Freeman says Ticketmaster is working on finding a way for fans to transfer tickets in the paperless model – and it will collect a fee on the transaction, even if the parties aren't exchanging money themselves. Freeman is unapologetic about the charge, comparing it to a service charge at a bank machine. “We know we're not the most beloved company,” he says. “But it takes time and resources to build out the capability. It's only right that we charge for it.”
Livich admits it will be hard to circumvent paperless tickets. “There's the hassle factor. Say you buy two tickets, maybe you could go walk somebody in with you, so you burn one ticket and sell the other. Or you can give somebody your credit card to use. There's always ways to work around the system,” Livich says. “But there's not a scalable solution, no.”
As a fan attending events, the paperless ticket idea is a potential problem for Jagger. “What if I want to buy the tickets as a gift? And if I can't go to a hockey game, usually I'll end up giving the tickets to my brother. What do I do then?”
For every jackpot like the Canucks' 1994 playoff run, Livich has another story about losing his shirt betting the wrong way. Brokers will often fill orders in advance at a certain price, then set out to procure those tickets for less, aiming to profit from the spread. Livich has tried to forget about the 2006 Super Bowl, when a ShowTime employee took a large order of tickets from a corporate buyer in the U.S. and locked in at a specific price, only to see the market spike a few weeks later when the Seattle Seahawks unexpectedly made it to the final against the Pittsburgh Steelers. With demand for tickets soaring by the hour, ShowTime was forced to honour the order at a loss – buying the tickets it needed at much higher prices to supply the client. The fiasco cost the company $120,000.
“The general perception is, ‘Look how much money these guys are making, they're criminals,' ” Livich says. “But it can be a skinny business.” ShowTime might make a margin of 20 per cent to 25 per cent on sales, but that number is cut in half by overhead. Then factor in a slumping economy, when corporate expense accounts are curtailed, and the business gets lean in a hurry.
Last year ShowTime lost money in the down economy. “It's been challenging, absolutely. You end up sitting on a million dollars of inventory, such as hockey tickets. But when the economy turns, that turns into a tremendous liability,” Livich says. “It's perishable product.”
For the Olympics, ShowTime has rights to tickets locked up for every event, from luge to biathlon, in order to capitalize on medal matches, but also on the inevitable media sensations that seem to erupt from nowhere and draw big crowds. Think Eddie the Eagle, the ski jumper who stole the show at the Calgary Olympics in 1988. On the other hand, a Slovakia-Finland final in hockey would be devastating.
To Livich, reselling tickets is like speculating on pork bellies and corn futures, but far more interesting. “Any time the stakes are high, you can blow your brains out. Absolutely,” he admits. The Olympics will be a crucial moment for Livich's company: If demand isn't there, ShowTime will lose out on commissions from stacks of tickets it can't sell. If demand is strong, the company will be perfectly positioned. In its pursuit of profit, ShowTime has also waded into brokering the rights to hotel rooms in Vancouver during the Games, a market that works on the same supply-and-demand principles as tickets do.
Livich walks out to the street and glances over at BC Place. It is sunny, but the air has turned cold. Vancouver 2010 is nigh. “If you're anybody in this town, you're going to want to entertain people during the Olympics,” Livich says. “To do that, you're going to need tickets.” And like it or not, you're probably going to need to know Mario Livich.