Acquiring Sundance Film Festival Tickets (legally)
For more than ten years, I have attended Sundance Film Festival, usually with group of 8 or more people. Without knowing how the system works, getting tickets for one or ten films is not easy. Unless you are a Utah resident or have the cash to become a member of the Patron Circle. below is a guide on the options for getting tickets to Sundance film screenings.
Legit Option A: Buy Ticket Packages or Passes
Ticket packages and passes are great ways to enjoy the festival. They come with both tickets and credentials which allow broader access to festival venues. Another benefit is that package and pass holders have priority ticket selection. These are highly sought after options and in effort to ensure fairness in distribution they are made available thought something similar to a three dimensional matrix where you never know whats going on until its too late. Meaning, one has to register for a randomly assigned buying window -which- does not necessarily guarantee access to any pass or package. If one has acquired a pass or package, they have to wait again until early January for another randomly assigned window to allocate tickets to the films one wishes to see and that does not guarantee one will be able to acquire tickets – I have had cases where I could not get any tickets – just vouchers which can be exchanged at the box office or venues. It’s a bit irritating, but its probably the fairest process for distributing tickets I have observed.
The buying window for packages and passes is usually 3-4 days long. By the last day, only the most expensive options are left – if any at all. To increase chances of getting a window in the first 48 hours where options are abundant, be sure to have several people register for the pass buying window. Its important to use real people/addresses, they screen for duplicate registrations. By way of example, when 5 or 6 people register for a pass buying window, at least two always get a selection time in the first 48 hours. Note that in each buying window one can buy a total of two packages and passes, but not two of the same. Note that transferring passes and packages is complicated!
Legit Option B: Day of Showing Ticket Line
This is an ‘early bird gets the worm’ type of deal. Each night the box office managers takes inventory of unallocated tickets for each film. I can’t say for sure, but it seems they do keep a number of hold backs for all but the most high demand films. Around midnight, they post the film schedule on the box office door with the number of tickets available for the next days showings. The Festival Box Office in Park City opens at 8:00am every morning. As of recent there are 6-8 different lines open at once. This means that the first 6-8 people have a good chance of getting tickets for the films they wish to see. The first 20-30 people have a decent chance. After that the inventory is limited to the less popular films. This is where the early bird tactic comes into play. At 5am, there are usually 3-5 people in line – they have been there all night. At 5:30 there are 10; at 6am there are 20 plus. By 7am there are usually 100+. What I am saying here is if one shows up to the festival with no tickets, but can get to the box office by 5:30am every day, there is a great change of getting tickets to all but the high demand films. Note: one person can only by 4 tickets for one film.
Quasi Legit Option C: Extra Tickets
Similar to other ticket markets, people have extra tickets for a variety of reasons. Although ticket resale is not allowed at the festival, it does occur and there is no efficient exchange for those with extra tickets. Consequently, its pretty easy to get tickets from someone who has an extra. The best way to acquire a ticket is to arrive at the screening venue 20-30 minutes before the film begins. Take a position by the festival shuttle bus stop (or the flow of foot traffic from such) and just ask the passers by if they have an extra ticket. Some times they just give them away an other times its a face value exchange. Tickets as of recent are $20.
Louis C.K. vs. Scalpers – What Does it Mean?
Business Week and a variety other rags were abuzz this week about Louis C.K.’s efforts to one up
scalpers by selling tickets to his shows on his website for $45, period. TicketNews scooped some data on the subject from SeatGeek, which suggests that Louis’ efforts have so far been a success. Some have speculated that this is a blow to scalpers and Ticketmaster . No question, its was a big success for Louis, but I don’t think this is a sign of things to come.
1. This was possible because Louis, much to his credit, went to great lengths to find venues that were not married to Ticketmaster. Not impossible, but not something many artists are able to put the time into between updating Twitter and evading the paparazzi.
2. Capping on the previous point, the desired seating capacity for the tour venues is roughly 2,000 – 5,000 seats. There are more options for smaller, desirable venues with those kinds of capacities. The same would not be true if one wanted to accommodate much more than 5,000 – Ticketmaster (or an evil twin) has them locked up.
3. Louis is explicit that scalping will be monitored and enforced. That is going to deter a good portion of risk averse hobbyists who typically scalp tickets. The more sophisticated enterprise has ways to manage risk and return which will result in fewer tickets being purchased for the purpose of resale.
Skimming the resale prices on Ticketnetwork.com and StubHub, it looks to me like the pros are building risk / return into the ticket prices. For example, in Boston, tickets are at least four times face, in Cleveland, they are closer to ten times face value as of this writing.
Kudos to Louis C.K. for being different and giving Ticketmaster something to think about. Still business as usual for resellers.
Should Public Policy Favor Ticket Resellers?
Lawrence White, an economist at NYU wrote a commentary on Huffington Post in support of ticket transferability and the State of New York’s recent renewal of a law, “that allows venues to sell non-transferable paperless tickets only if buyers have the option of a transferable alternative, including the right to resell their ticket above or below face value as they see fit…”
The gist of White’s position …if you buy the ticket, you should own it, and be able to do with it as you wish — use it, resell it, or give it away. That is where a secondary market comes in… [t] hese developments give flexibility to a first-instance ticket buyer, whether because the buyer cannot attend an event because of changed plans, or because the buyer wants to sell some of a multi-event series of tickets such as a season ticket. They also benefit the late-instance buyer whose plans change so that attending the event is now a possibility.
I agree with notion that a ticket should be transferable. There are too many inconveniences and short sighted outcomes when tickets are restricted from resale. However, the law should not dictate transferability, especially when the secondary ticket market is largely driven by profit motivated resellers. A comment posted by Ejay McCarthy in response to Professor White’s article claimed, “I tried to buy Justin Bieber tickets for my nieces, but it was sold out in a matter of minutes. Go to ebay right now and you can find them from 200 per ticket all the way up to 3500 per ticket.” That experience has been shared by more than enough average consumers to fill Madison Square Garden to capacity. The secondary market still has too many options for crowding out the public from primary ticket sales.
Public policy that dictates ticket transferability is unnecessary. Why not have laws that regulate the number of tickets resellers can acquire from the primary market? They do not exist because laws like that would interfere with the free market.
Red Sox Tickets: A Buyers Market
There have been a couple of articles in popular press recently (here. and here ) talking about the relationship between the Red Sox decline in standings to resold ticket prices. Again, with the help of my friends at SeatGeek.com. I thought it would be interesting to look at how average resale ticket prices are doing as compared to last season.
The summary: the data confirms it is a buyers market. I predict that the best value games over the summer will be the Blue Jays and White Sox. When the Yankee’s return in July, I would estimate that half decent seats should be in the $90-100 range; better seats should be considered a deal in the $150-175 range. For those that are new to buying tickets on the secondary market, in weekend match-ups, Sunday is your best bet for a deal.