The Bolshoi Theater and its depiction on the Russian 100-ruble note. The economics of Russia's cultural institutions are under scrutiny.

Russia’s ‘Ticket Mafia’ and Other Challenges to Managing Russian Cultural Institutions

Published: July 4, 2019

The “ticket mafia” has long been a problem in Russia. Scalpers buy tickets, often at deep discounts by employing the pensioners who qualify for them, and then sell the tickets at wildly inflated costs. This is not, however, the most interesting inefficiency in managing Russia’s cultural institutions.

For instance, the story below details the Bolshoi’s “reserve system.” A holdover from the Soviet era, the system reserves some of the theater’s best tickets for use by government agencies. This means that some of the theatre’s highest-priced tickets often go unsold and the overall ticket supply on the market is artificially reduced. The actual number reserved is presented in the report only in an unclear quote by the Bolshoi’s General Director who seems to imply that 30 percent of tickets for 70 percent of productions are affected. He then says specifically that, after being visited by Russia’s Audit Chamber, the theater agreed to release 100 tickets from the system. The Bolshoi mainstage has 1740 seats total, so this would be about 6 percent, unless it should take into account the new stage, chamber theater, and other performance spaces controlled by the theater.

The Audit Chamber the General Director mentions is a formerly toothless government office now taken over by former Finance Minister and political heavyweight Alexei Kudrin. The chamber is now auditing everything from whole ministries to, it now seems, individual state theatres in an attempt to bring greater efficiency and self-sufficiency to anything that uses state funds.

This is part of wider government push that began with massive budget cuts in 2014 to bring the budget under control as sanctions threatened Russia’s access to global credit markets and is continuing with major efforts at achieving greater financial efficiency.

The new law on cultural ticket sales discussed in the story below also proposes to make theatres more efficient by making them more independent in setting policies. Russia’s museums have already seen reforms along these lines this year. Historically, the state used its financing and authority to keep ticket prices low and policies standardized. However, many museums were allowed to significantly raise prices this year; ticket prices for the Kremlin museums, for example, approximately doubled. Many museums also adjusted their group policies to require specific guide-to-group-size ratios to ensure that groups can better police themselves, helping to relieve the museum of part of the security cost burden and, of course, to sell more guide tickets. Theatres would receive similar flexibility to control revenue streams by adjusting ticket return policies, ticket resell policies, and more.

Making it directly illegal to sell a ticket for above its face value, as the new law proposes, may make it easier to sweep scalpers from the theatre entrances where they openly work. If that can be done, fewer tickets may be bought at pensioner discounts and fewer tickets returned. Perhaps the most interesting innovation below is to allow theaters to sell tickets registered tickets, meaning that one would enter the theatre with ID, similar to a plane or train, and that tickets could not be resold. The Bolshoi is currently experimenting with this technology with its online sales.

How effective these proposals may be will depend greatly on how they are implemented. As we have seen many times before, wherever there are rules, there are usually ways around those rules. However, it is clear that the government is pushing its cultural institutions to be more self-sufficient and independent. The law is already passed in its third and final reading, but now requires a presidential signature to be put into law.

