Good Seats… For a Price

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As a fairly frequent concert-goer, I’ve clearly developed a preference for Variety Playhouse and similar small venues in the Atlanta area.  Variety was originally built in WWII for movies, and it retains that character today, with 750 movie style seats, plus standing room for an additional 400. 

Tickets are General Admission, and if you get there early, you can decide whether you would prefer the lower seats, the balcony seats, or to stand at the stage front.  The fact that cameras are allowed at most shows is just a bonus.  Prices for all tickets are the same, even the bad seats are good, and, clearly, “the early bird gets the worm.”  Tickets are typically $20 – $30.  “Reasonable,” says I.

Then there’s the larger places where concerts become “events.”  The Fox Theater.  The Tabernacle. Chastain Amphitheater.  Lakewood Amphitheater.  Verizon Amphitheater.  The Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center.  The Arena at Gwinnett. Philips Arena.  The GA Dome.  Tickets for these venues are sold exclusively through Ticketmaster/LiveNation, and I won’t stoop to join the blogged-to-death indignations against associated printing, shipping, and '”service” fees. (Oops. I just did).  But so-called primary markets like TM strike deals with the venues and promoters to sell the tickets.  Pricing generally seeks to maximize revenue while minimizing empty seats.  Everyone gets a cut.

General Admission just isn’t done.  I think everyone desires the best seats possible at the price they’re willing to pay, and in order to get those tickets, one has to know the exact moment that tickets go on sale, because it’s a competition.

For whatever reason, Ticketmaster usually opens their sales at 10:00 a.m. on Fridays.  And when the clock chimes, the experienced buyer will already be logged in, at the correct page, and repeatedly clicking “Find Seats” until the sale is “on.”  Despite a history otherwise, there remains an expectation of finding a great seat… only to find that you can buy Row W, in the wings.  And for a hefty price.  Is it worth it?


It depends on what you want from the experience.  If you want to hear live music with friends, have a beer or two, and maybe dance in the seats, the particular seats you’re in don’t matter very much.  If, though, there’s a particularly gifted instrumentalist or an artist that you would truly like to see in some detail, you can’t do that in Row W (unless the venue has live video screens).

For The Moody Blues last year, I was ready to buy at the appointed hour.  I don’t recall exactly, but at less than a minute into the sale, the “best seats” option was far enough back that I logged out in disgust.  (To be fair, in that specific case, it was later revealed that the first 30 or so rows were reserved for a Public Television fundraiser, at elevated but charitable prices, of course).  But the experience is a common one.

What gives?  

There are other means of buying tickets, and they’re costly.  In street terms, they’re scalpers, but in the internet age, they’re more politely known as the secondary market or ticket re-sellers.  Concert promoters are all too aware that some percentage of the buying population is willing to spend potentially significantly more for the better seats.  Why else would Ticketmaster acquire re-seller  If you can’t beat/profit like them, join/buy them.

For those getting Row W at 20 seconds into the sale, you can’t help but wonder if there’s not a conflict of interest for Ticketmaster in holding back tickets for their more lucrative re-selling outlet.  Or, for that matter, that a savvy venue operator doesn’t have a special “in” for specified seats at any show for resale and personal profit. Well, I wonder, at least.  After all, it’s a big business.  Primary and secondary markets are billion dollar industries, and there’s going to be those who don’t play nice.

There are other .com vendors, of course. 

  • The well publicized StubHub. 
  • The not so publicized Stub. 
  • Seathound. 
  • Ticketliquidator (they turn tickets into cash). 
  • Coasttocoasttickets.  (virtually all web re-sellers have national ticket offerings).
  • Gotickets.  (I’d rather they arrive than go, but that’s me).
  • Goodseattickets (they don’t have any great ones?).
  • Justgreatseats (they don’t have any that are just okay?). 
  • Frontrowtickets (they’re not quite so exclusive as the name would suggest). 
  • Here we go… Thebestdamntickets. 
  • And, of course, don’t forget eBay.

So, if, for example, you were looking for tickets in a given section, you could go to these sites and find what you’re looking for.  Okay, I rarely blog without pictures, so I’ve chosen an upcoming event that I have no interest in.  It’s Bon Jovi, at the 18,000+ capacity Philips Arena. 

