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Angels' ticketing fiasco is latest case of bad customer service

Baseball team's lack of remorse for forcing fans to wait for hours outside half-staffed ticket booths to redeem voucher plans illustrates how low of a priority customer relations has become.

March 11, 2012|Michael Hiltzik
  • Fans wait last Tuesday at Angel Stadium to redeem ticket vouchers. Ticket windows were half-staffed.
Fans wait last Tuesday at Angel Stadium to redeem ticket vouchers. Ticket… (Mark Boster, Los Angeles…)

It's sad indeed when a respectable business organization gets so puffed up by its own reputation that it decides there's no downside to treating its customers like chumps.

Here's the latest example of such corporate arrogance in action: the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Advance ticket sales for Angels soared after the team announced its 10-year, $250-million contract with slugging superstar Albert Pujols in December. That's the good news. The bad news is that over the last week, they've squandered considerable fan goodwill through an execrable display of contempt for their paying customers. Think of it as a blown save of a game the team should have had in the bag.

The fiasco involves advance ticket packages. These come in the form of vouchers that have to be redeemed in person for seats in designated sections. Knowing that fan excitement would run high and that 7,000 packages had been sold, the team advised buyers by letter and email to high-tail it to Angel Stadium as soon as possible once the redemption period began last Tuesday at 9 a.m. to be sure of getting the choicest seats at the best games.

Yet the team was totally unprepared to handle the crowd that materialized. Somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 customers showed up Tuesday, many arriving before dawn.

They discovered that only half the 14 ticket windows (and sometimes fewer) were staffed. The line moved at centimeters per hour, so no more than a few hundred customers made it to the ticket counters before the box office closed for the day at 5:30 p.m. Those left empty-handed were told they could come back the next day, as though it's no big deal for anyone to take a second weekday off from work and to trundle over to Anaheim. Even Donald Trump would understand that's a heavy burden for a working person to bear.

I have a personal perspective on this. On Tuesday my wife spent three hours at the park trying to redeem a set of vouchers we received for Christmas. At noon she was told there was no chance she'd get tickets that day and was given a yellow wristband to save her place in line for Wednesday. She returned first thing the next morning and finally got served that afternoon, after waiting in line an additional six hours. And her experience was by no means unusual.

The worst thing is that Angels executives still don't get that they committed a huge blunder. When I spoke with the front office last week, they were not exactly apologetic. They weren't merely defensive. They were truculently defensive. At one point in our conversation, Angels President John Carpino intimated that I was taking this matter personally because my wife had been inconvenienced, as though no one who hasn't lived through the experience can imagine the frustration of being forced to waste nine hours acquiring 10 baseball tickets.

Carpino also took something of a "whadja expect?" position. He observed that the vouchers provide for discounts of as much as 40% over face value per seat, as though for that kind of a deal anyone should be happy to give up two days of gainful employment. Angels Communications Vice President Tim Mead pointed out that the line moved slowly because people reaching the box office took their sweet time picking out seats and games. "This wasn't a quick transaction," he said. "Basically, it's shopping."

Tell me about it, Tim. The fact is that the only way voucher holders were permitted to pick seats and games was in person, at the ballpark, starting Tuesday — no online or phone redemptions allowed. So if you got to the window and your first choice wasn't available, your only option was to go, um, "shopping."

After drumming it into customers' heads for weeks that they shouldn't procrastinate, how could the team be caught short when the customers took their advice? Robert Alvarado, the head of ticket sales, explained to my colleague Diane Pucin that they couldn't open all the ticket windows because ticket sellers are part-timers and can't be summoned with a snap of the fingers. But an officer of the Service Employees International Union, which represents the ticket sellers, told me it would have been easy to call in extra hands Tuesday to help out the next day, once management realized that the crisis would spill over.

The real explanation is attitudinal. Last year I reported how the Angels, one of the richest franchises in pro sports, was trying to wring concessions out of its unionized ticket sellers and ushers, who were already the worst paid among all California ballpark employees in their job classifications. "We don't seem to be appreciated anymore," a veteran ticket seller told me. A contract was finally reached with the help of a federal mediator, but last week's events suggest that the work these employees do is still underappreciated in Anaheim.

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