Jun 23, 2009
Posted by: Hitsville

How to get screwed in business without really trying

Jon Landau, Bruce Springsteen’s manager, posted a missive yesterday responding to a contention that Springsteen’s organization had held back 95 percent of the good seats at a concert in New Jersey. The allegation was in this story in the NJ Star-Ledger.

You can read the story and Landau’s response and judge for yourself whether there’s a contradiction or not. After acknowledging that Springsteen, like every artist, holds back tickets for friends and family of an enormous touring operation, Landau seems to deny the story’s main contention:

The 2,000 to 3,500 tickets closest to the stage are on the floor and more than 95% of them go to the public, making the basic premise of the Star Ledger headline [“Springsteen withheld best tickets from the public at NJ concert, records show”] inaccurate. Secondly, with regard to seats held in the best sections on either side, we always blend guest seats with fan seats so that there are never any sections consisting entirely of guest seats.

I think there are some interesting things about the Star-Ledger story.

1) In my experience, Landau’s explanation rings true; comp tickets aren’t often or largely directly in front of the stage. There’s of course always a triple-A guest list, but the idea that some 90 percent of the best seats at a show at a Bruce Springsteen concert were turned over to VIPs doesn’t seem likely. In arenas, comp seats tend to be in the side areas closest to the stage; the Star-Ledger story seems to fudge this distinction.

2) The idea that 90 percent of the best seats at a show of a shittier, greedier artist might go to VIPs or to artist-scalped fans is, however, entirely plausible.

3) Note that the Star-Ledger didn’t do the story about a shittier, greedier artist. The one who gets targeted is the only top-tier figure who has dared to speak out against Ticketmaster and Live Nation.

4) Left unsaid is this very real distinction: It’s the artist’s show. Barring holding the tickets back for secret scalping, artists are welcome to keep all the seats back they want. It’s their show, and the money is coming out of their pocket. The issue is when parasitical organizations like Ticketmaster or Live Nation are doing the under-the-table shenanigans.

The story gets junkier from there, including this part:

And, ticket brokers say, [the Springsteen ticket holds] helped drive up prices on the secondary market. Although tickets sold for $95 and $65 in the initial sale, some tickets were selling for hundreds of dollars more on the secondary market.

“Simple economics 101 would tell you that any time you restrict supply the price will be much greater,” said Robb Kenison, a ticket broker from the Washington, D.C., area. “I would not be surprised if a seat in 109, 110, 120 or 121 was double if not triple what it would have been had they sold even 50 percent of the seats in the sections.”

Quoting a scalper complaining about high ticket prices is like quoting a car thief about high car-insurance prices.

Back in the 1990s, when Pearl Jam got drawn into its battle with Ticketmaster, the band, too, became the focus of similar criticism and second-guessing—much of it, as here, from news outlets that never bothered to write about the much-more-outrageous behavior of Ticketmaster before.

Feb 26, 2009
Posted by: Hitsville

Postscript to the hearings: Where the money goes

Live blogging today, this transpired:

[Rep.] Sherman hones in on [Live Nation’s] Rapino on ticketing fees, finally, making him explain where the fees go. “So when I think I’m paying Azoff [metonymy for Ticketmaster’s service charges], I’m paying you?” he asks. “You’re also paying the venue and the artist,” Rapino replies.

It has long been an irritant to me that most people writing about Ticketmaster don’t say where the fees go. Now there’s no excuse. The head of LN and TM have testified before Congress saying that Ticketmaster service fees are kicked back to the venues and artists.

Two issues. One, I should have made clear I was talking about the mainstream press and the music magazines; industry operations like Billboard of course take it as a given.

Secondly, another interesting aspect of this is which artists get the money. Readers know Hitsville never tires of citing a 15-year-old Billboard story in which Aerosmith manager Jack Douglas tells about going to Ticketmaster to lower fees for the band’s tour …

“[Ticketmaster Chief Ned Rosen] said, ‘I’ll tell you what I’ll do. Let’s raise the service charge a dollar, and I’ll split it with you.’…I’m going to sell, literally, 2 million tickets through the Ticketmaster system this year….Here he was at this meeting, trying to fuck fans out of another dollar!”

… which tells you that not every artist is lining up at that trough. Last week, for example, I said that it was hard to believe Bruce Springsteen wasn’t getting part of the $43 in fees accompanying the purchase of a pair of tickets to his upcoming tour. My understanding now is that that was a cheap shot, and that Springsteen doesn’t participate in Ticketmaster kickbacks.

