The Ticketmaster Conundrum

Everyone hates Ticketmaster.  They overcharge for what amounts to a pretty useless service in this day and age.  Yet, somehow, the behemoth won’t go away.  Consumers hate them, consumers tolerate them, but do consumers secretly need them?

On June 3, employees of the iconic alt-rock band the Pixies gathered outside the Troxy theater in London for an experiment. Armed with five iPhones and customized barcode-scanning software, they spent two hours selling admission to nearly 3,000 fans who had learned of a surprise concert through word of mouth or email. The Pixies created the system with Topspin Media, a company that helps artists like Eminem, Metric, and OK Go market their music and wares directly to fans. “There was no surcharge, no booking fee,” says Richard Jones, the Pixies’ manager. “Thirty pounds is thirty pounds.”

Almost anyone who goes to concerts understands why this is significant. No service charge. Zero. The Pixies and Topspin had sidestepped the seemingly inevitable fees tacked onto any ticket. They had, in other words, sidestepped Ticketmaster, the juggernaut that sells more than 130 million tickets a year for everything from Lady Gaga shows to monster-truck rallies.

Started as an experiment, Ticketmaster has since developed a near lock on the multibillion-dollar ticketing industry. And the company is only getting bigger. Last winter it merged with Live Nation, the largest concert promoter in the country, which means that in effect Ticketmaster now also controls access to acts like U2 and Jay-Z and owns many of the amphitheaters in the US, including the Irvine Meadows/Verizon Amphitheater in California and the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, New York.

Among fans and artists, of course, Ticketmaster is widely despised. It extracts high service fees (known commonly as “those goddamned Ticketmaster service fees”) but has offered very little innovation in ticketing over the past 30 years. The Pixies, for example, added thousands of names, complete with contact info, to their marketing database thanks to the Troxy gig—something they can’t generally get when they sell tickets through Ticketmaster. And now, in the wake of the Live Nation merger, many in the concert industry are worried that Ticketmaster might be more interested in promoting its own artists and venues than in selling tickets for rival acts.

Fascinating history for one of the worst companies to exist — fuck them for charging me $3.50 to print out my own tickets — and a look at potential alternatives.  It’s been a good five years since I’ve dealt with Ticketmaster, which is one of the benefits of living in Portland, Ore.

Anyway, the one detail from the piece that stands out is this: “In 2008, Ticketmaster had made veteran industry shark Irving Azoff—a man so cutthroat (and so short) he is known as the Poison Dwarf—its CEO”  Are you kidding me?  The guy in charge of Ticketmaster is known as the poison dwarf?!?  That’s fucking priceless.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ticket Tailor November 9, 2010, 5:13 am

    Ticketing agencies force their fees on the customers and it's often beyond the promoters control. When buying a book or an MP3 I don't expect to pay extra fees just for the privelege of buying it but with ticketing, that's the way it always has been and that's the way it still is.

    There is no doubt there are costs involved when booking tickets but this old fashioned model need no longer apply.

    We decided to take this issue into our hands and started – a hosted ticketing system that allows promoters or artists to set and keep any booking fees. There are no per-ticket charges, just a monthly fee.

    The Brickhouse on Brick Lane, London have been trialling the system for two months now and say "We recently started using Ticket Tailor and it works really well. This is mainly down to the fact that you can keep the booking fee and are in total control of selling tickets, particularly useful if you put on multiple events week in, week out."

    • jamesfurbush November 9, 2010, 6:38 am

      Thanks for the heads up. It's nice to see that there are alternatives out there, just wish they were more available or on the same level as ticketmaster.