So: You had your heart set on seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Madison Square Garden, or maybe at the Prudential Center. You valiantly tried to get tickets, only to fail miserably — and to then see hundreds of tickets available on StubHub less than a few minutes later. How can you improve your ticket-procuring skills so that the next time the Boss comes to town, you stand a fighting chance? You found a great deal on some tickets on Craigslist, but should you buy them? Here are some tips and just good old-fashioned ticket-buying basics to help you out next time. (And hey, reminder: For those who missed out on Springsteen’s NYC dates, he’ll be playing Saturday Night Live on December 19, with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosting.)
If you are old, nothing you know about buying tickets applies anymore. You can’t go to the box office, there isn’t a Ticketmaster outlet no one knows about in a strip mall out on Staten Island, and you can’t call the Ticketmaster number in Chicago. The box office doesn’t sell tickets the day they go on sale; there is one Ticketmaster outlet in all of the five boroughs (and other ticket sellers have exactly zero); and there’s one number for Ticketmaster that will probably send you into an automated queue. These days, ticket sales happen online, via either a website or a mobile app. There are always exceptions, of course, but do your research and don’t assume that you can do the thing you always did before (and that goes for everyone).
Take care of the basics. Do you know exactly what time the tickets go on sale? Do you have an account with the ticketing provider already? It’s amazing how many people send texts at 10:30 a.m. saying, “Hey, do Bruce tickets go on sale today or next week?” Make sure you have an account set up, make sure you’re logged in to it, and make sure you have the event page open well before the zero hour. Check that the credit card associated with the account hasn’t expired (and has enough credit to buy the tickets). This will also help you avoid doing something like looking for tickets at the wrong provider (don’t laugh, it’s happened to people).
Make sure technology doesn’t conspire against you. Use the newest computer you can find on the fastest internet connection you can access. Close all your other tabs, as well as any other program you do not need to purchase tickets. You don’t want to have to reboot because your screen freezes or you see the spinning beachball of death thirty seconds before the tickets go on sale; you don’t want to have someone’s Slack message pop up just as you’re trying to type into a browser window. If you’re using a mobile app, consider using the Do Not Disturb function for the duration of the ticket purchase so no one can call and no alerts can go off.
Know the venue. Get a decent seating chart and have a printed copy next to the computer, or at the very least have it open in another browser window. Also, take the time to study it in advance. Why? Because most people would think, “Wow, Bruce is going to be sweating on me!” when Ticketmaster returned with two seats in Row 2 of Section 1 on the floor of the Garden — except that the front floor sections at MSG are actually A, B, and C, while Section 1 is actually all the way in the back. (And none of this applied for Springsteen anyway, because the front of the floor at MSG is general admission.) This doesn’t just apply to the Garden: Do you know that Row A at the Beacon Theatre is actually the fifth row of the orchestra, which starts with AA? Seriously, get a seating chart.
Mission Critical or Mission Maybe. When you get that seating chart, decide where you are willing to sit for this show. Is it a once-in-a-lifetime event, where you just want to make sure you’re in the building? Or is it something like Billy Joel, who will be back next month, meaning you can afford to be picky about where you sit? Decide this before the tickets go on sale, so you don’t end up buying something you don’t actually want.
For big events, you’re probably only going to get one chance. Every second matters because of the sheer demand for something like Bruce Springsteen (or One Direction, or Lady Gaga, or Madonna, or Taylor Swift). Thousands and thousands of people are trying for 15,000 tickets. (Yes, MSG holds 18,000, but MSG is also in the city where most artists have the largest guest list and record companies need the most seats). You’re not necessarily going to have more than one chance to get into the system before the event sells out, so be ready and give yourself the best possible chance. Someone has to get those tickets, and it might as well be you.
Break up the party. If it’s an eight-ticket limit, you might think it would be great to go to the show with all of your high school pals or your entire family. That’s beautiful, but that means you’ll be sitting upstairs in Section 222. If you want good seats, buy tickets for the smallest possible group, ideally no more than two people. If you’re flying solo, you stand a great chance at filling out the end of a row with an uneven seat count and increasing your chances.
Most presales are bullshit. Too many people get suckered into thinking that the tickets available via the BigCreditCardCo presale (or similar) actually offer exclusive access to the best seats. “Presale” in those scenarios means “presale of the selection of tickets that have been allocated for this particular sponsor.” If you do not like the tickets you are offered, do not buy them; wait for the public sale. (Exceptions to this, of course, come by way of things like artist fan clubs.)
If you have to go to the secondary market: If none of the above works and you just have to get into the building, or sit in a better seat than up on the Chase Bridge, you may find yourself eyeing the tickets being offered for sale on something like StubHub, eBay, or Craigslist. If you have to go to the scalpers, your first choice should be something like StubHub that offers a buyer guarantee. You can also reinforce your purchase by using a credit card that offers some kind of buyer protection. eBay also offers a buyer protection policy which will make good. You are S.O.L. if you buy something on Craigslist and it turns out to be fake. Yes, plenty of normal folks will put a pair of tickets on Craigslist to avoid service charges, but this is just not a good idea for any kind of superstar or high-demand event.
If something is too good to be true, it definitely is. Hundreds of U2 fans from out of town handed over $300 to a guy on Craigslist who “just happened” to have a pair of floor tickets available. Keep in mind that hard tickets are not an absolute protection anymore, even if you think you know how to spot counterfeits: The seller can call Ticketmaster and say their tickets were stolen, Ticketmaster will cancel the bar codes, and a new set of seats will be waiting at will call. You won’t know they’re fake until they get scanned for entry. And it goes without saying that you should only buy electronic ticket transfers that happen within the ticketing system, because otherwise some dude is printing out 100 copies of that PDF and selling them until he gets caught.