Tuesday, September 15, 2009

And We Still Haven't Found What We're Looking For

Interesting responses to my last post about the disappointing seats at the U2 concert at Soldier Stadium. I was not the only one who had no warning about the terrible conditions when charged top dollar for those seats. Go ahead and Google "U2+ Chicago+overhang" and there are more than a few people disgusted by the conditions of their seats.

While it is certainly fashionable to bash Ticketmaster, it surprises me that there is such a sense of resignation about the hit-or-miss quality of a concert experience. Sure, if you get general admission tickets, you might end up in a less that fabulous location, but you know that going in--arguably it's part of the experience, like buying a lottery ticket. "I might end up a long way away, but I might end up right up by the stage!" There is also an element of control to the GA experience--people queue up hours ahead of the concert to improve their chances of a decent location.

I found this photo someone had taken from inside the ellipse. Now THAT'S what I'm talking about.

On the other hand, some of us are too busy, too old, or just too damn cranky to take those kind of chances, so we buy expensive seats. We pay the premium to have a specific place to sit, to have less access to the band, but better sight lines. It's a trade-off, of course, but one that has certain benefits that are worth the extra cost.

So when it turns out that the expensive seats cut off all the views of the lights and video screens, as well as cut out all but the faintest sounds of Bono's voice and Edge's guitar, then those seats are not as advertised. Hell, the beer vendors walking up and down the aisles had a better concert experience than was available from my $250 seat.

Imagine what it takes to cut off this screen from only 17 rows back. Yup--it was bad.

But where is the remedy? I mean, think about it. If you go to a movie, and the sound drops out or the film breaks, hey! You go talk to the manager, and they give you free passes to the theater. You have a bad theater experience, and hey! The ticket office refunds your money or they find you different seats. And both of these entertainment venues are operating on far smaller margins than Ticketmaster is.

Last July we went to see a play at the Globe Theater in London. The Globe sells its tickets directly, which means that it has to do all the ticket printing/box office staffing etc. on its own dime. It presents live theater, which means it uses more red ink than black, if you know what I mean. And it has an online virtual tour so you can get an idea of the kind of view you will have from the different galleries. The seating plan is priced by "visibility rating"--again with a clickable picture so you can get an idea of how your view will be affected by the structure itself.

Hells, even places like Hotels.com send actual human beings to check out the hotels--and if you end up in a hotel room you don't like, there is SOMEBODY who is EASY TO FIND whose JOB IT IS to do what they can to MAKE THINGS RIGHT--or at least enough better so you are satisfied.

So why is there is fatalism about a concert. Sure, once U2 leaves Chicago, they are gone and its not as easy as getting another hotel, or seeing another showing of a movie. But that doesn't mean that the situation is all or nothing. Ticketmaster should have a specific and EASILY LOCATED location where complaints can be addressed. They could refund the ticket price, or have left over comp tickets to exchange. They could have recommended alternative sites where you could get a better view. They could offer comp tickets to later concerts in different cities. They could give you free tour merchandise up to the face value of your tickets.

This is an awfully huge structure, to be unable to see. And to be overpowered by utility lights on the stairways.

Ticketmaster should be required to scope out the venue and be forthright about any obstructions or other issues. Had there been no overhang, my seats would have been great. In fact, the seats directly across the field were open to the sky, and the concert was everything it could have been from there--those tickets might even have been worth more than $250 a pop, the experience was that good.

But we should know that when the tickets go on sale. AND there should be a way to get some customer service at the event.

After all, Ticketmaster charges "handling fees" and "service fees" and we pay them, so it's not ridiculous for us to expect some service for those fees.

In New Jersey, Ticketmaster got into trouble over Bruce Springsteen tickets. Mere seconds after tickets went on sale, Ticketmaster announced that the event was sold out--and then redirected people to a "sister site" that had tickets available at inflated (a word which here means "scalper") prices. It totally looked like Ticketmaster bought its own tickets and then raised the prices--and it had to change its business practices.

Which is only a start, of course. Things could easily be better. It's amazing to me that we live in a world where a woman scalded by "hot coffee" can successfully sue McDonalds, but we have no recourse against a giant company like Ticketmaster.


Neil said...

Just talked to Ticketmaster customer service rep at length. He said the seats shouldn't have been priced at that level, but Ticketmaster has no control over the pricing or venue (ok). The client service rep said that he heard of the problems there and that they were relocating people, our fault for not asking for help. Right, my usher didn't even know the name of the band playing on the stage (and I'm not referring to the opening act). He thinks we'll hit a wall because relocation was available. I don't know, if I had seen people relocating I would have done it. They were not proactive in offering this service at the venue.
Next up, calling Soldier Field.

Cate Ross said...

Thanks for keeping me in the loop. Your experience helps me to prepare some follow up questions for when I call--like "how do we KNOW there is relocation available?" "WHERE were we supposed to find this out?" "HOW did you relocate people in a supposedly sold out show?" "WHO is the Ticketmaster person/presence and WHERE were we supposed to find them?"

Also--I call BS on Ticketmaster having no control over pricing or venue. They have to have SOME sort of contact/collaboration. It's not like Ticketmaster just invents sections and seat numbers, after all. Sure, I believe they can't do anything about fire code required utility lights (I'm assuming here), but there is no way the venue or band would override a ticketing agent saying "obstructed view has to be priced differently." I mean, come on! Those may have been decent sight lines for a football game, but surely there is some communication between the venue and Ticketmaster.

This smells of passing the buck to me big time. "We only print the tickets, ma'am, we don't price them." "We just sent the seating plan to the ticket compnay, ma'am, we don't control the pricing." "We just tell the venue to sell the best seats for $X, ma'am, the band doesn't know the facility."

Let me know what you hear, and I'll follow up as well. I'm also thinking that a complaint to consumer affairs in Illinois might be the way to go--it worked in NJ.

Neil said...

You are so right. If they knew there was a major problem they should have come down to us. One of the fans posting on the fan site keeps saying he saw 'the room' where they were handing out all of these tickets to relocate. Ok, they could have sent someone down from 'the room' and been proactive. I placed a call with Soldier Field and I'm waiting for a call back.

Cate Ross said...

That would have been nice to know about, huh? I'm off to the fan site to look up that conversation. I have filled out a complaint for the Illinois Attorney General's office that I am planning to send in, no matter what the results are here--there should be a change in business practices generally.

Anonymous said...

good posts. thanks for the info. im about to call the venue myself. I encourage anyone who had the problem to call , and make it a big enough issue for them.

Neil said...

Here is a link to the fan site discussion.


Cate Ross said...

Neil--I can't find that discussion. If I try to use that link as a URL, I get stopped at the U2.com home page. When I click on "Community" I can only see about 4 message topics.

I'll keep trying--the info is helpful.

Neil said...

You have to be a paid fan member to get to that topic, sorry. I did start a new thread in the General Forum, but unfortunately you can't see the discussions that have taken place. I have a guy from Tennessee who took 20-30 pictures from his terrible seats. He should be posting them tonight, hilarious. I couldn't get anyone from Soldier Field on the phone so I sent an email. I also emailed U2's management company in New York. I will try Live Nation tomorrow.
Here is the link to the new thread: http://community.u2.com/topic/11404