That, in turn brings up the issue of where that money goes. If Springsteen had demanded a cut, would it have jacked the fees up even further? Or is he, in effect, just letting Ticketmaster or a promoter like Live Nation just pocket what could have been his cut?

Like so much of the money involved in this sleazy ongoing story, the amounts involved are mind-boggling.  Springsteen has about fifty dates scheduled right now. Say the average venue is 20,000.

In other words, Ticketmaster, the venues and his promoters will be skimming some $20 million in ticket fees alone off the back of his tour.

Feb 23, 2009
Posted by: Hitsville

UPDATED: Ticketmaster caves in NJ!

Ticketmaster has settled with the New Jersey Attorney General’s office after the Great Bruce Springsteen Reselling Ticket Imbroglio of 2009. Here’s what the complaining people get:

The settlement creates a random drawing for 1,000 consumers who filed complaints against Ticketmaster with the Division of Consumer Affairs as of last Tuesday, February 17th, to purchase two tickets each to one of the two concerts scheduled for May 21st and May 23rd at the Izod Center.

In addition, those consumers who filed complaints but are not chosen in the random drawing for the opportunity to purchase tickets to the May concerts will be given a $100 Ticketmaster gift certificate and will be given the opportunity to purchase two tickets to a future Springsteen concert in New Jersey prior to a general ticket sale.

It doesn’t say what sort of tix the folks are getting. The show seems to be sold out, though, so one would assume the company has had to cough up some of the decent seats it was holding back and presumably was going to scalp.

More importantly, the company is paying the state $350,000 and has agreed to limitations on how it links to its scalping operation for at least a year. The release (reprinted below) says that it will have to get the AG’s office’s permission before it does it.

It’s pretty clear that the NJ AG didn’t have the heart to address the real issue, which is Live Nation’s owning a resale operation in the first place.  Jay Hancock, of the Baltimore Sun, has his own complaint, stemming from the link restrictions:

[T]he link ban applies to only one kind of page on the Ticketmaster site, the “no tickets found,” page that comes up after you search in vain. Sounds like there is plenty of room for other links from Ticketmaster to TicketsNow, and people are still going to be confused.

The link, I notice, is already gone from the page to the Springsteen show that caused all the problems.*

The complete release:

Attorney General Announces Settlement with Ticketmaster on Sale of Springsteen Tickets
Tickets will be made available for thousands of consumers shut out by Ticketmaster and steered to a more expensive ticket re-sale website

 

Attorney General Anne Milgram announced today a settlement with Ticketmaster to resolve more than two thousand complaints filed by consumers with the State Division of Consumer Affairs this month in connection with the sale of tickets to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concerts scheduled for May at the Izod Center in the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The agreement also mandates reforms to Ticketmaster’s business practices.

The settlement creates a random drawing for 1,000 consumers who filed complaints against Ticketmaster with the Division of Consumer Affairs as of last Tuesday, February 17th, to purchase two tickets each to one of the two concerts scheduled for May 21st and May 23rd at the Izod Center.

In addition, those consumers who filed complaints but are not chosen in the random drawing for the opportunity to purchase tickets to the May concerts will be given a $100 Ticketmaster gift certificate and will be given the opportunity to purchase two tickets to a future Springsteen concert in New Jersey prior to a general ticket sale.

For those consumers identified by the state and Ticketmaster whose credit cards were charged for ticket purchases but the transactions were never completed because of technical problems, Ticketmaster agreed to complete the transaction and provide consumers with the tickets.

For those consumers identified by the state and Ticketmaster who within the first five hours that tickets went on sale went from the “No Tickets Found” page of Ticketmaster’s primary website to Ticketmaster’s wholly-owned subsidiary TicketsNow.Com and purchased tickets at a higher price, Ticketmaster agreed to refund the difference between the purchase price and the face value of the tickets.

The settlement, known formally as an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, places a wall between Ticketmaster and its ticket re-selling subsidiary TicketsNow.com for at least a year for all shows and entertainment events Ticketmaster handles. After the conclusion of the year, Ticketmaster will need prior approval from the Attorney General for any links between its “No Tickets Found” Internet page to its TicketsNow re-sale website.

Ticketmaster agreed not to engage in paid Internet search advertising that would lead consumers searching for “Ticketmaster” on Internet search engines to its TicketsNow re-sale site. In addition, Ticketmaster confirmed and agreed that all tickets it receives for sale to the general public will be sold on its primary market website. Ticketmaster also agreed not to allow the sale or offer of sale of any tickets on the TicketsNow.com re-selling website until the initial sale begins on its primary website.

