Ticketmaster and Live Nation Could Learn From the Airlines

Where's the "convenience" in convenience charges?

I spend way too much money on tickets. Some are of the parking variety. Most are for concerts and sports. It’s a sickness, especially considering what I already pay for hi-def TV and cable, a combination that offers a better view from my couch than anyone’s getting at the Tower Theatre or the Linc. I’m also pretty much guaranteed to avoid getting beer spilled on me or ending up in a mosh pit.

When the U.S. Department of Justice granted ticket giants Live Nation and Ticketmaster permission to consummate their merger in January, I was among the skeptics who doubted the result would lead to a better experience for folks like me. Imagine my surprise when I checked Live Nation’s website to see if there were any tickets for a Susquehanna Bank Center show this month. Usually, you choose by section or the vague “best available” option (best according to who, I wonder; wouldn’t most people sit one row further back if it meant aisle seats?). [SIGNUP]

This time, an “interactive map” of the SB Center appeared. I could see exactly which seats throughout the venue were still up for grabs. Maybe it’s worth going solo and snagging that lone seat in the front row? Or dropping back one section where there are great views for half the price? Buying concert tickets could be—and should be—as user-friendly as reserving a seat on an airplane. (Imagine if the “best available” reservation on your next US Airways flight ended up as a middle seat between that crying baby and that guy who hasn’t showered this month? You’d make like the Jet Blue guy and hit the emergency exit. Hopefully with a couple beers.) Finally, though, it seems the Ticketbastards are doing something right.

Then I started shopping around. You can use the same type of seating chart for Garrison Keillor at the Kimmel Center in November, or Rascal Flatts this Saturday in Camden. That’s great. But if you want to see the rescheduled U2 concert next month at the Linc, or Todd Rundgren at the Keswick tomorrow, or just about any show at any other local venue, you’re out of luck. No interactive maps. Just the usual guessing game as you wonder whether the seats you’re buying are really, for you, the best.

This fan-friendly feature shouldn’t be a perk. It should be the standard, an actual convenience for all those “convenience charges” that turn a $25 show into a $50 budget-busting affair. Concert ticket sales are down 12.6 percent, with a net loss of $34.6 million in concert revenue, according to figures released last month. You’d think this newly merged monopoly would want to make it as easy as possible to lure you out of your living room and pry open your wallet. If you’re looking to the airline industry for lessons in customer service, as a five-year-old I know likes to say, you’ve got some issues.

In the meantime, maybe I’ll start saving my ticket money. I’m sure Bono will put out a concert video eventually. He’ll look better on my Blu-Ray player than from the upper deck of the Linc. And no lines for the bathroom.