Ticketmaster is an evil monopoly that steals cash from defenseless consumers. They are infinitely more evil than their hated 30% surcharge would suggest, and they must be destroyed.
A Modern Monopoly
Did you know you aren’t Ticketmaster’s primary customer? Sure, you and your friends bought 141 million tickets last year, but Ticketmaster’s loyalty belongs to their true customers: venues and promoters. Ticketmaster secures its monopoly by goading them into multi-year agreements that empower Ticketmaster to act as their exclusive vendor. In exchange, Ticketmaster gives them money. Lots and lots of money. Several million dollars upfront, sometimes.
Ticketmaster doesn’t earn a cent from a ticket’s face value. It all goes straight back to the venue, promoter, and talent. To sweeten the deal, Ticketmaster also shares a slice of its exorbitant fees, giving venues and promoters an incentive to support Ticketmaster’s outrageous markups. “It’s not us!,” they can whimper. “It’s that damn TicketBastard!”
Ticketmaster’s 9,000+ exclusive agreements makes them the gatekeeper to 90% of the nation’s arenas and amphitheaters, 70% of our clubs and small theaters, and most of our basketball, hockey, and football games.
So What Am I Paying For?
- The Service Charge
This is Ticketmaster’s cash cow. The majority of their $1.2 billion in revenue comes from this all-encompassing charge. It appears on all tickets, and cannot be escaped.
- The Facility Charge
This is the venue’s cash cow. Sure, they also take a slice from the ticket’s face value, but they want more, dammit, and they get it here.
- The Processing Charge
Wait a minute… didn’t you pay a service charge? What’s the difference between processing and service? Right, there is none. Well, technically that’s not true. The service charge is refundable and the processing charge is not. Ticketmaster claims that the processing charge covers their expenses for taking your order and finding you seats. Sounds like service to us.
- The Convenience Charge
By far, the most annoying name for a fee. It’s the price you pay for printing out the tickets you bought, even after paying a service and processing fee.
All in all, the fees usually add up to 30% of the ticket price, sometimes even more for cheaper shows. And these are the fees that consumers pay. If you’re in a band, Ticketmaster demands 3.5% of your gross sales, plus an administrative fee to cover the cost of processing credit card fees, which you would think might fall under the aegis of a “processing fee.”
It’s supposedly an accomplishment that Ticketmaster is even willing to disclose its fees, but knowledge in this case leads to anger, not power. In any other instance, pricing transparency by itself is a good thing because it empowers consumers to compare prices and shop around. Ticketmaster’s exclusive agreements, however, undercut any potential price shopping.
Why Hasn’t Anyone Destroyed Ticketmaster?
Pearl Jam tried and failed. The band landed before Congress to publicly brand Ticketmaster as an evil monopoly.
The heart of their issue was ticket pricing, but Ticketmaster had a history of screwing Pearl Jam:
- For a Seattle concert, Ticketmaster agreed to donate $1 of their $3.25 service charge to charity. Right before the tickets were set to go on sale, Ticketmaster reneged and threatened not to sell the tickets unless they could boost the service fee by $1 to cover the cost of their “charitable” contribution. Ticketmaster ended up stiffing the charity.
- Ticketmaster then wanted to charge a $3.75 service fee on an $18 ticket. Pearl Jam forced them to list the charge separately, and it wasn’t until the band threatened to go to another venue that Ticketmaster acquiesced.
- When Pearl Jam tried to bypass Ticketmaster in Detroit by selling tickets through their fan club, the ticket giant threatened to sue the concert promoter for violating their exclusive agreement. Ticketmaster ended up disabling the promoter’s ticket machine.
- In New York, Ticketmaster threatened the Paramount Theater for violating their exclusive agreement after Pearl Jam told fans over the radio to visit the theater to buy tickets at the box office.
In their Congressional testimony, Pearl Jam said: “all of the members of Pearl Jam remember what it is like not to have a lot of money, and we recognize that a teenager’s perceived need to see his or her favorite band in concert can often be overwhelming.”
For the band’s 1994 tour at the height of their popularity, they tried to cap prices at $18 and limit surcharges to 10%. Ticketmaster refused and the tour was canceled.
How The !@#$ Is This Not A Monopoly?
We dunno, but President Clinton’s Justice Department thought Ticketmaster’s arrangements were a-ok. Pearl Jam retained the über-corporate lawyers at Sullivan and Cromwell to needle the Justice Department into investigating Ticketmaster for antitrust violations. After a brief investigation, the Justice Department ruled that people were only indirect buyers, and that Ticketmaster’s true customers were venues, since they were the ones consuming Ticketmaster’s services. The venues weighed in on Ticketmaster’s side and seemed to voluntarily hand over their business, so there was apparently no monopoly.
If Only They Weren’t So Evil
Ticketmaster might be less reviled if it wasn’t so frustratingly difficult for consumers to beat out resellers and other middlemen to buy tickets for themselves to popular events. Chicagoist’s failed attempt to get tickets to the American League Championship Series is all-too familiar:
A refresh of the page gives us a new scrambled word to fill in and then we’re thrown into a que. Wait time estimated at 15 minutes or more! WTF? We watch in anticipation for the number to get smaller and after a few minutes, it does. Now it says 11 minutes. A few minutes more, and it’s down to 7 minutes.
But wait! Now it says 14 minutes! What’s going on here? We think something fishy’s going on, so we open another browser window to see what those wait times do. It remains at 15 minutes. The first one keeps jumping from a short as 6 minutes all the way back to 15 minutes again. Not good
Finally, we seem to be getting close. Now this is about 25 minutes after Noon, but it’s finally at 4 minutes. Then 2 minutes, back to 4, then 2, now 1 and then…
We get some sort of warning because another Ticketmaster window is open! We close that window, but in the meantime the first window sends us back to the original event page to select quantity and level again. We’re shit out of luck! There will be no ALCS tickets for Chicagoist, all because Ticketmaster’s computer system isn’t built to handle exactly the type of transactions that are most critical to their business.
The same thing happened to us last year when we tried to buy playoff tickets for the Rangers. We were working computers, phones, anything with a hook into Ticketmaster, but we couldn’t connect to anyone. Within 10 minutes, all the available tickets were gone. Real fair.
Are There Any Viable Alternatives?
Cracks are finally starting to form in Ticketmaster’s money-encrusted shell, but the competition doesn’t inspire confidence. Everyone looks at Ticketmaster’s 30% surcharge and thinks how good all that undeserved cash would look in their pocket.
Live Nation, the largest U.S. promoter, is in the process of ditching Ticketmaster to build their own ticketing system, but only because they want to upsell junk and expensive packages while keeping the lucre for themselves.
Major League Baseball bought up a stake in Tickets.com, which will soon become their primary ticketing agent, but Tickets.com also levies a 30% service fee. MLB also ditched Ticketmaster for secondary ticket sales in favor of StubHub, which charges the buyer and seller a combined 25% fee.
TicketWeb was once an alternative for smaller shows, but they were gobbled up by Ticketmaster. Bandsintown is still around as an aggregator for small shows. While they don’t sell tickets directly, the site will point you to Ticketmaster alternatives, if any are available.
You can also try using Brown Paper Tickets, which bills itself as “Fair Trade ticketing,” but it can be difficult to find a participating venue.
Oh Come On, There Has To Be Some Viable Alternative
For the committed, there is really only one true alternative: abandon hope and the internet and take an urban field trip to the box office.