Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ticketmaster To Get Even Bigger?!? Not If New Jersey Has Anything To Do With It..

Does anyone remember what it used to be like to get tickets to a concert?  Did any of you ever camp out at the venue for the morning tickets went on sale?  Maybe it wasn't a concert, maybe it was for a sports event.  The World Series, Lakers vs. Celtics, the Super Bowl?  The bonding that would happen with fellow fans as you waited for that box office window sign to open.  Then scalpers started flooding the lines with people they would pay to wait in line to get the tickets.  So venues started the lottery system to try and fight that.  All of a sudden the internet exploded (thank you Mr. Gore) and Ticketmaster told you that there was no need for that.  You could now get in a virtual line and get your tickets for a nominal fee and not worry about those scaplers. There was a time when the "processing fee" was no more then $1.50 a ticket.  In the recent years we've been given "convenience fees",  "printing fees" and "handling fees". Then Ticketmaster uped the ante last year when they bought a ticket brokering site called TicketsNow.  Suddenly it was difficult to find face value tickets for any event on Ticketmaster. BUT, if you really wanted a ticket they were more than happy to provide a link to make the purchase through TicketsNow.  People who thought they were buying tickets with just the usual mark ups were being charged prices in the hundreds of dollars.  

Much of this came to light to me this past December when tickets went on sale for L.A. radio station KROQ's annual concert, Almost Acoustic Christmas.  People started flooding the Kevin and Bean morning show with phone calls about what was happening on the Ticketmaster site to voice their frustrations.  People were being re-directed to TicketsNow without them choosing that option.  Some people even said they got through the whole purchasing process only to find out that they were charged hundreds of dollars because the purchase was made through TicketsNow, not Ticketmaster.  The morning show gang felt their frustration and was even more frustrated because they believed that their hands were tied on being able to do anything...and now it may possibly get worse.

This past week word leaked out from the Wall St. Journal that Ticketmaster is looking to merge with Live Nation.  I, along with many, hoped that Live Nation would be a new player that could even the playing field against TM.  Instead of selling tickets through TM, they would only sell tickets for events happening at their venues on their site.  Instead of losing this percentage of business, TM decided to merge.  Anyone with common sense can see how this could be an antitrust issue.  If this goes through, TM would control virtually all ticket sales in the U.S. even more than they do now.  There might be a sign of relief though.  

This past Monday tickets went on sale for Bruce Springsteen's new tour.  Of course, the re-direct to TicketsNow happened mere minutes, if not seconds, after they went on sale.  The last thing you want to do is suddenly tell people in New Jersey that they are not going to be able to see The Boss play in his home town.  Well with the power of the internet (thank you Mr. Gore) people began voicing their outrage.  And then Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrel of New Jersey sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission this past week stating:  "...the speed with which tickets were made available on Ticketmaster's official resale affiliate site raises questions about whether TicketsNow brokers were given preferential treatment instead of competing on a level playing field with average consumers to purchase the tickets."
By stating this, he has brought to the forefront something that I, and many others, have suspected for a long time.  Most tickets are never even available for general purchase by the public because they have already been sold to re-sellers for higher mark up.  I began to suspect this when myself and some friends tried to buy tickets for U2's 'Vertigo' tour.  The night before they went on sale for the L.A. venue, I decided to Google tickets for U2 that had been sold for other cities.  Somehow certain re-selling sites already listed premium seats for the L.A. dates on sale at a higher price.  I even tried going as far as I could in the purchasing to see if it would at least tell me that those tickets were not available.  I got all the up to the point of paying. Needless to say, I didn't buy from there, and we had no luck in getting them through TM at a TM location.  Even the people who were selling them at Tower Records couldn't understand why they couldn't even get in the TM system.  When they were finally able to they announced that all dates were sold out.  

TM has stated that they don't have a monopoly and regrets it had software issues with the Springsteen sale.  Funny enough, since Bill Pascrel has sent off his letters, some people who have complained about the NJ ticket fiasco are now receiving tickets.  Even the head of of TM has called Bill to apologize and assure him that they do not have a monopoly.  They are going to even pull back, or completely stop linking to their other site TicketsNow.  According to his interview on the Kevin and Bean show, Mr. Pascrel then informed the head of TM that he appreciates the efforts they are taking but he is still asking for an inquest into their business.  Hey, it's just a convenience fee.    

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