Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped

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9781550229493: Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped

Ticket Masters chronicles the as-yet-untold story of the modern concert industry, revealing the origins, development and ongoing strategies of companies such as Ticketmaster, Live Nation and StubHub and the efforts of numerous independent competitors. With over 100 exclusive interviews along with many previously unreleased documents, this character-driven book explores the actions and impact of the iconoclasts guiding these companies while folding in related tales of scalping syndicates, old-school music promoters and would-be Internet tycoons along with the bawdy business decisions of such world-renowned groups as the Grateful Dead, Pearl Jam and the Rolling Stones.
 
Like no other previous book, Ticket Masters sheds light upon the complex relationships between artists, promoters, ticketing agents and the public. Whether it's Michael Cohl nabbing the Stones from Bill Graham, Ticketmaster's defeat of Pearl Jam or the silent efforts of music superstars to mark up their ticket prices for complicit websites, Budnick and Baron examine the pivotal developments that have shaped the industry as we know it.
 
Yet, Ticket Masters is also a personal story for the millions who purchase tickets, as it addresses the often-asked (but unanswered) questions: How and why do concerts sell out so fast? Why do service fees vary on tickets to the same event? Why isn't Ticketmaster considered an illegal monopoly? Is it worth joining a band's fan club to qualify for a pre-sale? How do ticket broker websites like StubHub get all their tickets? And (deep breath), just how did ticket prices get so high, anyway?

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About the Author:

Dean Budnick, the executive editor of Relix magazine, is the founder of Jambands.com, the co-creator of the Jammy Awards and the director of the documentary film, Wetlands Preserved: The Story of an Activist Rock Club. He holds a Ph.D. from Harvard's History of American Civilization program and a J.D. from Columbia Law School. 
 

Josh Baron is the editor-in-chief of Relix magazine, a music-based publication where he has been on staff for more than a decade. Baron also contributes to a variety of media outlets including New York City-based radio station WFUV where he serves as a music reviewer. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

THE CHAIRMAN HAD SPOKEN

On the evening of August 3, 2010, Irving Azoff, whose role as chief executive officer of Ticketmaster had recently expanded following an industry altering merger that furnished the new title of Live Nation executive chairman, bypassed the company’s publicity firm to offer his first direct message to ticket buyers via the social networking service Twitter.

Azoff’s comments fell in the midst of what looked to be the most miserable U.S. summer concert season on record. Weak ticket sales had forced the cancellation of numerous high–profile performances, starting with a series of stadium shows by Azoff’s longtime management client the Eagles on a bill with country superstars the Dixie Chicks and Keith Urban. In the weeks that followed a number of “recession–proof” acts did the same, as the Jonas Brothers, Rihanna and Lilith Fair all canceled multiple dates. Limp Bizkit scrapped its U.S. amphitheater tour and Christina Aguilera soon followed suit, citing “prior commitments.” Even the annual American Idols Live! outing, which had blown out tickets in prior years, was forced to scale back its itinerary, dropping seven shows and rescheduling many others.

Entertainment reporters and Wall Street pundits alike took particular interest in the flagging amphitheater sales figures since most of these “sheds” were under the control of Live Nation. The summer of 2010 represented the first official go–round for the blended company after the government had approved the union of the world’s largest live event promoter, Live Nation, with the world’s largest ticketing agency, Ticketmaster (which had recently acquired the world’s largest artist management firm, Azoff’s Front Line).

The Department of Justice’s ruling had been preceded by nearly eleven months of inquiry and two congressional hearings. In February 2009, shortly after the corporations announced their intent to unite, Azoff had been summoned to Capitol Hill in a moment that echoed former Ticketmaster CEO Fred Rosen’s 1994 appearance before Congress in the wake of a public dustup with Pearl Jam. However, unlike the earlier inquiry, which in many respects resulted from the fight over a nickel, by 2009 billions of nickels were in play. As a result, both the House Subcommittee on Antitrust and the House Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy elected to weigh in on the matter.

Ultimately though, it fell to the Obama White House and his Department of Justice to determine whether to block the merger as an illegal restraint of trade. The federal government eventually granted its permission over the strident objections of opponents, who charged that the mega–company would raise prices and inhibit the development of new musical artists. By August 2010 a growing segment of the financial community began offering its own criticism, as initial optimism regarding the prospects of Live Nation Entertainment was falling in tandem with the rate of ticket sales.

Over the course of the summer the company had taken a series of increasingly desperate measures to draw audiences into its amphitheaters. Package deals that offered coupons for a free soda and a hot dog gave way to mid– June’s “No Services Fees” promotion, which proclaimed, “Your summer concert tickets at Live Nation amphitheaters now have No Service Fees” (even as an asterisk qualified, “Parking, shipping and other non ‘service fee’ costs may apply”).

In late July the company instituted a $10 ticket program, which dropped prices even lower, scrambling to achieve a short–term financial benefit that led some prior ticket holders to grouse about their decision to purchase seats during initial sales at much greater expense.

When the expected windfall wasn’t realized, Live Nation then outfitted employees with sandwich boards and paraded them through its venues, tickets in hand, hawking the cheap seats for future shows. Yet despite all of this, sales figures remained low as audiences were uncomfortable with the overall price structure of the concert experience.

In the face of these events, at 10:53 p.m. on August 3, Executive Chairman Azoff shared his sentiments with the public via the immediacy of Twitter.

“So if you want ticket prices to go down stop stealing music.”

Seemingly absolving his company of responsibility, Azoff placed the burden squarely on the overburdened shoulders of consumers. This wasn’t the first time he had conveyed such a message. A few weeks earlier, at Fortune magazine’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, he had shared similar thoughts about his customer base with the magazine’s managing editor: “If they could figure out a way to steal the tickets they would, just like they steal movies and music. But so far they haven’t figured out how to do that.”

The declining sales of recorded music held deep significance for Azoff, who in addition to running Front Line Management had previously headed both MCA and Giant Records. Still, few concertgoers appreciated his sentiment, flustered and frustrated as they were by parking costs, concession prices, $5 add–ons for the “luxury” of a short, ordered line into the venue, as well as the very price of tickets themselves, with their vexing array of fees. Consumers pointed, for instance, to Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball tour, in which a single $20 lawn ticket could cost nearly $50 after a “facility charge” ($12), “convenience charge” ($10.05), “order processing fee” ($5.20) and “TicketFast Delivery,” i.e., print–at–home ticketing ($2.50).

The sheer magnitude of it all had led one would–be concertgoer to profess in an online forum, with equal measures of humor and irritation, “Screw Live Nation, I’m grabbing these tix after the show.”

Other music fans were baffled by their attempts to ascertain the fundamentals of concert ticket pricing. What is included in a service fee, they wondered, and why does the cost of that service vary with the price of a ticket? Who profits from these extra charges? Why are tickets sold online with impunity for five times their face value? Aren’t there laws to protect consumers? Are musicians really scalping their best seats? And what’s up with these VIP packages? Where do they find those front row tickets, and who reaps the benefits? Just what is a facility fee, and if the public is paying for renovations of some sort, shouldn’t all the amphitheaters be recast in platinum by now? And just how did ticket prices get so high anyhow?

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