ST. PETERSBURG — Bill Edwards, operator of the Mahaffey Theater, is making a $360,000 bet. He's betting he will sell a lot more tickets at the city-owned venue by doing away with service charges and add-on fees that average $9 per ticket.
"We were charging $5 to stick two tickets in an envelope and mail them. What's a stamp, 46 cents? I think I can do better than that," said the mortgage magnate turned city promoter and retail developer. "If you get down to what the charges were, they were inflated. I plan to sell more tickets so it's going to help us, not hurt us."
Of the roughly 80,000 tickets sold for Mahaffey shows last year, half were purchased via the theater's website, phone line or box office. Mahaffey made approximately $360,000 in revenues from added fees. Ticketmaster or other ticket vendors sold the other half so they culled their own fee revenues.
Edwards is going to try to persuade Ticketmaster to stop charging fees for Mahaffey tickets. But for now the savings will come only on tickets sold via the theater's box office, website or phone line.
Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall already doesn't charge fees on tickets bought in person at its box office. Fees for online or phone purchases vary, said spokesman Eric Blankenship. An upcoming Bill Cosby show carries a $7.50 service charge on a $50 ticket, for example.
While the Clearwater venue is conscious of pricing, Blankenship believes the quality of performers matters more.
"In my experience of 15 years of this industry I don't believe price is a deciding factor," he said. "The decision (to purchase a ticket) is based more on value."
It was a recent salute to Elvis show that prompted Edwards to do away with the fees at Mahaffey. The price per ticket was $19.35 in honor of the year the entertainer was born.
"I thought that was a pretty good deal. You could go take your girl to a show for $40, buy dinner and spend $100 or less on the whole night."
Then he learned two tickets would ultimately cost $58 because of added fees.
"I started asking around and found out we've had a lot of people cancel in the act of buying tickets because they found out how much the additional fees were going to be," he said.
With the goal being selling more tickets at lower prices, Edwards stressed it wouldn't make sense to quietly increase the base ticket price while announcing he's dropping extra fees.
"I'm not changing my ticket model. It's the same as it was a year ago," he said. "This isn't a smoke screen. It's the real deal."
Until now, Mahaffey patrons have paid a service fee ranging from $3 to $10 per ticket, an ordering and handling fee of $4 per order (not per ticket) and another $5 per order if tickets are mailed.
A ticket bought online or over the phone for a show at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa comes with an added fee of 15 percent of the ticket price plus a $3.50 fee per order. Tickets bought in person at the box office will incur a service fee of 8 percent of the ticket price.
Added fees aren't limited to the theater, of course. Any sports fan can vouch for that. A $39 ticket to Friday's Lightning game against the Winnipeg Jets bought via Ticketmaster will have a service fee of $9.30, a convenience charge of $4.25 and a facility fee of $2.75 tacked on. If it's purchased at the box office only the facility fee will be charged, said Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett.
"It's not like I'm the only guy who charges fees," Edwards said. "I wasn't the highest and I wasn't the lowest."
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or [email protected]