Taking Ineptitude to Olympian Heights

January 6, 2012

Statue on the Hoover Dam, Nevada, October 2, 2011

I don't pay much attention to the Olympics - not particularly bothered one way or another, really - but the games' imminence is an unavoidable story wherever you live in the UK, all the more so the closer you are to London. Even though I have no interest in attending, I still feel for the folks who do want to go, and whose efforts to spend their money on a once-in-a-lifetime sporting event seem to have been stymied not by the IOC, the London organising committee, or even London Regional Transport, but by Ticketmaster.

The whole concept of paying booking fees seems ridiculous to me. It's a relatively recent invention, a layer of bureaucracy and profit added to a transaction that used to work fine without any middlemen. As recently as the mid-'90s you could go to the box office of a concert venue in London and obtain tickets at face value. It's obviously a lot more convenient and comfortable (in theory) to not have to leave the house - and also means that people don't have to take a day off work to queue up to bag a seat for a cup semi-final or the year's hottest band. But the ease has over-inflated the demand (if you did have to queue up, the tickets would end up in the hands of people who really, really wanted them, not those who sort-of quite fancied it and happened to have a fatter broadband connection). The only reason a third party such as Ticketmaster can reasonably charge a fee for a ticket sale is if they genuinely make that process quicker and easier for the buyer. 

Yet, first in the initial sale, then in the recently announced failure of a secondary sale - where they appear to have sold thousands of tickets twice - and now, in their failure to run a service whereby fans who'd ended up with tickets they didn't want (a situation that surely couldn't have happened if a system had been designed with the buyer, rather than the seller, in mind) were supposed to be able to sell them on to someone else - Ticketmaster have failed at the one simple thing they're supposed to exist to do. 

Whenever I see some exorbitant charge applied to a ticket for no readily apparent reason (and there is no justification, unless the "booking fee" includes hand-delivery to my front door; and even then, it shouldn't exceed the price for Special Delivery) my mind goes back to the Homerpalooza episode of The Simpsons, and the following exchange between Smithers and Mr Burns:

Burns: And to think, Smithers: you laughed when I bought Ticketmaster: 'Nobody's going to pay a 100% service charge.'

Smithers: Well, it's a policy that ensures a healthy mix of the rich and the ignorant, sir.

This particular "service" is one that's never been necessary. Perhaps the inability of a ticket agency to efficiently manage the business of selling tickets for one event on three separate occasions might be the point at which the message starts to hit home. In times as tight as these, the last thing we need is to pay over-the-odds for an unnecessary service that doesn't actually work. 


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