LOS ANGELES -- Fans of popular artists or sports teams are painfully aware how difficult it is to find good seats to live events at affordable prices. With a new ticket resale system, Ticketmaster is trying to show you what seats are available in one place -- both unsold ones and those up for resale -- so you can price-shop more easily.
The nation's largest ticket-seller quietly began rolling out its system, called Ticketmaster Plus, for certain shows including a Black Sabbath concert in Massachusetts in August. More than two dozen professional sports teams have signed up, including many in the NFL. With the pro football season beginning in earnest Sunday, millions of football fans could start using the system soon. So far, about 300 events have used Ticketmaster Plus, which the company says is still in test mode.
Using a computer, ticket buyers can see where each available seat is in a stadium, how much it's selling for and whether it's a marked-up resale seat or one that hasn't been sold yet.
Before, you had to check for resales and unsold tickets separately. By seeing them together, you can tell before paying the resale price whether you can get an unsold ticket much cheaper just a row or a few seats away. For an upcoming Miami Dolphins' home game against the Atlanta Falcons, for instance, you can see that a single resale seat in Section 122 priced at $146.05 is right beside an unsold seat selling for $85.
For some happy customer, that extra $61.05 will buy a lot of hot dogs, beer and merchandise.
"This now allows fans to have one-stop shopping," said Jim Rushton, the Dolphins' chief revenue officer.
Ticket holders who are looking to sell because they can't make an event can do so from a mobile phone or computer. All transfers are electronic, so there's no need to send physical tickets in the mail.
Ticketmaster, a division of Beverly Hills-based Live Nation Entertainment, is hoping its new system will help it take a larger share of the resale ticket market, which is estimated to be worth more than $4 billion in annual revenue in North America. The figure includes the resale ticket price and associated fees, which are estimated at about $1 billion a year.
Ticket sellers are usually brokers, who buy tickets hoping to sell them for profit, as well as sports fans who are season ticket holders but can't make every game. Individuals whose plans change are also in the market to flip their tickets.
Profit from resale tickets often goes to brokers, who are often first in line to buy tickets the moment they go on sale. By offering an improved resale system, Ticketmaster can collect a fee on every resale. The fee amounts to about 20 percent -- about half from the buyer and half from the seller. Rushton says the team will also share in those fees, unlike for third-party reseller sites such as StubHub, where the team makes nothing.
Bringing customers to a map that shows original tickets alongside resale tickets increases the chance that more original tickets get sold. More original ticket sales will increase the amount of money that goes to venues, teams or artists, improving Ticketmaster's relations with its clients.
John Tinker, an analyst with research firm Maxim Group, believes Ticketmaster Plus will help boost the company's share of the resale market from about 10 percent to about 30 percent in the next few years. That would result in about $300 million in revenue and about $60 million in profit each year, allowing it to catch up to market leader StubHub, a unit of eBay (EBAY).
"StubHub has done a great job in the space and Ticketmaster is finally stepping it up," he said.
Chris Tsakalakis, president of StubHub, dismissed Ticketmaster's new system, noting that Ticketmaster has been selling resale tickets since 2002, most recently with its subsidiary TicketsNow.
"StubHub, with superior customer service and more than triple Ticketmaster's secondary ticket sales, remains the market leader, and we intend to keep it that way," he said.
In 2008, Ticketmaster got into trouble with New Jersey regulators for directing people to TicketsNow to buy marked-up resale tickets for a Bruce Springsteen concert when cheaper original tickets were still available. By showing original and resale tickets side by side, the new system addresses that concern.
Ticket brokers say they are closely watching how the new system evolves through the test phase.
Harris Rosner, owner of VIP Tickets, a ticket reseller that has an office near Los Angeles' Staples Center, said competition between the two largest resale marketplaces could help fans and brokers, if they ultimately reduce fees on transactions to maintain or grow market share.
"I look forward very much to seeing how it works out and embracing it," Rosner said. "Competition is always good for the consumer, right?"