Olympic ticketing woes (or why is Ticketmaster always so hopeless?)

I’m finally starting to get excited by the Olympics and wanting to get involved. Some additional tickets went on sale yesterday and I got online to try and get some.

After hearing the complaints about people missing out on earlier rounds I wasn’t really expecting much to be available nor was I expecting the process to be much fun.

I had checked out availability of tickets the day before and there were only really half a dozen sports that I was even looking at. All the major sports (athletics, swimming, cycling, etc) were sold out and I wasn’t really interested in the fighting sports (boxing, wrestling, tae kwan do, etc).

I logged on to the site a few minutes before 11am and had no problems. I started to choose a few events and add them to my “shopping list”. No problems. I chose four events and clicked through to the next step which was….

A fifteen minute queue! WTF! A queue on the Internet? I guess I understand the process which is to reduce load on the servers and keep things from breaking down completely. But a fifteen minute queue is absurd.

Obviously at the end of the fifteen minutes I got a failure. The screen showed that the process had failed and hadn’t really given a useful reason.

I thought I would try again with just one event and I was back into the fifteen minute queue. Fortunately that worked out and I got hold of some tickets.

So, I thought I would try again with two events and I was back in the fifteen minute queue for a third time. This time I got tickets for one of the two events and not for the other. That was ok too.

So that was two successes out of three attempts and about 55 minutes of time spent. Not too bad. No better than I expected but no worse either.

Then it all started to get annoying. After my two previous successes I thought I would try to get a couple more tickets. By now the artificially created queue was down to about eight minutes so it was a little less painful. Rowing? Failed! Volleyball? Failed! Handball? Failed! Sigh….

I did manage to find some handball tickets at a higher price level but didn’t really want to pay that much for a sport I didn’t even know that much about.

I do often find Ticketmaster to run an awful web site. My usually complaint is that the web site will never tell you when an event is sold out. You are required to choose a date for an event, click through, enter the illegible captcha and only then be told that tickets are not available “at this time”.

For most normal people this raises two questions. Firstly, if they are not available “at this time”, maybe you should either tell me when they will be available or that you are sold out. The next question is why did I have to click through and enter a captcha when you should’ve known at the outset that there were no tickets.

After this Olympic ticketing experience it makes me realise there are a number of serious problems with Ticketmaster and their systems.

The ticket selection system seems to be separate from the ticket selling system. This would explain the queue to get on to the ticket selling after choosing tickets. I guess that an advantage of this would be to make the whole process more robust. To get to the sales web site you first need to get through the selection web site and through the queue meaning that the selling site is less likely to get overloaded.

The problem seems to be that the ticket selection site doesn’t get updated as tickets are sold. This just leads to frustrated buyers. It is the problem I highlighted above about being notified at an early stage that an event is sold out. If a ticketing web site can’t manage that then it seems to be failing at a fundamental task.

Then there is the problem of the queue. It seems absurd that there should be a fifteen (“or more”) minute queue on the Internet. It’s not like it’s the real world and you are queuing for a “customer service operative” or “team member” to sell you something.

There are only a couple of possible benefits that I can see here. One possibility is that ticket touts are possibly going to be able to obtain fewer tickets. The other is that the web site might be more robust.

Load testing of a web site is difficult, especially for something with the appeal of the Olympics. However, this seems like it should be a problem that Ticketmaster should’ve been able to solve better by now. They have been running their web site for quite a while now.

So, all in all, the customer experience of buying Olympic tickets was pretty painful. But then if you think about it, I’m not really the customer here, am I?

Many of the Olympic events are going to sell out whether Ticketmaster botches the sale or not. And in a way that is the whole cause of the awful service they provide. Ticketmaster has already found the customer and sold a service to them. That customer is LOCOG and not me. Ticketmaster’s main activity is finding venues and promotors to sell tickets for. Once that is done, they just need to provide a “good enough” service for the general public so they don’t complain vociferously. They don’t seem to actually see any benefit in providing a “good” service rather than just a “good enough” one.

I know people like to complain, especially when they miss out on something they really want, like concert or Olympic tickets. Ticketmaster are caught between the limited size of concert venues and the virtually unlimited demand for certain tickets. No matter how well they do their job some people who missed out on tickets are always going to complain but I feel that the problems with the Ticketmaster service go much deeper than that.

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