“Greed…is good!”

Uh…no. Actually, it sucks. But some of the greedy people in the entertainment business are so clueless – and think we are so stupid – that they continue to gouge us and defend their actions with the worst logic since the single bullet theory.

In their latest effort to gain street cred, Ticketmaster launched a blog. Yes, you read that correctly. And of course, their first main topic was explaining how those gargantuan fees they collect are really complex (you know – too complex for stupid people like customers to understand) and it’s not really all their fault since other people participate in the money grabbing as well.

I have no problem believing that a corporation under fire would throw its business partners under the (tour) bus – that’s just consistent with their lack of accountability. But just how does that justify what’s going on? How is that supposed to make me feel better? I should feel better because I’m being fucked by multiple companies instead of one? Since when is gang rape a better option than rape?

I spent years working in the industry and remember when automated ticket processing began. I have no problem with the concept – the same seats available everywhere, instead of hard copy tickets where the first row can only be at one box office or outlet at a time. It gives anyone the opportunity to get the best seats – we’ll shelve the scalping and illegal handling practices for now – and a service like that should come at a price. But at a reasonable price.

Here’s an excerpt from their blog post:

But the reality of the live entertainment business is that service fees have become an extension of the ticket price.  Most of the parties in the live event value chain participate in these service fees either directly or indirectly – promoters, venues, teams, artists, and yes, ticketing companies – and service fee rebates are our largest annual expense at Ticketmaster.”

The simple logic is this – if there were no fees, no one would be participating in them.

The article is written as if these fees are necessary because this is where the participants make their money. If that’s true…what about the base cost of the ticket itself? The ticket price is what it is because all the expenses of a show have been built-in. At least that’s the way honest people used to do business.

The venue gets a rental fee. The artist gets a guarantee. The teams (unions, advertisers, staff, etc.) get paid. The promoter either gets a fee because he’s being hired to produce the show, or he bankrolls the show in return for a percentage of the profits. Way back when, not too many people were sharing the pie, but over time – and especially in the lucrative rock’n’roll business – people saw fistfuls of money passed around and wanted their share. So now, pretty much everybody negotiates a percentage along with the fee.

But that’s the cost of the show – the nut – and ticketing is supposed to be just another part of the plan, like advertising and catering. Hell, they’ve got a sweet deal compared to most since everyone needs a ticket. But when artists and promoters see all these “extra dollars” being generated as a byproduct of a show being put on, why wouldn’t they want their cut? The simple fact is there is no need for all those fees in the first place. When a $15 ticket could cost you $33, something is wrong with the system.

The only reason Ticketmaster gets away with it is their dominance in the market – you can’t work around them. Especially since the concert promotion and venue segments of the industry are also combined into dominant presences, and now they are all under one roof at Live Nation. They are not an altruistic organization looking to spread the arts to the far corners of the world. They are Wal-Mart. They are Exxon/Mobil.

Trust me, I could lay out dozens of ways that people in the industry rip each other off, from dummy companies and duplicate tickets to “VIP seating” and scalped comps. I had to learn every trick in the book to protect my own artists from getting screwed, and like most businesses with that much cash changing hands, there’s a thief on every corner. I don’t blame those involved in the industry trying to protect themselves and get their fair share.

And I know the industry is different now, and times have changed, and it’s all business. But some of these fees range from double dipping to outright highway robbery:

  • Why am I paying a percentage of the ticket fee to the artist, who already has a guarantee and a percentage of ticket sales?
  • Why am I paying a percentage to the promoter, who already has his deal?
  • Why on earth am I paying crews or unions or teams above and beyond their lucrative hourly rate and guarantees that they’re already charging to be there?
  • Just what is so convenient about paying a convenience charge, since I can’t get a ticket without one?
  • And the most ludicrous of all – why am I paying a home convenience fee to print out an electronic ticket using my ink and my paper and my labor? I’ve removed the overhead from the equation, yet I’m paying more? Where is my cut?

Ticketmaster just thinks the anger is the delay in declaring the final charges rather than the charges themselves. News flash, geniuses – it’s bothIrving Azoff’s solution is that pricing will be fixed from the beginning with no extra charges getting tacked on. Sounds like the fees are still there – just buried in the mix again.

The sad fact is the days of ten-dollar t-shirts and reasonable ticket prices and the ability to see dozens of shows a year has vanished forever. I pity the generations who have had to grow up with these obscene price structures. Maybe you’re as mad as hell, and you’re just not going to take it anymore.

