Blog: Don't only blame COVID for Empty Seats at Live Events: Ticket Restrictions Are Also to Blame

Whenever a performer or team hosts an event, they want a full house. So, why, according to reports, are some events experiencing higher than normal no shows, upwards of a third of sold tickets not scanning for entry? Certainly, rescheduled dates from 2020 event postponements can be part of the cause. But also responsible for at least some of the no shows is the difficulty in transferring tickets that won’t be used.


The hassle is a result of either transfer restrictions imposed by the original ticket issuer or technological headaches which lead to difficulties effectuating a transfer. As a result, there are fewer fans in attendance than there should be. This results in a loss of business for nearby bars and restaurants, as well as a loss of revenue related to merchandise and concessions at the venue. Make no mistake, in the live events business, empty seats are a problem. As Covid restrictions continue to scale back and the live events calendar for 2022 is strong, event organizers and hosts need to make is easier – not more difficult – for fans to return to live events. It is time to un-Zoom.  


What’s a no-show?

The phrase refers to tickets purchased but not scanned for entry. If an arena sells 10,000 tickets and only 8,000 tickets are scanned at the door, the no-show rate is 20%.


Recent events report record no-show rates

A recent Wall Street Journal headline read “Major Music Acts Are Seeing 20% No-Show Rates at Concerts.” Billboard reports that for some smaller venues, no-shows are climbing upwards of 35%! This is not normal. No-show rates are usually in the single digits – generally one or two percent, but not more than four percent.


Why are no-show rates so high?

Primary ticket sellers (the large companies contracted by event organizers and venues to sell tickets), not surprisingly mostly blame Covid. This is logical to some extent when a new date no longer works, for example, but Covid cannot be fully blamed. Some ticket companies have designed technology to make transferring, giving away, or reselling your tickets harder. It is a growing problem in the industry and fortunately six states have passed laws to protect consumers’ right to freely transfer their tickets, while other states are considering similar policies.


Fans should be able to use, give away, or sell their tickets without red tape and headaches from the original seller that was already paid at the initial sale.  While digital ticketing means you’re not simply handing paper tickets to another fan and may need to transfer your tickets electronically, doing so has become an obstacle course. An easy transfer is becoming the exception when it should be the norm. 


High no-show rates hurt venues, promoters, artists, and workers.

When an event has a lot of empty seats, less merchandise and concessions are sold and fewer staff members are needed. Venues plan their events around ticket sales, so a high no-show rate means venues may overstaff, losing even more money. This can lead to reduced staff at later events, further harming workers' ability to earn a living, and degrading the experience fans would enjoy if the venue was beaming with energy and operating at full capacity. Local bars and restaurants suffer, too, as part of the ripple effect.   


So, why are some ticketing companies, teams, or venues making ticket transfer a hassle?

Ticketing companies in the primary market have been taking steps over the last several years to control every step in a ticket’s life cycle – from purchase, to transfer, to scan at the door. In some cases, transfer is blocked or restricted altogether. Other times, the new ticketholder will be required to pay additional fees. This isn’t right. Tickets that were already fully purchased should not be encumbered by the initial seller. Ticketholders should be able to email them, text them, print and hand them over, if they wish and through whatever app or platform they choose. Just as we wouldn't tolerate car dealerships dictating to people where and how they can resell their vehicle, ticketing companies shouldn’t be able to tell fans if and how they can give away or resell their purchased tickets. But they can, and they are.   


Fans are frustrated by attempts to make ticket transfer more difficult

Like the Tweet below, there are endless accounts of ticketholders lamenting headaches required to simply transfer tickets they purchased. This contributes to the growing no-show rates at events.


Fans need consumer protections.

Fortunately, states including New York, Connecticut, Virginia, Utah, Colorado and Illinois have passed laws to protect free and open transferability of tickets and make it illegal for venues to discriminate against ticketholders who purchased their tickets from a competing ticket seller or from the secondary resale market for tickets. Other states are considering similar laws and lawmakers in Washington, DC are considering a uniform, federal law to protect all ticket-holding consumers in the country. 


Surveys show fans oppose restricted ticket transferability

In a recent national survey, more than 8 in 10 respondents said they want the freedom to choose what they do with their tickets if they don’t use them, including reselling or giving them away. Nearly 80% of the respondents went on to indicate their support for new rules to guarantee their right to transfer, resell, or give away their purchased tickets however they wish.  This part is important – however they wish. That means ticketing companies shouldn’t make it harder to transfer tickets or use proprietary technology to lock or tie digital tickets into a single restricted app or platform. 


The resale market is good for fans, good for artists and venues, and good for workers

The secondary resale market for tickets plays a critical role in filling seats at events of all sizes and levels of demand. This is especially true for seats that would otherwise go empty or for purchased tickets that might go unused. Professional resellers invest in events, and in so doing, assume the risk of these tickets going unsold or unused, therefore they have an incentive to fill seats with fans, even if it means selling the tickets at a price lower than they paid to procure them. This is why fans should always shop around. The secondary resale market also provides ticketholders who cannot go to their event with the ability to quickly offer their tickets for sale to other fans, at a price they as the seller are willing to accept, not a price dictated by the original seller. A report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2018 reported that 40 percent of tickets sold on the resale market sell for less than their original price. This is great for consumers.   


The Bottom line: To improve live event attendance and reduce no-shows, teams, promoters and ticket sellers need to cut the red tape and stop making transferring or reselling a hassle.



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