After years of listening to customer grumbles about Ticketmaster, this year the City of Charleston’s Office of Cultural Affairs tried out a new system.
According to OCA Director Ellen Dressler Moryl, a trial collaboration with Ovationtix (part of TheaterMania.com) has been a roaring success. "We’re ahead of last year 20 percent, and we’re almost ahead of two years ago," she says. Her figures don’t include the Jazz Series, which has seen strong attendance. Although it’s impossible to tell how much of the uptick is due to the new system, Ovationtix has definitely enabled the OCA to keep prices down.
According to Dressler Moryl, their new service’s cut is "less than half what Ticketmaster ever charged." For some shows, buyers were charged over $4 for a service charge and more than $3 for a processing fee. Add the cost of the actual show and a few friends, and your wallet would be $100 lighter. Now, instead of paying several dollars for the privilege of being able to order advance tickets, patrons pay $1.
Ticketmaster’s darkest weekend came at the opening of Spoleto’s 2007. Festivalgoers were told that shows were sold out when they weren’t. "The snafu was, understandably, sending show producers across the festival program into apoplectic fits," said that year’s City Paper overview critic Patrick Sharbaugh. "The situation was exacerbated by the fact that Piccolo’s box office folks weren’t able to reach anyone at the online ticket seller… This company belongs in the same shameful category as Wal-Mart and Enron. The City of Charleston needs to consider killing Piccolo’s contract with these West Hollywood hoodlums."
Ticketmaster was still being used in 2009, but the City sought an alternative for this year. It found out about Ovationtix through Charleston Stage director Julian Wiles. "He provided us with a bunch of research he’d done examining different systems," says Dressler Moryl. "We signed a one year contract with this company."
When the Piccolo dust has settled, the OCA will get input from arts and producing groups and find out whether the system needs to be changed again. But as far as Dressler Moryl and her team are concerned, Ovationtix has more pros than cons. "I’m not criticizing Ticketmaster, I’m praising the new system," Dressler-Moryl insists. "It’s very intuitive. We’re operating very good customer services. It’s made a big difference for a lot of people to be able to sell tickets."