Getting into the MCG – the more things change

When I was a kid I was a master at getting into the MCG – squeezing through gaps left between those revolving door exits and the walls, wandering in when no-one was looking. These days on the right side of the law it’s not much easier. Each week that Collingwood play in Melbourne me and my two kids try to go along. Buying tickets? it’s not easy. The AFL have outsourced all this to Ticketmaster which makes a terrible mess of it.

You are constantly raced from one screen to the other. “You have 45 seconds to fill out this page” the screen barks. If you don’t make it – getting your credit card details etc all the information you put in is lost.

And think of the value added an internet ticketing system could offer. It could show you the seats you’re going to be in – let you choose them according to some formula to ensure that there aren’t lots of single stranded seats between bookings. It doesn’t sound like much but you’d think they could tell you if you were undercover or not. But no. They just ask whether you’d like to pay more or less and what stand you want to be in.

The whole thing screams monopoly’ which is of course what it is. But that doesn’t really answer the question because there’s value there that’s not being captured. They could charge more or have more high priced seats if they told you where they were.

Now the finals are upon us the uselessness of all this is making itself known. As today’s Age reports, Ticketmaster hasn’t invested in sufficient server capacity and/or bandwidth to meet demand for the finals.

Free of the demands of shareholders or stock exchange rules, US-owned Ticketmaster enjoys a near-monopoly on ticket sales for major events in Australia.

Sports fans cringe at the very mention of Ticketmaster especially those who spent more than eight hours online trying to buy a ticket to last year’s Ashes cricket series. Some spent more time on the website than at a cricket ground watching play.

So, it was with much trepidation that Full Disclosure awaited Ticketmaster’s first day of selling AFL finals tickets. With good reason.

In the interests of research, Full Disclosure set up a simple race. One sports fan would sit at home and try to log on to the company’s website to buy a ticket. Another fan would battle Melbourne’s peak-hour traffic, park deep underground at Telstra Dome, and buy a ticket from the sales counter.

No prizes for guessing which was the winner it was the sales counter by almost an hour.

According to Ticketmaster’s chief flack, Glenn McGuinness, the company outsources its data centre “to a major Australian telco I can’t tell you who.”

Here’s a clue, readers: Telstra provides Ticketmaster’s phone service.

The data centre provides the server capacity to keep Ticketmaster’s website afloat. Until people want to buy tickets. Then everything collapses.

Ticketmaster denied it had computer issues with ticket sales, a message that no doubt will be given to the AFL.

“I’m very pleased to say that we didn’t have any performance issues today,” McGuinness said. “Not a one.”

So, what about all those people confronted with a window saying the server was busy and “click here to try again”. “At times of very high demand, we have to limit the number of people we let into the server, and people will be rejected,” McGuinness said. “That is within our normal operating parameters.”

So, no problems as long as you regard not being able to buy a ticket as normal business.

Rival data centres say it’s all about the bottom line. “It is simple economics,” said the managing director of a Melbourne-based data centre. “Quite obviously, they buy enough capacity to cope with normal daily needs, and don’t worry about spikes in demand.

“If Ticketmaster wanted to, they could pay the money and provide a service that could cope with the peak demands of their customers. But they make an economic decision not to. Most of our customers do the same.”

There are a bunch of mysteries here. One could simply charge more for the booking fee for peak times – an extra dollar or two for the first few hours tickets went on sale. But why does the AFL outsource this at all? It would be dead easy to buy the relevant capacity from offshore and keep it in house.

In fact I wonder if Ticketmaster actually pays the AFL to run the system – or effectively does so within some advertising that Ticketmaster pays the AFL for. Because they’re not adding much value. I guess the AFL, quite keen on its own bottom line has thought about this. But it sells tens of millions of tickets each year – that’s a pretty good base on which to build its own service or get one which works. Perhaps Troppodillians can give me the low down.

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Mark U
Mark U
14 years ago

I find this interesting because inevitably at some point in the next few weeks there will be the usual misplaced outrage against ticket scalping. Given the cost arising from excessive waiting time that the ticketing system is imposing on people trying to buy a ticket, you could argue that scalpers provide a service by enabling that system to be bypassed.

More generally, can anyone tell me why, in a largely free market economy, there is such an objection to scalping? Who is losing out of the exchange? I agree with the following discussion:
http://www.jimmyatkinson.com/papers/ticketscalping.html

James Farrell
James Farrell
14 years ago

Who is losing out of the exchange?

Is this a serious question? The AFL is the loser in the first instance, as they could auction the tickets. If Nicholas is right, and they don’t need the money, the profits could be taxed, so the public loses.

If the AFL is determined to make tickets available below market price, they should use the system adopted by the World Cup organisers in Germany, rationing tickets and requiring the buyers to present identification with the ticket.

Scalping is anything but efficient. It’s a waste of resources and a cause of anger and distrust, which we have enough of already.

Jc
Jc
14 years ago

Where is the AFL in all this? Does it care? Or does it sell the tickets to ticktmaster in bulk and walks away. Surely the AFL would know about the poor performance.

Jc
Jc
14 years ago

“Scalping is anything but efficient. Its a waste of resources and a cause of anger and distrust, which we have enough of already.”

Really? Because if that was the case nearly most of broadway shows couldn’t get shown. You can’t buy most tickets for shows etc unless it is through brokers. Brokers underwrite the shows in most cases which is where a good part of the second level financing comes in. Not only is it efficient, it is also vital to Broadway and losts of sporting events.

—————————-

I bet a big part of the problem is that scalping here is against the law. Scalpers would provide the competition that ticketmaster needs by the sounds of things.

Jc
Jc
14 years ago

I agree, Nick.

I would also add that you are demonstrating how consumers makse different demands that the socialistic type system can’t hope to satisfy.
In this case it poor service. Stand in line or deal with ticketmaster.

Meanwhile the players get screwed for running around for a few hours.

Jc
Jc
14 years ago

One other thing James:

“If the AFL is determined to make tickets available below market price, they should use the system adopted by the World Cup organisers in Germany, rationing tickets and requiring the buyers to present identification with the ticket.”

If ticketmaster isn’t buying the tickets in bulk then the AFL has no bloody idea how much the tickets are worth as it doesn’t have a price signal. Scalpers could at least offer that service to the AFL. Someone is getting screwed and it seems it’s the clubs who a always crying poor and the players who do the toil: most of these guys don”t have a second carrer to go to after they get dumped.

And why go through the demeaning act of having to show ID to buy bloody tickets?

Alan Kennedy
Alan Kennedy
14 years ago

Why waste your money when the Swans are going to ruin the night for you anyway? We know that you only have to play well for four weeks of the year and those four weeks have arrived. Seriously though, buying finals tickets has become one of those mysteries that few can fathom As usual the fans come last in this matter. The Afl never listens. We don’t like the hands in the back rule either but they keep it ayway.
Cheer cheer the red and the white.

observa
observa
14 years ago

Get Ebay to run a market clearing auction for all the seats at the Grand Final and scalping is finished, with no disappointed fans. Also for those who buy tickets and can’t attend, due to some eleventh hour crisis, their seats can be re-auctioned right up to starting time, for a handling fee plus balance makeup if the price has fallen.

Tony T.
14 years ago

They should use Troppo’s server.

I’ve got a friend who’s been to every grand final for the last ten years by buying scalper tickets, first, out of newspapers and then later, off the internet. Not once has he been charged more than ten percent over face-value.