By Brent Lang
Fans desperate to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening night can hit up Ebay, Craigslist, StubHub, and other sites in a quest for scalped tickets.
Scoring seats won’t come cheap, however. Tickets for special Imax 3D showings in major cities like New York City and Los Angeles are on sale for north of $200, a steep mark-up from the roughly $20 that they usually cost.
That’s to say nothing of the more than $1,000 a pop that some scalpers are asking for tickets to an opening night event for The Force Awakens being hosted at Disney World. This one comes with perks. In addition to seeing the film, guests can attend an after-hours party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and tour Star Wars-themed attractions. Tickets to the event sold out within hours of going on sale and originally cost less than $100.
Although scalped tickets are a common feature of live events, such as concerts, ball games, or Broadway shows, it’s a rare occurrence with movies.
“There are not many other movies that have this kind of crazy cult following,” said Jared Cutler, chief strategy officer at DTI Management, a ticketing software provider. “The hype around it is a big reason. As with any type of ticket, its all about scarcity and demand.”
In the case of The Force Awakens, by virtue of it being the first Star Wars movie in a decade, there is a huge fan base eager to pay top dollar in order to be part of the water-cooler conversation. Although a few films in the past have had opening weekend tickets surface on secondary markets, among them installments in the Twilight and The Dark Knight franchises, most experts say they’ve never seen interest on this level.
History would suggest there are perils. During the hype and hysteria surrounding the release of The Interview, some scalpers offered tickets to a few theaters willing to brave threats of violence and show the film. They ended up getting burned after Sony, the studio behind the comedy, decided to release the film online.
There are still seats remaining to many The Force Awakens opening weekend shows, but excitement around the film already has theater chains scrambling to add showtimes to meet demand. Many screen times, particularly those at night, are sold out, and it’s virtually impossible to get a ticket to an Imax theater in the first few days of the films release.
Another reason that scalping may be more intense with The Force Awakens” is that reserved seating is becoming more common. The security of knowing that moviegoers can sit with friends in a packed theater may make them more likely to shell out extra.
Many experts predict that The Force Awakens could make more than $200 million in its opening weekend, and the film has already shattered pre-sales records. It has sold more than $50 million in tickets with weeks left before its Dec. 18 opening.
“Stars Wars may be the one film that can get away with it,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “The demand is there and the supply is low with all these sell outs.”
The tickets may be for sale, but it’s not clear how many people are turning to eBay and other sites to score tickets. Jessica Erskine, head of entertainment communications for StubHub, notes that the demand the company has seen from sellers to list tickets is “unprecedented,” but there’s a catch.
“While there are some sellers posting and limited tickets listed, right now we aren’t seeing a high amount of demand from buyers – in fact, we haven’t sold a ticket yet,” she said.
There just isn’t much of a tradition of buying scalped movie tickets, analysts say, and while studios and theater owners aren’t planning to exert a lot of energy stopping scalpers, they’re not encouraging them either. That’s different from sporting events or concerts where ticketing services work in concert with teams or theaters. In some instances, when customers buy a ticket to a game from TicketMaster or other companies, the barcode will change — an extra layer of security that guarantees the ticket is valid. It’s a level of cooperation that helps ensure consumers don’t get scammed and one that people buying The Force Awakens tickets on Craigslist can’t rely on.
“It’s risky,” said Cutler. “You might never get the ticket or when it comes it’s a fake.”
The movie business has undergone a tectonic shift over the last decade that could lead to more opening night bonanzas like the one that’s sure to greet The Force Awakens. Studios are making fewer films and instead pooling their resources on a select group of blockbuster pictures such as Jurassic World and Furious 7 that are virtually guaranteed to have huge debuts. These films typically earn the balk of their revenues in their first few days in theaters when excitement is highest.
That might lead to more scalping as pressure mounts to be part of the zeitgeist. It could also inspire dynamic pricing. Right now it costs the same amount to see The Force Awakens on the first weekend that it does to see it a month later. Some experts predict that pricing could rise or fall based on demand, just as it does for football games or Broadway hits like Hamilton.
“This is perhaps a hint at the evolution of the ticketing market for movies,” said Connor Gregoire, an analyst at ticketing provider SeatGeek. “The way movies are ticketed could be more like sporting events…at some point you may end up paying more for opening night than a matinee.”
(Photo: Courtesy of Disney/LucasFilm)