Leadership / 10.01.19
A Fan’s Perspective: All Sales Should Not Be Final
I love summer. It’s the time of year when I schedule my life around concerts. And I’ve been doing this for more decades than I care to admit.
This year was different.
It wasn’t because I couldn’t get tickets. Yes, technology has changed the way I buy tickets since the days of camping out overnight with friends so we’d get the first pull. I can’t always get the seats I want anymore, but that’s OK. With dynamic pricing and premium seating options, I don’t always like the prices I’m being asked to pay, but that’s OK, too. I’m happy to be in the venue, and I don’t always have to be in the first 10 rows. Over the years, my expectations have changed, and it comes down to the fact that I’m looking for different experiences now. Sometimes that means paying more to sit up close or going to see a great band in a small venue. Other times, it means going VIP, so I’ve got access to private restrooms, or getting early entry or service to my seat and the option to buy better food in the sponsor’s lounge. I also love being able to upgrade my experience on the day of the show, even when I’m already at the venue.
This year, I didn’t really get to do any of that.
I had tons of tickets and tons of plans. So many friends to see and lots of dancing to do.
But in late April, my dog Avra stopped jumping on the couch. My daughter noticed it first. It was strange because Avra loves being on the couch and being with her people.
Within a couple of weeks, she was having trouble walking. Spinning in circles. Banging into the wall. Tripping on curbs. Falling over when she walked. We had to carry her up and down the stairs.
We took Avra to the vet several times, ran tests, brought her to an eye specialist and eventually ended up in an emergency neurological consultation at a university veterinary training hospital about an hour from our home.
This may sound like a story about my dog. It is. But it’s also a story about how and why I think ticketing needs to change.
Back to Avra.
The neurologist reviewed her case while we were en route to the veterinary hospital. He talked to us when we arrived, examined Avra and then said her symptoms led him to believe she had a brain tumor. If she did, there wasn’t much they could do.
They recommended an MRI to look for a tumor. They also wanted to take fluid from near her brain to test it for inflammation. This was their secondary guess at the underlying issue — and something that can potentially be treated — but they told us not to get our hopes up.
We left Avra in their capable hands so they could run the tests. I cried pretty much the entire way home.
And I promise, this really is a story about ticketing.
The next day, I got a phone call. Avra’s MRI showed two lesions, which is inconsistent with brain cancer because there should only be one tumor. The fluid test showed extreme inflammation. They asked for permission to do an abdominal ultrasound and a chest X-ray to rule out cancer that had spread from another part of her body. We agreed. They said they’d squeeze her in that afternoon and that I should come pick her up afterwards. Regardless of the diagnosis, she would be spending the weekend at home. So, I picked up my daughter and we started driving.
The doctor called when we were about halfway there. There was no cancer detected in her chest or abdomen. They put her on a high dose of steroids immediately to treat what they now suspected was meningoencephalitis of unknown etiology. Basically, her body had somehow created inflammation in her brain and they didn’t know why.
She had a chance. I cried pretty much the rest of the way to the clinic.
Avra was given a six-month treatment plan that would see her steroid dose gradually reduced every six weeks. Her balance came back within a couple of days.
We were told there would be side effects, and they weren’t kidding. For the first couple of months, she had to go outside every hour or two. All day and all night. I barely slept.
Then there was the matter of all my summer concert tickets.
“No refunds, no exchanges, all sales are final” is something I grew up with — as a ticketing professional and lifelong music fan. From my very first ticketing job in Ticketmaster’s Toronto phone room, we were trained to remind customers that all sales are final. Ditto in the ticket office at Maple Leaf Gardens.
As INTIX President and CEO Maureen Andersen said in a recent talk, we were trained to say no — and we told customers over and over again. “Let’s just imagine,” Andersen said, “what would be possible if we worked together, in partnership, to say yes!”
You see, sometimes life gets in the way of our tickets. And Avra needed me much more than I needed my concerts.
I always add refund protection when buying seats for a Mirvish [theatre] production. But I don’t get refund protection with concert tickets because I often purchase them from secondary distribution channels like Groupon as well as smaller venues and promoters who don’t offer it as an option.
I was able to sell many of my summer concert tickets to friends; it was fairly easy for the sold-out shows at our local amphitheater. Tickets to see shows that were not sold out and bands playing in smaller venues were harder to sell, as were some of the tickets I bought on Groupon. I ended up giving many of those tickets away to people I didn’t even know because I hate the idea of tickets going unused. I would have preferred a refund so that I could put the money toward my dog’s vet bill or a credit to enjoy another show at the venue in the future.
Instead, I’m now thinking twice about buying tickets, especially if it’s a smaller venue or a show that probably won’t sell out. In most cases, I’d rather wait until I know I can go than buy tickets and lose the money if I can’t — yet these smaller venues and up-and-coming artists need our support just as much as the big facilities that are already offering refund protection.
So, I’ve spent four months of evenings and weekends at home. I’ve spent lots of time out on my back deck and gone on many walks with my sweet dog, who is continuing to improve. She’s got about 10 weeks of steroid treatment left at the time of writing this story. And she’s about 95% recovered. I’m hopeful that will continue as time marches forward and her steroids are stopped.
When I buy a shirt and change my mind, I can return it without any questions asked. If I make an appointment to get a haircut or a massage, I can reschedule it if I can’t make it. Amazon will pay the shipping costs for me to send something back if I’m not satisfied. This philosophy of saying yes, of serving the customer, is the same for most consumer goods and services. Heck, I can even get a credit or refund for an airline ticket or make changes to my flights if life is interrupted. I don’t mind paying a fee to do so either.
I’d like to be able to do the same for all my concert and live event tickets, too.
I’ll buy the ticket protection coverage if it’s offered; just please give me the option. Or, better yet, change the policies so that fans feel they always have choice — even after they’ve pressed the buy button.
This article is part of a special INTIX Access series about live music entertainment ticketing, as told by fans who are buying tickets and attending shows.
Tags: Consumer Preferences , Leadership