Do you hate Ticketmaster convenience fees? If you don't, it's because you've never been to a concert. The various fees tacked onto admission prices by the global ticketing behemoth can add a pretty penny in a hurry to the face value of a chance to see and hear our musical heroes, and they're one of the biggest inconveniences associated with live music today. The fees are nothing new, either -- fans and artists alike have been complaining about the practice for decades.
Few have ever gone to such extreme lengths to try to eliminate service fees as Pearl Jam did 18 years ago this week. The Seattle-based grunge icons took a stand against Ticketmaster in 1994, filing a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department over the company's abusive service fee practices and growing monopoly over ticketing distribution.
They flat refused to sell tickets through Ticketmaster unless the fees were ditched. At the time, Pearl Jam was the biggest rock band in the world -- there was no hotter ticket in live music. If any artists could force Ticketmaster to change its business model, it would be them.
Long story short, they couldn't.
Because Ticketmaster had (and still has) exclusive agreements with most of the major arenas and stadiums across the U.S., Pearl Jam found themselves with no venues to play that could provide the sound and seating that their massive fan base required. Ticketmaster pressured promoters not to work with them.
Cut off from the established rock circuit, the group wound up playing places that were not designed to handle large-scale rock concerts. The band decided to cancel their '94 tour, pissing off a lot of people in the process. Ticketmaster's already poor reputation took a beating from fans.
Despite an antitrust investigation, Ticketmaster never had charges brought up against it by the Justice Department or by Congress. Pearl Jam did its best to book shows at venues with no exclusivity agreement with Ticketmaster, but the ticketing giant was inescapable in the end.
By the turn of the century, Pearl Jam had glumly slunk back into the fold, licking their wounds. The hassle of fighting a losing battle simply wasn't worth it anymore.
Although Ticketmaster's power in the live-events industry seemed all-encompassing back in 1994, a lot has changed in the past 18 years. Or has it? Ticketmaster is still the dominant force in concert ticket sales, but the industry's landscape has changed.
To illustrate our point, here are the five biggest changes that Ticketmaster has had to cope with since Pearl Jam waged holy war on them nearly 20 years ago.
5. The Internet Arrives: Duh. Back in '94, most ticket buyers were still experimenting with 14.4K dial-up modems, chatting about Pearl Jam and Snoop Doggy Dogg on Prodigy and AOL. That's assuming they even owned a computer at all.
If you wanted good seats to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the Woodlands Pavilion, you had to wake up extra early and stand in line at your nearest Ticketmaster outlet before it opened. If the Ticketmaster in Tomball opened up ten minutes earlier than the location you were at, tough shit -- the best seats were gone before you even had a chance.
The Internet changed that overnight. All of a sudden, you could buy tickets the minute they went on sale from the comfort of your own kitchen computer nook. Ticketmaster took the new technology quickly. Before long, they were charging a new fee for the privilege of printing out your own tickets.
People were actually happy to pay this little convenience charge if it meant they no longer had to line up at Fiesta at 6 a.m. That happiness lasted about five minutes -- less time than it takes to suffer through "Yellow Ledbetter" one more time.
4. The Secondary Market Explodes: One major change in ticket sales that the Internet made possible was a newfound ease with which buyers could resell their tickets. Instead of standing out in front of a venue hawking their unwanted tickets, buyers could now log on to sites like the eBay-owned StubHub and offer them up to thousands of music fans. Suddenly, anybody could become a scalper.
This development seemed good for consumers at first. Soon, though, the system began to be exploited by scalpers using online bots to snatch up reams of primo seats as soon as tickets went on sale. In order to combat StubHub and others, Ticketmaster set up its own secondary marketplaces, including the Web site TicketsNow.com.
In 2009, Ticketmaster hatred took a new turn when more than 2,000 fans complained that their initial attempts to buy tickets online to a Feb. 2 Bruce Springsteen concert in New Jersey simply redirected them to TicketsNow, which offered the tickets at an inflated price. This was some seriously shady shit.
Ticketmaster claimed the issue was due to a software glitch, but widespread backlash forced the company to change the way it handled secondary ticket sales. It's a problem that the ticketing giant is still searching for a solution to in its quest for absolute control.
3. The Incredible Paperless Tickets: One way that Ticketmaster has tried to eliminate its secondary-market problems is its introduction of paperless tickets. Rather than physical, paper stubs that can be resold or given away to anybody, paperless tickets only exist in a database somewhere. Ticket buyers must present their ID or credit card to gain entry. Much like a plane ticket, these paperless concert tickets are nontransferable.
Ticketmaster and other paperless ticket proponents say that the system works to cut down on scalping and counterfeiting. StubHub and other resellers say it limits competition, consumer choice and welfare in the marketplace. With legislation proposed by both sides all over the country, it's a fight that's far from over.
2. Actual, You Know, Competition: StubHub isn't the only company looking to take a bite out of Ticketmaster's bottom line. In 2007, Live Nation decided that his promotion company owned so many important music venues that it should sell tickets itself. That put the powerful Live Nation in direct competition with Ticketmaster. Weeks after Live Nation rolled out its new ticket-selling Web site, the companies announced their merger. Problem solved! Obviously, Ticketmaster had no interest in risking its market share.
Still, more competition exists today for Ticketmaster than at any time in the past 20 years. Competitors include Veritix, which is utilized by the Rockets; New Era Tickets, Tickets.com and now, A.E.G., the major concert promoter that owns major arenas like the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the O2 in London. A.E.G. got into the ticketing biz last year in order to confront Ticketmaster head-on, and it'll be interesting to see where this battle is headed in the near future.
1. Declining Ticket Sales: Thanks to social media, we're bombarded these days with invites and advertisements related to upcoming concerts from venues all over town. Awareness of impending tours and shows is at an all-time high. So why is concert attendance declining on a global scale? Since 2007, Live Nation's worldwide attendance has dropped 10.4 percent. How can that be?
A few reasons. First, there's that shitty-ass global economy that everybody's always bitching about. Then there's the bots and scalpers scooping up all the best seats, the $11 beers, parking costs and (of course) those inescapable convenience fees. Why bother to shell out that kind of money when you can watch the show's highlights on YouTube for free the next day?
Last year, Ticketmaster responded to the worrisome trend by lowering prices to many top tours. Moving forward, we may see a lot more of that. Or maybe we'll just start to see fewer tours rolling across the country. Whatever the solutions, it seems Ticketmaster may have to hustle a bit harder for those concert dollars now and in the future.
Here's a quick suggestion on how to do that, bros: The fucking convenience fees. Get. Rid of them!
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.