Monday, July 14, 2003

TicketFast Web site is a big summer hit

Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Carina Stepanek entered the future of concert tickets back home in Vienna. The 23-year-old student knew she'd be coming to the Tristate this summer for a foreign exchange program at Miami University in Oxford and she wanted to see John Mayer and Counting Crows at Riverbend.

"It was easy to order from Austria," she says. She entered the Ticketmaster Web site, used her credit card to pay for her ticket to the Aug. 16 show and chose the TicketFast delivery option. She was charged an extra $2.50, and her ticket was e-mailed to her in minutes. Stepanek liked the convenience of TicketFast enough that, even after coming to the States, she bought her "Rock the Mic" tickets the same way.

This concert season may be remembered as the Summer of TicketFast, as the new technology takes hold in a big way. A little over a month into the Riverbend season, TicketFast accounts for almost a quarter of all phone and Internet sales and is increasing daily.

Riverbend signed on for TicketFast at the end of the 2001 season, and by 2002, it was working on a small scale. But this summer it has gone mainstream. From Lollapalooza to the Chieftains, "Rock the Mic" to Jimmy Buffett, concert fans of every stripe are printing tickets at home.

"This year is the big rollout," says Maria Zigmunt, general manager of TicketMaster in Cincinnati. "I personally came from the generation that camped out at the box office. Who has the time for that these days? The fact that I could buy my tickets anywhere there's a computer and have them e-mailed to me moments later is amazing."

TicketFast is made possible by bar-code technology. For the past few years, tickets aren't being torn, they are electronically scanned at the gate, like items at supermarkets and retail stores.

Since the bar code is the most important part of the ticket, anything with the right bar code - even a sheet of computer printer paper - can be a ticket.

Tracy Powers, 41, of Milford, used TicketFast for the first time at the July 9 "Rock the Mic" show. For her, it seemed a little too easy. "I was thinking, 'What if this is not real?'"

She's not the only skeptical one. After years of reassuringly official-looking tickets, it takes a while for consumers to get used to the new method.

"Sometimes they'll take those folded-up (TicketFast) tickets and walk over to the box office and wait in the will-call line anyway," says Zigmunt.

TicketFast has several benefits. Lost or stolen tickets can be easily voided. Fraud is impossible. Once the initial bar code is read by a scanner, any copies are voided. But for the consumer, the best part of TicketFast is the ease of transfer.

"If something happens and you couldn't attend the event and wanted to send that ticket to somebody else, you can do that. You don't have to meet them on a street corner somewhere or wait for them outside the building," Zigmunt explains. "I personally have used it for shows out of town. Say, I'm going with a friend from Indy to a show in Louisville, we can just do it and say, 'I'm taking seats 1 and 2, you take 3 and 4. I'll meet you at the seats.' And we have the tickets in our hands before we even hit the road."

Word of mouth is increasing the ranks of TicketFast users and Ticketmaster recently began advertising the service locally.

Along with Riverbend and U.S. Bank Arena, which signed on last year, the summer's newest TicketFast clients are Bogart's, the Taft Theatre, Cincinnati Gardens, the Cincinnati Zoo, Annie's, the ATP Tennis Tournament, the Bengals and Kettering's Fraze Pavilion. The per-order charge for the option ranges from $2.50 at all Clear Channel-operated venues to $1.75 at U.S. Bank Arena. The money, says Zigmunt, goes back into TicketMaster's research and development of new technologies.

While the company is often criticized for its "convenience" charges, consumers seem to agree that this time, the term fits. TicketMaster reports a customer satisfaction rate of 87 percent.

Dynika Evans, 24, of Cincinnati, is a first-timer who said she would use TicketFast again "It was pretty easy," said Evans after her bar code was scanned and she entered Riverbend for "Rock the Mic." "No waiting in line, just print it right out."



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