — nothing but the open road, joy, and the most kickass concert of the summer lie ahead.
Sometimes I think of a Ticketmaster executive watching this scene, and vomiting all over himself in disgust that he was unable to insert himself into this pure experience, this idealized transaction, this unblemished example of commerce — and exploit these poor, naive kids for a few bucks — and then shuddering in horror like Lionel Hutz imagining a world without a lawyers.
It’s not lost on me that making the ticket-purchasing experience is in part intentionally unpleasant — to artificially inflate demand, reward patience, and create a false sense of gratitude at “achieved” success. Like high school, the degradation and humiliation are the whole point.3
But ladies and gentlemen, it doesn’t need to be this way, which is why this is all so frustrating. I’m even more fortunate than most because I have an office job and a comfortable amount of discretionary income. For the reasons discussed above, buying tickets for sporting events and concerts is unlikely to change. But when I use something like Uber —4 through which I can order a driver to my house in less than five minutes, be driven me across town, be dropped off within inches of my desired destination, and have my credit card charged automatically, all without saying a single word beyond banal chitchat — it makes the current situation with buying tickets more inexcusable.
We often compare obviously ascertainable tasks to going to the moon to demonstrate our failure to achieve them. But that’s not giving the current service providers in the live-event ticket market the denigration and disrepute they deserve: We don’t need the imagination and wherewithal it took to transport a man to the moon to solve this problem — we need less than the imagination and wherewithal it takes to transport a man down the street. We just need the motivation and collective will to solve these problems.