“This settlement swiftly and fairly resolves a significant issue for thousands of loyal Springsteen fans in the Garden State who believe that Ticketmaster tilted the playing field against their efforts to purchase tickets to the May concerts,’’ Attorney General Milgram said. “Everyone deserves an equal chance to buy tickets on a primary ticket selling website and shouldn’t be steered to a re-selling website where the prices can be substantially higher.”

“Because of the excellent cooperation of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, the agreement will make tickets available for many of those who filed complaints with the Division of Consumer Affairs as of last week,” Milgram added. “I also want to thank Bruce Springsteen and his management in our efforts to hammer out this agreement. He was as outraged as anyone over the circumstances surrounding the sale of tickets to his concerts.”

“Significantly, Ticketmaster has agreed to change its business practices and not allow any link from its No Tickets Found Internet page to re-sale Internet sites for at least one year, and after that any proposed linkage will not be permitted unless approved by my office,” she said.

Dennis Robinson, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, said, “On behalf of our Chairman, Commissioners and staff whose dedication to customer service have made the IZOD Center one of the world’s most successful concert venues, we deeply appreciate the Attorney General’s commitment to bringing about a solution to the issue which occurred with these ticket sales.’’

The 2,000 tickets – 1,000 tickets for each show – are being made available for purchase through the random drawing by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. All Ticketmaster fees and service charges will be waived.

An investigation by the Attorney General and the Division of Consumer Affairs into Ticketmaster’s sales practices began with the immediate uproar over the sale of Springsteen tickets when they were made available for sale on Feb. 2. The Division of Consumer Affairs created a link on its website to receive complaints. As of Tuesday, Feb. 17, approximately 2,200 complaints were filed concerning the Springsteen concerts. Complaints filed by 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 17, will be covered by the agreement.

Consumers complained that sales were blocked on the Ticketmaster website and they were re-directed to the ticket re-selling website called TicketsNow.com where tickets were available at substantially higher prices.

The state receives a settlement of $350,000 to cover investigative, attorney and administrative fees and to support New Jersey consumer protection initiatives.

# # #

 

* If you’re keeping a list of irritating things Ticketmaster does, there’s this communication on that page:

Tickets Not Available
Tickets are currently not available online for one of the following reasons. Please check back for availability.

  • Tickets may not be on sale yet
  • Tickets may not be available at this time. More tickets may become available later
  • Tickets may not be available online just hours before an event occurs
  • On rare occasions, tickets may only be available at ticket outlets or the box office

Can’t they just say which applies to that show? And in this case, can’t they just say the show is sold out?

Feb 04, 2009
Posted by: Hitsville

Greg Kot: The E Street Band wasn’t playing live!

An amazing posting from Kot’s blog on the Chicago Tribune site:

“The Super Bowl performances are all on tape,” said Hank Neuberger, a Grammy winning producer who is supervisor of the broadcast audio for the Grammy Awards telecast. Minor is music director of the Grammys in addition to his duties as producer of the pre-game entertainment at the Super Bowl.

Neuberger said not only Hudson and Hill recorded their performances in advance, but so did halftime performers Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Only Springsteen’s vocals were live, he said.

Link via the Daily Swarm. Note that Neuberger isn’t analyzing from the sidelines—he’s the producer of the show.

Kot goes on to quote him:

    “It’s not fraudulent, it’s the opposite of fraud,” Neuberger said. “It’s not like Milli Vanilli,” referring to the pop duo who won a best-new-artist Grammy that was later rescinded after it was revealed that they didn’t actually sing on their debut album. “This was a case where Jennifer Hudson is the singer, and it was a case of the artist giving the audience her best under adverse conditions.”

I know Neuberger, who is a serious guy. But the issue isn’t fraud, it’s deception. There’s nothing wrong with lip-syncing; it’s not telling people that’s cheesy.

It’s no big deal that Hudson was singing to a backing track, but it’s humiliating that Max Weinberg was miming playing the drums before 100 million people. And note that in all the time the NYT’s Jon Pareles spent watching Springsteen rehearse with the E Street Band in order to write a big ol’ Sunday Times piece promoting the Super Bowl appearance, no one bothered to tell him the band was practicing faking it!

Neuberger also says this:

    “There is no way you can set up a full band in five minutes with microphones, get all the settings right, and expect to get quality sound,” Neuberger said. “The Super Bowl has been doing that for years with virtually all the bands.”

Even Prince?!?

Feb 04, 2009
Posted by: Hitsville

Springsteen and Landau bash Ticketmaster and Live Nation!