Борьба с билетной мафией вышла на новый виток. Уже завтра в Думе — второе чтение проекта закона, который должен внести ясность в отношения зрителей и организаций, продающих билеты. Цены на спектакли в любимые театры у перекупщиков зашкаливают, люди не могут попасть в театр. А спекулянты сдают в кассы некупленные у них билеты и ничем не рискуют. The fight against the ticket mafia has entered a new phase. Tomorrow the Duma will consider in its second reading a draft law that will clarify the relationship between theater-goers and ticket sellers. Prices for tickets to well-known theaters are going wild in the hands of resellers. People cannot get into the theater. Meanwhile, speculators can return to the box office any tickets they do not sell – and risk nothing.
Остается около часа до начала постановки в Большом театре. Сегодня дают оперу «Риголетто». Как это обычно бывает, ни в кассах, ни на сайте билетов уже не найти. Зато они всегда найдутся у билетных спекулянтов. Они на своем привычном месте — за колонами Большого театра. It’s about an hour before curtain time at the Bolshoi Theater. Today, the opera Rigoletto is playing. As is usually the case, no tickets can be found at the ticket office or on the Bolshoi’s site. However, one can always find scalpers. They are in their usual place – behind the pillars of the Bolshoi Theater.
Там, где обозначена цена на билет, спекулянты обычно наклеивают незаметный штрихкод. Отклеиваем. Билет стоил всего 100 рублей. Получается в 50 раз дороже, чем в кассе. Where the ticket price is indicated, scalpers usually glue on an inconspicuous barcode. If we peel it off, we see that the ticket cost only 100 rubles. It is being sold for 50 times more than the box office price.
Бизнес без каких-либо рисков. Они возвратят в кассу те билеты, которые сбыть не удалось. В основном их клиенты — гости столицы и, конечно, иностранцы; те, кто не успел заранее купить билеты. It’s a business with zero risk. Unsold tickets will be returned to the box office. The clientele are mostly people visiting the capital and, of course, foreigners; They are those who did not have time to buy tickets in advance.
Сегодня стало известно, что после рекомендаций Счетной палаты с 1 сентября Большой театр изменит схему продажи билетов. Как оказалось, самые лучшие места, включая Историческую сцену, обычно находятся в статусе брони. Предназначены в основном для министерств и ведомств. При этом в первую волну продажи поступают билеты на менее востребованные места. Они, как правило, достаются перекупщикам. Today it became known that, following the recommendations of Russia’s Audit Chamber, on September 1, the Bolshoi Theater will change the way it sells tickets. As it turns out, the best places, including for the Main Stage, are usually held in reserve, intended mainly for ministries and government departments. At the same time, the first tickets to go on sale are for less popular seats. These, as a rule, are bought up by resellers.
«Бронь используется в целом на большую часть спектаклей, не 100%, а 70%, а оставшиеся билеты мы пускаем в продажу. Счетная палата сочла, что зачем держать билеты, эти 30%, которые не используются, нужно сразу отдавать в продажу. Мы согласились со Счетной палатой, на сто билетов увеличили то количество билетов, которые теперь у нас отдаются в продажу», — сообщил генеральный директор Большого театра Владимир Урин. Vladimir Urin, Director General of the Bolshoi Theater said that “the reserve system is used as a whole for most of the performances, not 100%, but 70%, and we let the remaining tickets go on sale. The Audit Chamber felt there was no reason to hold tickets, these 30%, which are not used, and they should be immediately sold. We agreed with the Audit Chamber, and have increased the number of tickets now on sale by one hundred.”
Впрочем, у многих спекулянтов есть «свои люди» в театрах, которые продают им билеты еще до поступления в официальную продажу. Интересы театров и зрителей в борьбе с незаконной продажей билетов должен защитить законопроект против билетной мафии. В нем ряд важных пунктов. However, many speculators have “their own people” in theaters, who sell them tickets even before they are released for official sale. Thus, the bill against the ticket mafia must protect the interests of theaters and theater-goers in the fight against the illegal sale of tickets. It has a number of important points.
«Все билеты, на которых есть исправления, заклеена цена, являются недействительными, мы имеем право не пустить зрителя в театр. У нас за прошлый сезон с заклеенными ценами на билеты пришло на 20-22 миллиона рублей человек, билеты были перекуплены кем-то», — рассказала директор Театра наций Марина Ревякина. “All tickets that have corrected or concealed prices are invalid. We have the right not to let the person into the theater. Last season, we saw people with 20-22 million rubles ($307,000 to $330,000) worth of these tickets. The tickets had been bought from some third party,” said Marina Revyakina, Director of the Theater of Nations.
Кроме этого, проект может запретить продажу билетов выше их стоимости. А реализацией билетов смогут заниматься только организации культуры либо уполномоченные ими лица на основании договора. Причем официальные посредники смогут взимать комиссию не больше 10% от стоимости билета. Например, за доставку. Театры, музеи смогут самостоятельно устанавливать порядок возврата билетов. К примеру, если вы возвращаете билет за 10 дней до постановки, вам вернут стопроцентную стоимость. Еще одно новшество для всех театров — продажа именных билетов. The new law may also make it illegal to sell tickets for more than their face value. Furthermore, only cultural organizations or persons with contractual authorization will be able to sell tickets. Moreover, official intermediaries will be able to charge no more than 10% commission based on the ticket price, for example, for delivery. Theaters and museums will be able to independently establish their own procedures for returning tickets. For example, if you return a ticket 10 days prior to staging, you will be returned one hundred percent value. Another innovation for all theaters is the sale of tickets registered to one name.
Законопроект против билетной мафии уже завтра рассмотрят в Госдуме во втором чтении. Его скорейшего принятия закона ждут и зрители и сами театры. Как считают эксперты, он позволит остановить театральных мошенников, тех, кто наживается на любви к искусству. The bill against the ticket mafia will be considered in the State Duma in its second reading tomorrow. Both the audience and the theaters themselves are waiting for the speedy adoption of the law. According to experts, it will stop the theatrical scam run by those who profit from the love of art.


About the author

Josh Wilson

Josh Wilson is the Assistant Director for SRAS. He has managed the SRAS Family of Sites, a grouping of publications that cover geopolitics, history, business, economy, pop culture, and politics in Eurasia since 2003. He lived in Moscow, Russia from 2003-2022. He also assists in program development and leads SRAS' scholarship programs.

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