Tickets.com to Auction Tickets Over Phone, Web

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In a new use of computer telephony integration technology, Tickets.com will sell tickets to the Super Bowl and other entertainment events in a live auction that consumers can access simultaneously by telephone and on the Web.


The company's first auction, to be held Jan. 18, will set an opening bid price of $1 for its Super Bowl tickets. In addition, tickets to the Broadway shows Rent and The Lion King; the Van Gogh exhibit in Los Angeles; and the show In Synch in Philadelphia will also be auctioned with a starting price of $1.


"We will be the first to deploy voice and e-mail simultaneous access to one database for tickets," said Robin D. Richards, managing director of Tickets.com and member of the company's board of directors. The Los Angeles-based company sells travel and entertainment tickets through the Web and through its toll-free number at 1-800-tickets.


While the technology for live Web and phone auctions is not overly complicated, coordinating a ticket auction to be held exclusively through the Web and phone has so far not been done, said Varda Lief, analyst with Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA.


"The issue is not really the auction technology, it's that they're doing it with tickets," said Lief said. "Others have dabbled with the concept but no one has actually done it."


Though the ticket auction on Jan. 18 will be the first, eventually others are expected to take advantage of Web and phone integration to give worldwide audiences the opportunity to bid on items like tickets that are perishable and limited, Lief said.


"It's what we predicted; it's the natural progression of things. It's pricing to the demand curve," she said. "It's basically pricing like they do in the airline industry. If you need to get to Paris tomorrow, you will spend $2,000 instead of $500. Show tickets, like airline tickets, are perishable. Airplanes will fly whether the seats are filled or not and concerts will end whether or not there's a full audience. As it gets closer to the event, these things get more valuable."


The company plans to use the auctions only for tickets to top-notch performances.


"We aren't going to have off-off Broadway productions, we are going to have the hottest Broadway shows, the hottest concerts and the hottest sporting events," said Richards.


The auctions with bids beginning at $1, which the company is calling free-market auctions, will be used for second-tier tickets to top notch events and performances. Fixed-price auctions, starting at a higher initial bid price, will be held for better seats or for packaged deals.


Tickets.com will assume the risk that prices might not rise high enough to cover costs. The tickets put up for auction will have been acquired by the company from brokers who are members of the ticket brokers association or deemed reputable by the company. The company guarantees ticket delivery for all bids that are accepted.


The technology used to run the auction will include active server pages. Through this Web-based system, customers who prefer to respond through the Web can enter information directly onto active server pages. Meanwhile, call center agents input information onto these pages when taking information from customers who prefer to participate by telephone.


Much of the actual auction technology will be handled in-house. The company will use its own call center in Los Angeles to take bid orders, but will use third-party centers provided by Aegis Communications Group, Irving, TX, and West TeleServices Corporation, Omaha, NE, to register bidders as members of Tickets.com prior to bidding. It will also work with West Teleservices on interactive voice response and Nuance Communications, Menlo Park, CA, for speech recognition systems.


The auction will take place amid an advertising campaign that will include $500,000 worth of 30 second radio spots to be broadcast on stations nationwide, and $100,000 in print advertisements in selected cities, in addition to the company's ongoing Web advertising.


The company receives 500,000 hits a month on its Web site and 30,000 to 40,000 calls a month through its toll-free number.


Though the company has devoted more marketing toward emphasizing its Web site, it will continue to maintain a phone number.


"It's obviously cheaper to do sales over the Web, but we'll always have the phone number for extra points of access," Richards said.


Separately, the company announced last month that it has entered into a partnership with StarMedia Network Inc., South America's leading online service, to offer people in South America the chance to buy airline tickets and tickets to entertainment and sporting events in United States.


"Studies show that 30 percent of all travelers buy a ticket to see an event in the city of their destination," Richards said in explaining why the company feels there may be a market in South America for the tickets it offers. It has added telephone representatives bilingual in Spanish and Portuguese and translated portions of its Web site into Spanish and Portuguese to accommodate potential customers from South America.


In March, the company will also offer a database listing events and performances in South America. Depending on the amount of interest in the database, the company may eventually offer tickets to events at South American venues.
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