Well this is a fine pickle. Bruce Springsteen and his rarely-heard-from manager, Jon Landau, have posted a letter condemning Ticketmaster after the company tried redirecting fans trying to buy tickets to Springsteen’s upcoming tour on the web to Ticketmaster’s reselling site, Tickets Now.

Here’s part of the note posted on Brucespringsteen.net:

Last Monday, we were informed that Ticketmaster was redirecting your log-in requests for tickets at face value, to their secondary site TicketsNow, which specializes in up-selling tickets at above face value. They did this even when other seats remained available at face value. We condemn this practice.

We perceive this as a pure conflict of interest. Ticketmaster is there to ensure that we have a good, fair sale of our tickets at their face value plus normal ticketing charges. TicketsNow is supposed to be a secondary site where people who already have tickets may exchange, trade, and, unfortunately, speculate with them. We have asked this redirection from Ticketmaster to TicketsNow cease and desist immediately and Ticketmaster has agreed to do so in the future and has removed its unwanted material from their and our site.

Hitsville is noticing that it is difficult to type and pat myself on the back at the same time. This is exactly the type of sleaziness I suggested was in the works as companies like Ticketmaster get creative in wringing as much money as possible out of the reselling game.

Think about it: The company’s taking a 22 percent skim on selling regular tickets—yet it’s still trying to get people over to TicketsNow. It’s probably making more there!

It’s pure kismet that such a trenchant example of this happened so soon after the announcement of a possible merger of Ticketmaster and Live Nation.

Indeed, Springsteen & Co. are looking at that with a jaundiced eye as well:

A final point for now: the one thing that would make the current ticket situation even worse for the fan than it is now would be Ticketmaster and Live Nation coming up with a single system, thereby returning us to a near monopoly situation in music ticketing. Several newspapers are reporting on this story right now. If you, like us, oppose that idea, you should make it known to your representatives.

It’s nice that Springsteen has broken the code of silence that generally holds when it comes to Ticketmaster, particularly since the entire artistic community took a pass when Pearl Jam stood up to it back in the 1990s.

That said, you have to laugh when you read his note closely: “Ticketmaster is there to ensure that we have a good, fair sale of our tickets at their face value plus normal ticketing charges.” Those “normal ticketing charges,” as I detailed in the previous post, are actually insanely high—nearly $50 on a pair of tickets to his current tour.

And secondly, it’s hard to believe that the Springsteen tour isn’t getting a cut of that take.

I can’t wait to hear what Irving Azoff has to say about all this!*

p.s. One other little bit of Springsteen news: His new album, Working on a Dream, debuted at number one this week with 224,000 sold, according to Billboard. That’s not much. Now, to be fair, the full impact of Springsteen’s appearance at the Super Bowl last Sunday might not be being felt yet saleswise; still, Billboard notes, it’s a full 33 percent less than the sales of his previous CD, Magic, released less than 18 months ago. Fans have apparently not yet gotten the word from Rolling Stone that it’s a five-star masterpiece.

* Update! Azoff backs down, apologizing abjectly, Billboard reports:

“While we were genuinely trying to do the right thing for fans in providing more choices when the tickets they requested from the primary on-sale were not available, we clearly missed the mark,” Azoff says in the response.

“Fans are confused and angry, which is the opposite of what we hoped to accomplish. We sincerely apologize to Bruce, his organization and, above all, his fans.”
[…]

“We recognize that we need to change our course,” Azoff continues. “We have committed to Bruce and state publicly here that we have taken down all links for Bruce’s shows directing fans from Ticketmaster to TicketsNow. This redirection only occurred as a choice when we could not satisfy fans’ specific search request for primary ticket inventory, but to make sure there is no misunderstanding in the future, we also publicly state that we will never again link to TicketsNow in a manner that can possibly create any confusion during a high-demand on-sale. Specifically, we will not present an option to go to TicketsNow from Ticketmaster without the consent of the artist and the venue, both of whom work together to bring the joy of live entertainment to millions of fans.”

Notes reporter Ray Waddell:

Saying that fans won’t be linked to TicketsNow as before is not an insignificant move, as Ticketmaster has positioned TicketsNow to compete with the dominant players in the secondary market.

————

Previously in Hitsville:

P.S. on Ticketmaster: A case study, starring Bruce Springsteen
Why the potential Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger is a very bad idea

Is Ticketmaster trying to muddle the fees issue?

The Azoff-Ticketmaster deal: Bad news for concert-goers—and the music industry
Why you so seldom read about obscene Ticketmaster-style ticketing charges