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Ticketmaster Going Online in Southland

Company Town

Cyberspace: The move to offer tickets and venue information should save the company--but not consumers--money.

November 26, 1996|SCOTT COLLINS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ticketmaster Group Inc., the dominant ticket seller for sporting events and concerts in the nation, will begin selling tickets to Southern California events over the Internet beginning today.

The company said consumers visiting the company's Internet site (www.ticketmaster.com) will have access to live event and seating information about virtually all of the major arenas from Santa Barbara to San Diego. Users can review seat locations for most venues and then buy tickets with a credit card.

The Los Angeles-based ticketing giant handles roughly 80% of the ticketing business in Southern California for such venues as the Arrowhead Pond, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Great Western Forum, Hollywood Bowl and Universal Amphitheatre.

Ticketmaster executives said the service should be operational today, although the system will not phase in first-day ticket sales of major events until early next year.

But consumers should expect little relief from what some have viewed as excessive ticketing fees. While analysts said Ticketmaster may save some money by selling tickets online, which should be less costly for the company than telephone sales, the company will still charge about $3 to $7 in fees per ticket, or about the same as orders placed through its phone service.

Ticketmaster, which sold stock to the public for the first time last week, has high hopes for the Internet service.

Alan Citron, senior vice president of multimedia at Ticketmaster, said the company is deliberately introducing the service during a seasonal lull in the concert business so it can gauge demand and work out any kinks.

"The big concert season is the summertime," he said, adding that the system is capable of being scaled up to meet demand.

The service has already been offered in the Northeast, Northwest and on New York's Broadway, Citron said.

He said the company will offer "the same controls" to discourage ticket scalping for high-demand events as currently exist for phone customers. Those controls include limiting the number of tickets per customer and checking duplicate credit card numbers.

The company will continue to operate its phone sales operation. As with phone sales, tickets purchased over the Internet will be mailed to a customer's home or can be picked up at the box office.

This month the company expects to sell about 5,000 tickets over the Internet. That's a small fraction of the nearly 5 million tickets the company will sell nationwide.

Citron said the company is happy with those numbers because it has spent almost nothing to promote the service. "There's an appetite for" this, he said. "The e-mail is overwhelmingly positive."

Citron said "it's too soon to say" when the service will prove profitable. The company is estimated to have spent $1 million so far on setting up the service.

He said Ticketmaster hopes the service will prove especially useful to the company's fledgling travel agency, which may now target concerts and sporting events to travelers.

The online services are considered an important part of the future for Ticketmaster, which had a disappointing initial public offering last week. Company executives were dismayed after shares closed 3% below their $14.50 offering price, as investors worried about Ticketmaster's high debt load and its reliance on the erratic concert and sports markets.

The company's stock closed Monday at $14.50, unchanged on Nasdaq.

"Obviously this [online service] is one of the more positive things they're working on in terms of profitability," said Ryan Jacob, director of research for New York-based IPO Value Monitor. Although customers might not see reduced costs, Ticketmaster probably will, Jacob said. "There's no hardware attached to retail [transactions]. The [ticketing] hardware becomes your personal computer."

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