When Taylor Clark went online to look up tickets for the Colorado Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, he found one site selling the top seats for $1,100 per ticket.
As Colorado Ballet's Ticketing and Database Manager, Clark knows that’s not a great deal. The highest priced ticket they sell is $155. Curious, he clicked ‘buy’ to see what two tickets would ultimately end up costing. The final price when all the service fees were added up? $3,000.
“You could buy the whole front row of our orchestra for pretty much that amount of money,” he said.
Price gouging for Broncos games and Taylor Swift concerts is expected. But in the last few years, Clark said ticket resale sites have discovered a new market: the arts.
“Unfortunately, as our Nutcracker becomes more successful and the number of sold-out Nutcracker performances grows, so do the number of ticket resellers,” Clark said. “And they’re selling them at significantly higher prices.”
Colorado Ballet began seeing the problem two years ago when audience interest was at an all-time high. Unfortunately, resellers also noticed that interest and the problem has gotten worse each season. Clark now sees what he calls “scammer” sites, buying up Nutcracker tickets as early as July.
“We’ve been trying to keep on top of that – deactivating accounts for them as soon as they create them - but again, it’s just an ongoing battle,” he said. “They just keep buying and buying and buying.”
By mid-November, most of the ballet’s holiday performances are sold out or close to it. By the first week of December, there’s not a seat in the house. That leaves resale sites holding the only tickets in town.
While Clark said they have looked at potential solutions - including going back to a paper ticket-only system – there really aren’t any good solutions that truly prevent resellers from buying up blocks of tickets and yet are still convenient for patrons.
A victim of their own success, Clark said as long as their shows are popular, resale sites are here to stay. Colorado Ballet is already seeing the problem spill over into other shows, including February’s production of Alice (In Wonderland).
So you might be wondering: What’s the big deal? Whether it’s a person or a resale site, the ballet gets paid for its tickets either way. Part of the problem comes when audiences can’t afford overinflated ticket prices and then stop considering going to the ballet altogether.
“We love supporting our community and we have our ticket prices set so that… every family that wants to come see The Nutcracker can,” Clark said.
Many of the sites also make themselves appear to be official ticket sale points, he said. Which confuses ticket buyers, especially when they are paying top dollar and wind up with nose-bleed seats.
“If you know what you’re buying and you’re going to a resale site because the show is sold out, that’s one thing,” Clark said. “But then we get people at the box office asking, ‘why did I pay $150 for seats off to the side in the balcony?’ There’s nothing we can do because they didn’t buy their tickets from us.”
Some sites even make it appear as if they’re offering cheaper rates. Several sites KUNC looked at listed balcony seats at $34 – not including fees. These seats were shown as being “discounted” from rates of anywhere from $38 to $49. Seats in the same section sold on the Colorado Ballet’s website are $30.
Pay attention to the cues. Resale sites often will feature event photos and videos and give themselves names that are close to the official organization’s name, but just off enough. If a price looks high – it probably is. At the Colorado Ballet, tickets are between $30 and $155.
When possible, buy tickets directly through an organization to ensure the best price but be aware, some arts organizations do work with some resale sites.
The Colorado Ballet does partner with Altitude Tickets, and also has promotions with Travelzoo, Goldstar and LivingSocial. Part of the agreement with these resellers is that they will not inflate the price.
“We want everyone to have the chance to enjoy the joy of The Nutcracker and not overpay for tickets,” Clark said.