Q&A: SeatGeek’s Jack Groetzinger on How to Find Cheap Sports and Concert Tickets

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SeatGeek forecasts the prices of sports and concerts tickets on the secondary market—meaning tickets sold via StubHub, eBay, and other vendors where prices are known to fluctuate depending on supply and demand. The service, which is free, also allows you to sign up for e-mail alerts, so that you get a head’s up when ticket prices for a sporting event or your favorite band drop.

SeatGeek says its forecasts are correct at least 85% of the time. How do they do it? That’s one of the questions SeatGeek co-founder Jack Groetzinger addresses in our Q&A below. He also gives insight as to why you might want to avoid TicketMaster, be wary of Craigslist, and wait until the very last minute to buy tickets for even some of the most high-profile concerts and sports match-ups.

The ticket price forecasts seem cool, but how do they work exactly? I assume they’re based on old data, so how do they factor in when there’s a really hot star whose tickets are suddenly hugely in demand? Or what about the flip side, in which a performer’s popularity is fading?

Jack Groetzinger: When we started SeatGeek.com, we brainstormed every possible factor that could potentially drive fluctuations in ticket prices–everything from the weather to when a band last released a CD. We gathered the data around these factors and several others and used econometrics to identify which factors matter, and how much they matter. We got some surprising results. For example in sports, we found that the individual performance of a player was insignificant, but the overall performance of a team had a significant effect on ticket prices. Some other things that we thought would be unimportant actually ended up being meaningful–for example, baseball promotions (bobblehead giveaways, fireworks, etc) ended up being and important factor in ticket price movements.

As far as a performer’s popularity is concerned, we track artists’ record sales and how their popularity changes on a number of online music communities including iLike.com.

Here’s a fairly typical scenario: I want tickets to my favorite performer’s concert this summer, and I don’t want to overpay for seats or deal with too many hassles. What are the smartest strategies?

JG: Some tips:

• If you’re willing to harbor a little uncertainty, don’t buy your tickets right away. For summer concerts, prices often decline as the event approaches. So wait until about a week before the show to grab your tickets.

• With that said, it’s also important to consider venue size. If a big-time artist is playing in a small venue, buy your tickets early, as prices tend to rise. The converse is also true; if a relatively unknown artist is playing a big venue, wait till the last minute to buy.

• Even if an event isn’t sold out, don’t blindly buy tickets on Ticketmaster. Tickets on the secondary market are often cheaper in cases where an event isn’t sold out, sellers have to cut their prices to compete with the primary market.

• When you need plane tickets, most people don’t go to continental.com (or any other airline’s website) to buy them. Many consumers use aggregation sites like kayak.com. The same thing applies when you’re buying tickets to a live event. If you go directly to a ticket marketplace, you’re only seeing a fraction of available inventory. Instead, use a ticket search engine (like, ahem, SeatGeek.com) to make sure you see all available deals. SeatGeek also ranks each ticket by how good of a deal it is, so that you can easily identify which tickets are worth considering.

I see that something like 40% of tickets available on the secondary market are actually sold for below face value. Can you give some insight as to what kinds of shows and events we’re talking about here? And what kinds of shows and events almost always sell for well above face value?

JG: For concerts, venue size is critical. Bigger venues are less likely to sell out, and, therefore push tickets over face value. It’s also important to consider the last time an artist visited a city–if the band came recently, it’s more likely there will be tickets available under face value.

With sports, NFL games almost always sell out. Most NFL teams grossly under-price their tickets; I’m consistently blown away by how much money they leave on the table. On average, fans paid over 4x above face value for New Orleans Saints tickets on the secondary market last season.

MLB teams are the best at trying to adjust ticket prices according to the opponent — for example, tickets cost more for game against the Yankees than games against the Indians. But, they haven’t taken the concept far enough, and as a result, it’s still easier to find tickets under face value for games against terrible teams.

Another thing I want to emphasize–whether or not you get a ticket under face value depends more on when you buy your ticket than the type of the event. Savvy buyers who grab their tickets at the right time can get deals under face value far more often than novice buyers.

Can you give some insight as to when it’s wise to wait until the last minute to buy tickets? What kinds of shows and events sell for less late in the game?

JG: Some factors that make it a good idea to wait to buy:

• In sports, prices tend to drop for rivalry match-ups. For example, tickets for Yankees vs. Mets start astronomically high and then slowly come down to more reasonable prices.

• For sports overall, whether or not a game is the first of a homestand matters. Prices tend to drop for games that are deep into homestands (i.e. when a team has already played a bunch of games at home). An example: This season, the Houston Rockets began a homestand on Nov. 21 against the Sacramento Kings. Average prices for that game went from $17 (three weeks prior) to $35 (one day prior). A few nights later they played the Dallas Mavericks. Prices for that game went from $60 (three weeks prior) to $40 (one day prior). The Mavericks tickets were always more expensive (since they’re a better team), but tickets for the Mavericks game dropped in price as the game approached.

• Prices reliably drop over time for Monday Night Football games. Last season, prices for Sunday games were relatively stable (on average) but prices for Monday Night Football games dropped from $220 (on average) 8 weeks before the game to $140 1 week before the game.

• Prices drop when relatively unpopular artists playing in large venues (mentioned above)

SeatGeek recommends not buying tickets via Craigslist. But so many consumers prefer to buy things from regular people, rather than big ticket sellers. Are there any situations in which you think it’s OK to buy via Craigslist? Say, if you meet the seller in person, and you can physically inspect the tickets?

JG: Meeting in person and inspecting the tickets always helps, but it’s still not a slam dunk–we hear plenty of stories about people being scammed on Craigslist tickets they inspected, and you have no recourse when that happens. Fraudsters are getting very good at making counterfeit tickets.

All the sites that we aggregate on Seatgeek have 100% guarantees, so if there are any issues with the tickets, you get your money back. Tickets on Craigslist can sometimes be cheaper, but they come with a greater risk–so only buy on Craig’s List if you’re Okay with the chance that you’re getting scammed. Also, more and more tickets are printouts from a home computer. Never buy those on Craigslist–it’s trivially easy for someone to sell the same printed-out tickets to five different people. Four of those people will get turned away at the gate.

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