Ticketmaster: Necessary Evil or Just Plain Evil?
- By Hannah Epstein
- Published on August 15, 2012
|Even Wikipedia can't get the truth from Ticketmaster . . .|
In July of this year, 50 String Cheese Incident closest fans and friends took $20,000 and bought tickets to the band’s show at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. Each ticket cost $49.95 and was subsequently sold through SCI’s official website for exactly that price to fans looking to attend the show.
What caused or necessitated this circumventing of the system? Nothing less than complete and utter frustration with Ticketmaster and their seeming monopoly on the industry.
This show of force by String Cheese and their fans was meant to simplify the ticket-buying process and maybe put a small dink in the massive armor that surrounds the ticket-selling conglomerate.
The band, who also sued Ticketmaster in 2003 for being an alleged monopoly, is just one of many groups dissatisfied with the company’s involvement and business practices. High service fees and a perceived dominance over online ticket sales have sparked fan, musician and venue outrage and changes in Ticketmaster’s business practices.
But who and what is to blame for the current state of affairs when it comes to buying tickets? Between shipping, processing and the dreaded “service” fees, fans of music in all genres grumble and moan about the added cost on top of face value – but they continue to purchase them because there usually aren’t any alternatives.
Selling tickets to concerts, sports games, musicals, plays and events all over the world, Ticketmaster is something everyone is familiar with.
“If you look at their website, there’s nobody that books more venues than they do,” I.M.P. spokeswoman Audrey Schaefer said. “There’s nobody who has more artists under their management than they do. There’s no close second.”
According to the D.C.-based company that owns area venues, it’s Ticketmaster and everyone else. The company is currently under scrutiny because of added charges to the original price of the ticket. Those service fees don’t go to the artist, venue or promoters – they go solely to Ticketmaster to pay for their side of the business. In many ways, a necessary evil.
The maddening fact that there are often no other options for attendees to circumvent these fees makes Ticketmaster less of a convenience for online buying and more of a strain on wallets. Because Ticketmaster has so much power, many worry that its business model will limitlessly raise prices and reduce choices.
'Master of Puppets
Ticketmaster was started in 1976 in Phoenix and sold its first tickets to an Electric Light Orchestra show at the University of New Mexico in 1977. By 1988, they had clients in Canada, Norway, Australia and the United Kingdom. In 2001, they bought out a major competitor, Ticketron, and in 2008 debuted paperless tickets to supplement their ticket booths.
In 2009, the public condemned Ticketmaster after more than 2,000 fans logged on at the appropriate time and date to buy tickets to a New Jersey Bruce Springsteen show and were denied and instead redirecting to a different site called “TicketsNow.” The latter site, a ticket re-sale company, had available tickets for a significantly greater price than the sale had advertised. Essentially, this secondary market had bought up the tickets with plans to sell at a higher rate.
What fans would come to realize is that Ticketmaster had purchased TicketsNow in 2008.
Ticketmaster came under fire again in 2010 when they merged with Live Nation to become Live Nation Entertainment. At the time, Live Nation was the largest promoter in the U.S. on the brink of creating their own ticketing website. Ticketmaster essentially eliminated their largest potential competitor and people feared a monopoly was imminent.
During a federal investigation, U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell of New Jersey responded to complaints from his constituents, calling Live Nation Entertainment “a juggernaut.”
“[They] would have control over every aspect of the live music business: artist management, record sales, promotion, licensing, venue control, parking, tickets,” he said.
Then president and CEO of the company, Michael Rapino, claimed that the merger was necessary for the company financially and saved them from a buyout from a foreign investor.
After years of legal squabbling over the Springsteen incident, Live Nation Entertainment finally settled with the New Jersey Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission in an agreement that required them to pay $16.5 million and remove their link to TicketsNow for one year.
After that year, Ticketmaster was required to alert customers when they leave their site to go to TicketsNow, explicitly stating that it is a separate website and prices might be higher.
Other artists have protested Ticketmaster’s monopolistic hold on the ticketing industry as well. In 1994, Pearl Jam filed a complaint with the Justice Department and subsequently refused to sell tickets through Ticketmaster unless they eliminated service fees. The band was ultimately blacklisted from Ticketmaster-operated venues and had to cancel their tour.
A man in Arkansas is currently suing the company under the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act – which prohibits scalping – for charging nearly $50.00 in service fees for four tickets to a concert.
As a result of these concerns, Ticketmaster’s website looks distinctly different than in the past with service fees disclosed at the very beginning of the sale – even if they remain higher than fans would like. But sneaky processing fees still exist and your charge seems to always end up just a bit higher than you thought by the end. Another issue concerning fans is that the service fees are not consistent for each ticket and are greater with a more expensive ticket.
Step 7: Acceptance (Step 8: Revolution?)
Currently, Ticketmaster maintains a strong hold on the vast majority of venues in the U.S. and continues to grow just recently signing on with Brooklyn’s new Barclays Center. Ticketmaster pays premiums to have exclusive rights with these venues and certainly working with a multi-national corporation that has streamlined tickets sales and promotion can be beneficial to those involved.
However, venues like Citizen’s Bank Business Arena in Ontario, California and the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia have dropped the company due to public concerns. Smaller venues, such as the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., have chosen to use independent ticket companies as well.
Schaefer explains that the D.C. venue, which is run by the larger I.M.P. production company, works with many local businesses, which makes them less inclined to use a corporation like Ticketmaster. According to her, their ticketing service, Ticketfly, charges a nominal service fee that goes directly toward the manpower required to run a ticketing company.
“These people are smart, they’re creative, they’re dedicated,” Schaefer said. “By using Ticketfly, we can together have a ticketing system that is much more consumer friendly.”
For music fans, service fees can be an inconvenience, but usually not enough to deter them from attendance.
“I’ve never not gone to a show because it was Ticketmaster,” sound engineer Andrew Maury said. “If I really want to see the band, I’m going to go.”
“When I go to buy tickets for a show, it means that I like the artist enough that a few dollars is probably not going to sway me either way,” another fan, Justin Masters, said.
However, Masters and others admittedly prefer to purchase through a smaller vendor, when given the option.
“I like knowing I’m getting my tickets directly from the source and not from a third party,” Masters added.
Schaefer echoed the sentiment, citing merchandise, concessions and other avenues of revenue also helping sustain a venue.
“I would say that, to us, what matters is getting people through the door at the lowest cost,” she said.
And it seems like that business model resonates with fans.
“If a ticket is a few dollars cheaper than I expected, I will definitely be more likely to put that cash toward a concert T-Shirt, a new CD or stickers,” Masters said.
Adding to the frustration of fees are the technological boundaries. For many, slow Internet connection or just sheer bad luck means you might not be able to get the “good seats” no matter when you log on.
“I went to buy tickets for an Internet pre-sale at 10:30 for a Bon Iver show,” Celia Garrity said. “The website did not offer up the ticket purchasing page and it wouldn’t refresh until about 10:37.”
And by then, often times, they’re already gone.
What do you think of the current state of online ticket sales and Ticketmaster? Necessary evil or just plain evil? Let us know in the comments below . . .