When former Cedar Rapids resident Jonathon Hill discovered the performance by Muse in the Twin Cities earlier this month was sold out, he admitted he was upset.
But then, at the last minute, another 50 tickets were released for the English rock band’s concert.
“I’d started spending the money I had (put aside) for the tickets since I had reclined myself to not going at all,” Hill recalled. When the new tickets became available, “ I couldn’t afford them anymore.”
It often comes down to precisely what “sold out” means. And that can vary, depending on the venue and the act — whether it be a musical group, a dance company or a touring play.
Alexis Kenleigh, chief marketing officer for Orchestra Iowa, the ticketing office for the Paramount Theatre, said there are a number of “holds” that apply to most venues. So when a show is listed as sold out, it doesn’t necessarily mean all the tickets have been purchased.
Kenleigh said it’s difficult to gauge just how many seats will be sold or held for any particular event. But she noted the Paramount will hold a number of seats for patrons with disabilities and for the performing act, as well as several for what she called “panic holds.”
For patrons with disabilities, “it normally runs between 28 to 32 seats, depending on the house arrangement,” Kenleigh said. “But we can end up giving those away — for example, if the show sells out, we are able to sell those.”
She said they also hold no more than 10 for “panic holds,” for double ticket printing, or if a seat breaks — “real emergency situations, and we always have those.”
Depending on the contract, the promoter — the company that brings an artist or event to a venue — may request a set number of tickets be held for the artist performing. It may be for family or friends or a fan club.
“The promoter could hold the entire house if they wanted to,” Kenleigh said.
But if a show sells out, Kenleigh said they might go back to the promoter to request some of those tickets be released.
“As a popular show is popular and begins to sell out, we’re always constantly having a conversation to release as many ticket holds that possibly exist,” Kenleigh said. “There really is no way to give a ballpark (number of holds).
“It fluctuates per show.”
“When we (the Englert theatre) sell out shows, we sometimes have tickets that become available the day-of because the artist releases their comps and we can sell them to fans,” said Andre Perry, Englert executive director.
He added that nearly 95 percent of the house at the downtown Iowa City venue is “generally set aside to the public.”
Perry said the venue is always working with its ticketing provider to improve the system.
“It’s never perfect and we’re always looking to make it better,” he said.
Perry added the Englert is “totally transparent.”
“We tell (callers) that tickets might get released at a later date but to not count on it,” Perry said. “That’s just how it works.”
Todd Kimm at Legion Arts, a not-for-profit that owns, operates and programs CSPS Hall, said the venue doesn’t hold tickets for board members and only give a handful to local media for promotions.
He said a main stage show at CSPS generally is sold out at 200 audience members. A “platform” show with its additional seating has a lower sold-out threshold because the artist is closer to the audience.
“Because of the seating flexibility of our main theater, we rarely turn audience members away,” Kimm said.
Besides the number of “holds” a particular venue may have, ticketing fees also vary.
Kenleigh said an average patron at the Paramount is paying around 14 percent of their ticketing price in fees. She said it is “tremendously lower” than the average 25 percent someone could pay going through a company like Ticketmaster.
She said those fees go for keeping the Paramount up and running, and for staffing.
Kimm of Legion Arts pointed out patrons can avoid all fees by paying cash or check for tickets, usually at the box office. He said they contract with a company called Patron Manager in New York City that “has a mission of serving small arts non-profits and is very responsive and innovative.”
Kimm said they keep ticket fees as low or lower than other companies such as Ticketmaster or Des Moines-based Midwestix. He said for credit card transactions, patrons will pay between $1 to $3 per ticket, and those fees go to Patron Manager to pay for their overhead costs.
Perry broke down convenience charges into three categories based on how the patron obtains a ticket:
“There is also a charge if patrons choose to have their tickets mailed lieu of will-call, phone and online only,” Perry said.
The Englert’s ticketing also is handled by Midwestix.
“We very much wanted to keep the ticketing within the state of Iowa, to keep it regional rather than going with some national company.”
As for Jonathon Hill, who lost out on seeing Muse, “It was pretty frustrating at first, but when someone told me why it happens, I was a little less upset.
“I wasn’t so much upset at the band as I was at the venue. But now I know to wait for a while if the show is ‘sold out.’”
For avid show goer Heather McKeag, it’s been a trial-and-error experience. She said she doesn’t really mind when venues advertise “sold out,” then release more tickets.
“If I slacked on buying tickets,” she said, “I like that there is a shred of hope that I can still get one.”