First, let’s go to Ticketmaster, now well after tickets have been on sale, and see what’s what.

list prices

Good seats – $135 ea.  The nosebleeds, $25.  That’s classic rock at 21st century prices. Okay, let’s see what’s left to be had. *click*ticketmaster

Okay, the best available seats are Section 317, Row R… Check the map… and, hey now.  That’s almost directly behind the stage!  Shouldn’t they drop a curtain so people don’t get stuck there?  Still, for $30 per per ticket, you can at least say you saw Bon Jovi, or at least his back side.  Or top.  That may appeal to some, but not to me.  So, let’s see what “our friends in the business” can offer.

From hockey experience, I happen to know that Section 204 is very good – it’s a balcony section but with a straight-on view to the stage.  Besides that, I’d rather sit on an incline in a balcony rather than in row whatever on a flat floor.  Stubhub!


$300 per ticket, or $600 if you want to share the experience.  Ouch.  But that’s life in the big city!  Perhaps seeing whether Bon Jovi has thinning hair isn’t so bad.  Next!

allgoodseats has, hmm. Same section, same row for $184.  It pays to shop around.

Various others:204 - 3

204 - 1

204 - 2

Well, dang.  And the beer isn’t going to be a bargain, either.  But if you want a better view, it’s yours for a price.

But, some people don’t want “better.”  They want “best.”  So let’s go check out the floor seats, directly in front of the stage.  That would be Floor Section 2 (in pink), depicted below at right.

floor seats

The bottom entry, *cough*, indicates  $1243 per ticket?  For row L?  Yeah, we’re in a recession.  Maybe I can save a percent or two.  On to the next site!

shop around 1





Ha!  Saved $200 for myself and my date!  But, seeing how surfing the internet doesn’t have tolls, let’s try another:

shop around2

Win!  Only $1050 for two tickets, plus it’s two rows closer!  It’s a jimdandy bargain!  And, let’s see (scratches head while calculating), that’s only $390 above face value each!

And there we have the root of my problem with Row W.  Profit.

Feeling adventurous, I spoke with a smaller purveyor to see if I could find out the inside scoop.  To hear it said, the reselling business is really not (quite) as sinister and corrupted as my frustrations would leave me to believe.  But when I mentioned that it’s a competition, it very much is.

There are people who buy the good seats with the sole purpose of profiting from them.  It’s a business, not just a college student trying to earn a few $ for an escape from a meal plan.  Just the name, makes that abundantly clear. 

The art of buying tickets for profit is to have:

1) Sale Knowledge.  This is often not the moment Ticketmaster starts selling, in their own terms, “to the public.”  There’s all kinds of hold-backs, for the promoter, radio station giveaways, friends of the band… whatever.  For the rest of us, if you have a credit card, you’re probably aware of associated “Concierge” services that allow you to buy tickets Pre-Sale.  Or, perhaps you have the inspiration, as I did with the Moody Blues, to check out an artist’s official website.  Yes, loyal fans (as evidenced by your arrival on their site), also have access to reserved premium seats… at inflated prices still, but usually includes extras).  But buying tickets before they go on sale is a no-brainer for those expecting to make bucks.

2) Artist/Venue knowledge – Let’s face it, parents aren’t going to pay a whole lot extra to take their kids to see Barney on stage.  But a long time fan of Eric Clapton just might.  Geographically, Bon Jovi proves that Atlanta is a city rich for plunder.  Big name acts + big cities = $$$.

3) The power of networking – Sure, individuals can sell their own tickets on most of these sites with some fees, but people who intend to resell them also post them across multiple sites, increasing the exposure and the likelihood of sale.  There’s commissions all around.

4) Technology – I hate deciphering the goofy string of characters that I have to type before seeing the seats option.  It’s a pain and it slows me down.  And that’s just as it is intended, so that an automated bot can’t multi-core process the best seats from the system in seconds.  But today’s technological hurdle is just someone else’s pet project to overcome.  Ah, computers… 

5) The power of large numbers – with estimates of more than 1,000 resellers, and (remembering that this is a billion dollar business) with some resellers employing up to 100 people who are trying to buy the same tickets… Yeah.  Row W in the first minute of the sale.  Sorry about that.  The article linked above even points out that even ticket buying is being outsourced to India and Mexico.  Profit, remember?

And not that I want to encourage even more competition for the seats I want, but a Google search shows tips, books, and YouTube videos on how to become a professional scalper.  Sorry, re-seller.]

Meanwhile, thank you, Variety Playhouse. 

1 comment :

  1. Well done. Bravo!
    But it broke my brain. Perhaps one of the reasons I have stopped going to concerts. It shouldn't be this hard/expensive to get seats...