Not to pick on the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, I’m going to now pick on the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. And by that, I mean that TBPAC gets the honor of being my example, but I’ve encountered this same issue all across the industry so it’s not as though TBPAC is hopelessly behind the times. Nope, the industry just is as far as I can tell.

What on earth am I talking about?

I hopped online a few days ago to buy some tickets to see the Lion King musical (mock me if you must) in Tampa at the Performing Arts Center. The theatre is really very nice – modern, has great shows, all the conveniences you expect. But I can now officially say that I loathe their online ticket purchasing system.

When you book a seat on an airplane, you typically get a nice little app that lets you see exactly waht seats are taken, what’s available, which are exit rows, which charge you more, etc. To go to the theater or a concert, surely that information is just as valuable. Not necessarily where the exit rows are, but things like where the seats are, what row, which are handicapped accessible, which has a good view of a signing interpreter, and which are in your price range. So surely, one would hope that the peformance hall industry would’ve gotten the message and built up cool little apps of their own to let people choose what they’re looking for.

But, of course not. TBPAC certainly doesn’t offer this, and after they annoyed me I did an unscientific survey of a bunch of other performance center online ticketing sites. Not suprisingly, no one really has this functionality.

So what does this mean to me as the consumer? First of all, TBPAC’s site does allow me to request “best available seats”. In that I am not an idiot, and tend to prefer “the best” when I’m paying $80 a ticket instead of “the worst”, I took them up on this offer. However, their seat-finding algorithm seems to only take into account the row the seats are in as the deifnition of “the best”, and doesn’t at all take into consideration how far left/right the seats are. And for a play this centrism definitely factors into the seats.

I would gladly sit a row or two back – in the center – as opposed to two rows closer but all the way on the right. But of course, the site wouldn’t allow me to do that. So, I tried to find other seats, and couldn’t do so – unless I purchased the original all-the-way-to-the-right seats, there is no way I coudl find to trick the site into letting you pick other seats. I said I wanted the best available, so dammit, I’m getting the seats TBPAC online thinks are the best!

Ultimately I was annoyed enough at the prospect of the wall seats to hop offline and call in to their ticket center. Thankfully the customer rep was very friendly and helpful, and in almost no time I had seats – about three rows back — exactly in the center. But I really shouldn’t have to get offline and call in to a ticket office to complete a transaction like that. It’s a waste of an employee for that frienldy rep to deal with me, when all I wanted was to finish my transaction online.

So, hear me ye of the performing arts center brethren. Get thee an awesome bit of ticket functionality. Instead of making someone choose their ticket price (“level”) and then offering them only the “best available option”, show your consumer a mass map of all seats, showing all ticket levels and everything available. Let consumers fiddle and select what they think the best seat will be for them, without having to resort to calling your ticket office to manually handle the transaction.

Now, I know you can’t work exactly like an airline – where many consumers travel alone — or you could end up with a bunch of impossible to sell single seats. So build in some functionality to make the seat selection work like tetris… ie, you want X seats, and you can tack them on anywhere, but they have to be in a row and connected directly to other seats which have already been purchsed.
Just please, please do something about your online functionality. It’s great to be able to buy online, but it doesn’t help when half your customers may give up and call in to finish their purchase anyways. And besides, you already gouge me with an $11/ticket “service charge” even online. So hey, take that service charge, and give one of our lovely account managers a call. I assure you that when you select “best available” with us, you really will get what’s “best” for you.

Unlike me, in my futile attempts to buy online.


Caroline Blake is a Partner in 352 and a member of the company's senior leadership team. As a 17-year veteran, Caroline oversees the company's finances, accounting and employee benefits. She is also a Certified Scrum Master and has lead several departments within 352 during her tenure.