It used to be that the best fans got the best concert tickets. Diehards happily camped out overnight for front-row seats, the better to launch their panties at Steven Tyler's head. And as ticket brokers increasingly jeopardized their chances for primo seats, the diehards at least still had Ticketmaster.
Diehards, you can go home now. Ticketmaster recently announced a new policy whereby the best concert seats will be auctioned online to the highest bidders. The company says the policy, already in effect for some shows, comes in response to rampant scalping by brokers and rampant buying on eBay. Unlike those two sources, Ticketmaster will ensure that a percentage of the inflated prices goes to the artist, venue, and promoter -- those who actually create the product. In the mind of Ticketmaster, everyone's a winner.
Everyone, of course, except concertgoers. Now the seats once reserved for the best fans in the house will simply go to the wealthiest ones. Ticketmaster says it's putting the kibosh on scalping, but it's really just moving it in-house.
On the other hand, brokers aren't likely to be affected at all, since most obtain their tickets directly through deals with promoters. One local broker reports that a national promoter of the Kiss/Aerosmith tour gave him access to 350 tickets for each date. This means that at least 350 of the best tickets were unavailable to the face-value-paying public from day one. Where diehards already faced a sucker bet, now Ticketmaster's running the casino.
"I think it'll upset and hurt the average joe more than it will hurt me. Now no one has any shot of getting anything," says Merv, a Cleveland ticket broker whose name is not really Merv. (Roughly 20 percent of his tickets are provided by Ticketmaster, so Merv he will remain.) "Look what the average person has to go through to get a ticket now. Before this, even though a lot of brokers do buy up the good seats, the average person still had a shot. Now you don't. You're guaranteed nothing but high rollers in all the premium seats."
Of course, big-time tours are the ones most likely to prosper from bidding situations. So while Ticketmaster trumpets the cause of returning dollars to the artists, the only ones who'll see any of it are Mick, Madonna, and Bruce. Dave Matthews needs a couple extra for what again? A mink toupee?
Ticketmaster is quick to point out that bands and promoters will determine whether tickets get auctioned.
"The decision to do it is the promoter's," says a spokesman for Ticketmaster. "If they want to do it, they do it; if they don't want to do it, they don't do it -- it's totally their call."
Top promoters like House of Blues (which books Scene Pavilion and Blossom shows) and Clear Channel (the Odeon, Tower City Amphitheater) aren't likely to object to Ticketmaster's proposal: They can still make a bundle selling the best tickets to brokers, then auction off the best of the rest for even fatter profits. (The Cleveland office of House of Blues referred inquiries to its corporate office, which did not return calls seeking comment. Clear Channel representatives could not be reached for comment.)
Ticketmaster plays up the fact that bidding could go both ways: While prices are likely to rise for the best shows and the best seats, they could just as well drop for concerts with less demand than anticipated. In other words: Take heart, concertgoers; prices should remain stable for shows no one wants to see.
Not that Ticketmaster would suffer either way. A ticket to see Norwegian rockers Turbonegro costs $15 at the Agora box office. Buy through Ticketmaster, and you'll pay an additional $5.50 convenience fee, plus $3.55 more for processing. The total: $24.05 for a single ticket -- a 60 percent markup on the original cost. And that's without having to bid for your chance to own a ticket. Only shrewd bean-counters like the ones at Ticketmaster could see room to improve on those margins.
"It's just kind of a shame and a sign of the times," Merv sighs. "My industry has a lot to do with it, but at the same time, Ticketmaster is just greedy. Like we are. Greed took over."