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Still Trying to Score ‘Pageant’ Tickets?

Last-minute buyers line up for pageant tickets at the Festival of Arts box office, which often has better deals than brokers. Photo by Drew Lovato

Who doesn’t love a bargain? Getting prime seats at a fraction of their touted value seems enticing. But when it comes to “Pageant of the Masters” tickets, potential purchasers would do well to embrace the Latin warning caveat emptor: let the buyer beware.

The only legitimate source of tickets to Laguna Beach’s most popular pageant, a Festival of Arts’ production for the last 80 years, remains the in-house box office. No agreements or deals exist with outside ticket vendors, discount sites or resellers, according to Sharbie Higuchi, the Festival’s marketing and public relations director.

Even so, a recent check turned up myriad web sites selling tickets to the current production, “Genius,” some offering prime seats that are unavailable at the legitimate box office and others offering cheap seats at a big mark-up.

An online search for seats to this Friday’s show, for example, revealed that stubhub.com, ticketsnow.com, eseats.com and tickco.com, among others, all offered seats at various prices for that performance. Ticketsnow.com also provides a service for customers to sell their tickets through the site. Eseats offered center loge seats for $195 and $205. Tickco.com offered them for $171. Meanwhile, the Festival’s web site as of Tuesday, showed no availability of loge center seats for the July 27 performance. Their next available loge center seats were for a weekday performance on Tuesday, July 31, for $146.

On the other hand, the Festival’s site shows upper tier seats available for $20, while Tickco.com listed the same seats at $46.

“We don’t have control of the ticket brokers and what they do,” said Higuchi, recommending that the public purchase pageant tickets through the festival’s box office to ensure their authenticity. Their web site expressly refuses to guarantee the validity of tickets purchased from third party resellers, which are clearly unauthorized.

Tickets for same day performances of the pageant do go on sale at 9 a.m. each day at the box office, 660 Laguna Canyon Rd. Many are the same price as the ones offered online. However, there are some deals for those willing to wait until the last minute to purchase at the ticket window, as unused tickets turned in might be offered at a fraction of their original cost.

The Festival’s pageant marketing machine for the eight-week-long daily production heats up within weeks of the previous season’s last show, ending this year on Aug. 31. Forms for tickets are mailed to members in October and another general public mailing goes out on Dec. 1. Otherwise, would-be pageant goers must purchase tickets through the Festival of Arts box office, whether online, by phone or in person. Anyone who is reselling pageant tickets had to first purchase them directly from the Festival, said Higuchi,

As demand fluctuates throughout the production, ticket prices are reset based on dynamic pricing, now standard practice in the ticketing industry. Loge-seat tickets purchased by mail order in November for $100, might currently be priced at $210 per seat at the box office, Higuchi said. And box office managers offer discounts mid-season for unsold inventory, such as a recent mid-July special of 25 percent off.

Pageant ticket prices remain unchanged from October through January “to encourage advance ticket sales for members and previous ticket buyers,” said Lucia McLeod, the Festival’s director of guest services. Higuchi said that encouraging patrons to purchase tickets in advance, rather than wait until the last minute, lies at the heart of their marketing strategy.

By Valentine’s Day, the box office offers periodic, limited-time specials to promote certain sections throughout spring and summer. Prices rise in certain sections as seating becomes scarce, which compensates for tickets sold earlier at a discount, said McLeod. Premium seats are adjusted only once or twice a season, she said. Pageant and Festival of Arts proceeds combined, amounting to $994,843 in 2011, underwrite improvements to the public grounds, fund the Festival’s city lease and generate student scholarships and grants to arts groups.

Of course pageant seat prices also vary based on the day of the event. Loge center seats, for example, are cheapest for weekday shows; cost more for performances on Fridays and Sundays; and are the most expensive for Saturday performances.

Rising Internet sales now account for 32 percent of pageant ticket sales, with 33 percent sold by mail order, 27 percent sold by phone and the remaining 8 percent on location, Higuchi said.

Other venues in town have also taken advantage of the way ticketing has evolved. Laguna Playhouse has established relationships with three discount sites, most notably Goldstar, and on a more limited basis, Pavé Life and Fill-A-Seat, said box office manager Michelle Van di Riet. Offering discounted tickets to Goldstar fans serves as an inexpensive marketing tool for the initial run of a new show, she said.

Discount brokers such as Goldstar benefit arts presenters by marketing to a targeted audience of arts supporters that the Playhouse wouldn’t necessarily have access to, said Greg Renoe, the Playhouse’s director of marketing and communications. “These strategies are driven to support our organization in getting the word out, not to undercut the market or undervalue our full price patrons,” he added.

Like the Festival, Laguna Playhouse’s online ticket sales have steadily increased over the last five years, said Van di Riet, though more are still sold through personal contact with the audience, whether by phone or at the box office.

Even the Sawdust Festival finds value in dynamic pricing during summer when daily entry costs $7.75 per adult. During a mutually agreed upon time period, Costco members can get Sawdust tickets two-for-one throughout most of the summer season.

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