But I do have a very simple solution if you are fed up with the monopoly.

Don’t go. Don’t pay.

There are thousands of great artists playing clubs and pubs at a fraction of the cost. Your door money might go to the band’s gas tank and breakfast tab. That guy selling the t-shirts isn’t some local union guy taking a 45% cut, he’s probably the road manager. You’re not subsidizing a Chinese Wall of bullshit with your wallet.

Here’s the link to the article in the LA Times that started my blood boiling.



Filed under Editorials, Film/TV, Music

5 responses to “Ticketbastard

  1. Another well-reasoned and well-deserved critique of the modern concert biz. Even the smaller club shows, if they feature national acts with any buzz at all, are getting too expensive.

    I posted a link to this on FB. Hopefully it’s bringing you some hits.

  2. Russ

    You’re right.

    Gone are the days.

    Before I’d even started getting into shows for free to write about them (another topic for you to discuss at a later date) I was regularly buying tickets to every show that came through town.

    Used to be you could afford to do that.

    Also used to be you’d go to a show to hear the music.

    Now it seems people go to see how many costume changes a performer (costume changes? Lady Gaga apparently wears damn little at all!) I really don’t care how big a show the Stones carry around with them, nor do I need to see a blow up doll ( though that original blow up doll from 1975 was pretty amusing) or any of the other movies, 18 screens or other diversions that detract from, not enhance, the live musical experience – and add to the cost of the ticket price cause those 35 eighteen-wheelers cost a fair penny to operate as they haul all that stuff ’round the country.

    Jeez. Now you’ve got me mad as hell.

    Back to the bars with the hard-working three set a night crowd.

  3. doc

    I question two of your premises.

    1. $33 per ticket is too much.

    On the average price of concert tickets, an December 27, 2010 article published at pollstar.com, apparently citing figures by that company, which calls itself “the only trade publication covering the worldwide concert industry,” reads:

    Concert ticket prices had climbed steadily until recently, beginning in the 1990s when promoters began moving from one-price-fits-all ticketing to a tiered model that charges much higher prices for seats close to the stage.

    North American concert ticket prices rose from an average $26 in 1996 to a peak of $67 in 2008, an increase four times faster than inflation. That doesn’t include ticket fees for everything from “order processing” to “convenience,” which can tack on $10 or more.

    In 2009, ticket prices came down by about a buck, as managers braced for the worst of the recession. Fans responded by buying 12 percent more tickets than in 2008. Promoters figured fans were coming back for more in 2010 and raised prices. It backfired.

    That’s when the promoters had to offer deep discounts to fill seats. The average ticket cost a little less than $61 in the first half of 2010. Second-half numbers are expected to show a drop, too, because the discounts have continued.

    2. “Everybody needs tickets.”

    People need clean air and water, nutritious food, love, hope, opportunities to live, grow, and prosper, etc.

    Nobody “needs” to see Lady Gaga strutting through a fountain of strobe lights in a fanciful space suit.

  4. doc

    I meant a laser lights, not strobe.

  5. drbristol

    I think you have missed the mark on both premises, the second of which is actually a fact. Obviously I meant that you *need* a ticket to enter a concert facility where admission is being charged. I assume you just leveraged that for the Lady Gaga remark and if so, well played.

    The first, however, is a misinterpretation, but I don’t see how your response counters my point anyway. Besides not quoting me acurately (“When a $15 ticket could cost you $33, something is wrong with the system.”) you do nothing to defray the cost of the fees but are instead focused on the cost of ticket prices, and your quoted source is clear that the numbers *don’t* include the fees (which they conveniently – no pun internded – forgot to discuss).

    Consider a 12,000 seat facilty where the “fees” are $20 per ticket – that’s almost a quarter million dollars in ticket processing fees! If Ticketbastard makes that kind of money in a world where they monopolize the business, imagine the extent of highway robbery going on. And if the insinuation is that they secretly kick back some of that to the promoters, then they are engaging in grand theft, as the fees are outside the scope of the “nut” – the gross (or net less sales tax) proceeds that artists and promoters use as a basis for financial numeration. So if you do still question that premise, I will defer to years of practical industry experience as my source of information.

    By the way, Pollstar is far from the only source of industry news, and tiered pricing was prevalent in the early 70s, two decades earlier. Sadly, I was there.

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