The ACT Government has taken away the ticketing franchise for Bruce Stadium, including Raiders home games, from Ticketek and its sub-agent Canberra Bass and given it to the Canberra Theatre Trust.
The Government says that because of the circumstances it did not call for tenders.
In the past, the franchise was put out to tender and both Ticketek and the theatre have tendered, but the theatre lost, largely because of Ticketek’s wider number of outlets. Ticketek is owned by Kerry Packer and has about 60 outlets in the ACT and NSW.
The general manager of the theatre, David Gration, said yesterday that many tickets would be cheaper under the new arrangements.
However, Jim Hutchins and Coralie Wood who run Canberra Bass say the theatre is not geared up for this sort of operation and if it makes a loss on it the taxpayer will pick up the bill.
The contract, which grants the exclusive right to sell tickets for all events at the stadium, became very valuable when the Raiders moved there three years ago. Ticketek won the first contract on tender and held it until December 31, 1992. Canberra Bass in turn has a contract with Ticketek as its Canberra agent.
Late last year the director of environment, culture and sport in the ACT Department of Land Environment and Planning, Greg Fraser, wrote to the head of Ticketek, Nick Avery, offering a one month’s extension of the contract which Mr Avery refused. Mr Fraser had earlier expressed dissatisfaction over the level of performance of the agreement.
At a meeting on January 14, the Government indicated it would be giving the contract to someone else.
On January 15 Mr Fraser wrote to Mr Avery saying “”I confirm that the Territory is not prepared to extend the agreement for any period. The Territory will now take steps to appoint a new ticketing agent.”
Mr Hutchins said that the agreement provided that: “”During the last six months of the agreement, the Territory and Ticketek shall if requested by the other negotiate in good faith as to the extension of this agreement for a further period of 18 months.”
Mr Hutchins said this had not been done. There were provisions in the agreement dealing with termination of the agreement for non-performance, but the ACT Government had not cited these. The Government should not have just appointed a new agent, but should have put it to tender.
Mr Fraser said there had been ticketing difficulties with the Australia vs Brazil youth soccer game on December 9 and there had been no back-up hard ticket system. There had been many angry people at Bruce Stadium.
Mr Hutchins said all parties had to take the blame for that. If he had been warned about the expected crowd he would have had extra staff on.
Last year Canberra Bass and Ticketek were involved in court action over the Canberra agency. Ticketek pulled the plug on its computer link to Bass. Bass successfully obtained an injunction to get it back so it could have access to Ticketek’s Australia-wide computer ticketing.
In September in a full hearing the court found in favour of Canberra Bass. Since then Ticketek and Canberra Bass continued with their previous ticketing arrangement, though relations were strained.
Mr Fraser said because of this and the soccer game problem the department decided not to renew the agreement for 18 months. As the Raiders’ season and other stadium events were close, the department had to act with some speed. The Canberra Theatre was the only organisation set up locally. A Sydney or Melbourne organisation would have had too long a set up time.
“”The normal practice is to go to tender,” he said. “”But circumstances here made this an exception.”
Mr Gration said, “”We’ve been putting in bids for years and the Government has got those on file. They asked us to re-submit and we did. It was checked with the ACT Government Solicitor to ensure everything was above board and the contract is effective now.”
Mr Hutchins said the theatre did not have coverage of away games for the Raiders, including the finals or for away basketball games. They could only cover Bruce. People would have to go to two different places now if they wanted tickets for home and away games. He thought the theatre was not geared up for the rough and tumble of sport ticketing; it was more skilled at advising on the quality of tickets for theatre productions.
Last season tickets for both home and away games were available at six outlets and by phone.
Mr Gration said the theatre was increasing its outlets for the home games. It had the theatre itself and had just opened two outlets at the ACT Government shopfronts in Tuggeranong and Belconnen and hoped to have two further outlets in the next month. It is understood that these will be at the Raiders clubs in Mawson and Queanbeyan.
There were other outlets for away games and the theatre was working with Sydney clubs over ticketing. There was a 008 number for Sydney people wanting to come to Raiders games here.
Many tickets would be cheaper under the theatre’s system because it charged per transaction, not per ticket, so tickets for families and groups would work out cheaper.
There had been no formal announcement yet because the theatre was waiting until closer to the beginning of the season.
The director of Ticketek, Nick Avery, said he had no comment.