Op-ed: How much does Ticketmaster cost Ottawa Sens fans, NAC patrons?

Sens ticket
Photo by Adam Kahtava / Flickr

Are you paying too much to attend a game by one of Ottawa’s professional sports teams or a show at the National Arts Centre? If you buy your tickets through Ticketmaster, the answer might be yes.

The mammoth ticket agency was recently called out by the Canadian government’s Competition Bureau for allegedly inflating the cost of tickets through a policy known as “drip pricing.”

This practice results in consumers paying much higher prices than advertised, the bureau says.

“Ticketmaster’s mandatory fees often inflate the advertised price by more than 20 per cent and, in some cases, by over 65 per cent,” according to the bureau.

With a little research, I found that some ticket-buyers in Ottawa might be paying double the face value of a ticket to an Ottawa Senators game or NAC show for the convenience of buying through Ticketmaster and having the ticket delivered to their home.

Those figures from the Competition Bureau show a wide variation in the percentage markup charged by Ticketmaster. That is because the markups are not percentages at all, but flat fees. Thus, the buyer of a single ticket pays a higher premium to Ticketmaster – in percentage terms – than the purchaser of multiple tickets. And the buyer of the least expensive tickets pays the highest percentage add-on of all.

Take, for example, the cheapest ticket to a concert of the NAC Orchestra. These tickets are often priced at $25, government taxes included, and with no add-ons whatsoever. Ticketmaster’s add-ons are $6.25 per ticket and $5 per order, bringing the price of this ticket to $36.25. On top of that, the purchaser could pay as much as $16 to have the ticket express-delivered to his or her home.

Another option for the Ticketmaster customer would be to pick up the ticket at the NAC box office, in which case there would be no additional charge on top of that $11.25 already paid to Ticketmaster by the single-ticket buyer. Of course, this purchaser could have gone to the NAC box office in the first place and paid no premium at all.

Which brings me to my main point, which is: Who needs Ticketmaster? Why not buy tickets directly at the NAC box office or, for Senators games, the Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata?

Canadian Tire Centre
(Photo via Wikimedia)

If you want to go to New York and see a Broadway show or two, it could make sense to get your tickets in advance through Ticketmaster. But even then, I prefer to go to the theatre on the morning of the show and hope for the best, saving ticket-agency fees and perhaps getting a better seat for less money than would have been available through Ticketmaster.

Who gets the most out of partnerships between Ticketmaster and Ottawa’s two biggest entertainment attractions, the Ottawa Senators and the National Arts Centre? I gave it a lot of thought and concluded it’s a dumb question.

In a statement in January, Ticketmaster said it “remains committed to getting tickets into the hands of fans and has long practised transparency to enable informed purchasing decisions.”

But by the Competition Bureau’s estimate, many Ottawans are paying at least 20 per cent more than necessary to attend a Senators game or NAC concert. That means plenty of money to divvy up among Ticketmaster, the Senators and the NAC. All three benefit with things the way they are, and it’s anybody’s guess which of the three benefits most.

As part of my research for this column, I visited the Canadian Tire Centre to check out the cost of a ticket to attend a Senators game. No one was in sight, inside or outside the box office. There was a sign on the counter that read: “Please ring for service.” I guessed the smart set were at home or the office buying their tickets online.

I quickly got service, and very happily paid $43.50 – all taxes, service charges, building-improvement fees and the kitchen sink included. Well, maybe not the kitchen sink. My $43.50 even included a free meal at McDonald’s valued at almost $10. First thing I did was visit a McDonald’s to check whether my meal voucher included the tax. It does, and I am looking forward to it.

I tried to learn how much the ticket would have cost from Ticketmaster (and whether it would have included a free dinner at McDonald’s) – but it was too much of a hassle. I gave up when the machine that answered my phone call could not understand my response to the question of how many tickets I wanted.

Michael Prentice is OBJ’s columnist on retail and consumer issues. He can be contacted at news@obj.ca.