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Black Cat drops Ticketmaster for Ticket Alternative with new deal

By Allison Reitz

Not far from the Capitol Building, where the proposed Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger faces scrutiny from the nation's lawmakers, a vocal opponent of the proposed partnership has emerged in Washington, DC.

Dante Ferrando, owner of the capital's Black Cat nightclub, has voiced his disapproval of the merger by making a change in how he does business at his 1,000-capacity venue. As of September 25, the popular concert spot will cast off its long-standing contract with Ticketmaster in favor of a new deal with the Atlanta-based operations of Ticket Alternative.

Since opening its doors in 1993, Black Cat relied on the services of Ticketmaster, which operates as a franchise in DC. Despite a decent working relationship with the company, Ferrando started searching for a new ticket agent six years ago that would be more in line with the independent mentality and brand of his business. During that time, he tracked many of the ticketing giant's would-be competitors, but had trouble finding a time-tested company that he felt he could trust.

"The reliability of the local franchise was still there," Ferrando said of his decision to stick with Ticketmaster, "but since then, most of its outlets have dried up. Those that remain aren't relevant anymore, since about 90 percent of our business is online sales."

And as more of these sales moved online, there was less of an incentive to stay with Ticketmaster. But the final push to pick a new ticketing agent came with the announcement of the proposed merger with Live Nation, a major competitor for concert promoters in the DC area.

"It took away the option of negotiating new fees with Ticketmaster because of my general distrust of Live Nation," Ferrando said, adding, "They have a track record of being very, very aggressive in a non-friendly way."

But Ferrando found the switch to Ticket Alternative very friendly, especially in terms of the simplicity it offers his customers. Instead of variable service and convenience fees, all tickets that are $10 or under will carry a flat $2 fee. Meanwhile, the average Black Cat ticket, which is usually $20 or less, will see only a $2.50 charge.

In addition to the flat fees, Ticket Alternative also offers free print-at-home ticket services, while Black Cat's box office will continue to handle ticket transactions free of charge.

"To some degree, it's a marketing point for me. I want to be able to tell people exactly what they're going to pay," said Ferrando, who doesn't want to alienate the repeat customers that drive many of his ticket sales.

Simplicity is an added bonus in this economy, he added, noting that even the slightest confusion could kill a sale: "People aren't buying as many tickets to shows given the current state of the economy. When they do buy tickets, people don't want to feel hustled."

15 for $15 with Napster!According to Iain Bluett, co-founder and president of Ticket Alternative, his company's simple approach to business could be a major selling point for other like-minded promoters and venue operators as a final decision on the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger looms near.

"We only ever have one fee," Bluett told TicketNews. "We don't add on any other fees. We don't charge for printing at home."

Founded in 2004, Ticket Alternative has built a client list of 450-plus venues and events. The company has particularly gained a foothold in Atlanta, where it handles ticketing for The Loft and The EARL among other clubs, though its presence in other U.S. cities is also expanding.

Bluett believes that additional venues could -- and will -- follow in Ferrando's footsteps in the wake of a merger, especially those that are worried about the potential sharing of information with an active competitor like Live Nation.

"It will be interesting to see if [the merger] goes through. I definitely think there will be more interest in us, especially from the independent promoters," he noted.

One fact that doesn’t escape Bluett is that Ticket Alternative uses software from Ticketmaster subsidiary Paciolan, Inc., which the ticketing giant acquired in 2007. Ticketmaster gained federal approval for that purchase, but owning Paciolan extends its influence even further into the marketplace. However, Bluett does not believe that point should affect the potential decisions by venues to go with Ticket Alternative.

"Our deal [with Paciolan] was very exclusive. There's no sharing of information whatsoever," Bluett said, touching on one of the major concerns of independent promoters. "Yes, we're using the same software as Ticketmaster, but we're using it in a better way."

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