Wednesday, February 17, 2010

WalMart to enter ticket selling business with Ticketmaster

Ticketmaster to sell tickets at Wal-Mart, but will the service charges come down? Don't count on it.

News leaked out that "Walmart and Ticketmaster have entered into an agreement for selling event access in Walmart stores in select markets,” according to Irving Azoff at the NBA Technology Summit in Dallas late last week. Walmart shoppers will be able to buy tickets to concerts, sports and other community events at around 500 stores in the coming months. There are more than 7,000 WalMart stores and superstores, not counting Sam's Clubs.

However, just how much they will save at the big retailer is in question. Most likely nothing. The outrageous service charges extracted from ticket buyers is unlikely to change, as the monopolistic Ticketmaster and WalMart become a cartel, and will maintain uniform pricing across its phone and retail operations. And talk about opportunities to grab the best seats by the underpaid associates for their friends. I bet it will help WalMart find more low paid help who in turn could make money on the side selling to scalpers.

WalMart is only committing 500 stores initially, most likely as a test, since Ticketmaster, with one fell swoop, could have outlets in all its stores if wanted. This may be the first product sold by WalMart that is not discounted. And you will have the pleasure of having to go to the store's electronics department and have one of their "associates" pull up and print out the tickets.

The impact on the Berkshires will be minimal since most local venues handle their own ticketing operations, mindful of the effect that service charges have on attendance. The tickets will be available at WalMart's in large cities first, Chicago and Los Angeles for example. Azoff has worked with WalMart before, specifically in pushing the Eagles' Long Road Out of Eden in 2008. The album was a best seller that year.

I worked with TicketMaster in its early days, and was able to watch them grow into a powerhouse that bought out the once dominant TIcketron. They have managed to become the gorilla in the room of ticket selling.

On another front, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center recently announced that they will be creating their own ticket selling operation this coming season. However, I was greeted with total silence when trying to learn if that meant there would be a reduction in service charges. Right now it is looking for SPAC, as for WalMart, as a giant new profit center.

The change is likely necessitated by the destruction of most alternative retail by monoliths like WalMart. For years, TicketMaster relied on Tower Records as its main retail outlet. Since the demise of that chain, they have had less of a presence at street level. Clearly this is about to change, and while it might work for mass market events, I am not so sure it would do the high end arts organizations much good.

Having to visit WalMart for tickets to the BSO, or Jacob's Pillow just sounds like a trip to hell and back. If they had to do a discount chain, it should have been Target.

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