It’s that time of the year again: the time when you realize that your favorite band is going to play at a venue near you. You can barely hold back the excitement as you go to Ticketmaster.com to buy tickets for yourself and your friends. But right before you type in your credit card information and complete the transaction, you realize that the tickets you thought you were buying for $50 each will actually cost you $70 apiece thanks to Ticketmaster’s “service” and “convenience” fees. Anyone who has dealt with the online ticketing giant before knows that the experience is far from convenient. So how do they get away with charging these ridiculous fees?
Like Standard Oil and U.S. Steel before it, Ticketmaster dominates its industry. It handles ticketing for the vast majority of popular concerts. Many people argue that ticket reselling companies like StubHub give fans an alternative to Ticketmaster. However, they are nothing more than legalized scalping agencies. Ticket sellers at StubHub.com are charged a 10 percent commission while buyers pay a fee 15 percent above the asking price. Even more worrying is the fact that Ticketmaster sells a portion of its tickets directly to brokers that turn around and sell them on StubHub for lucrative profits.
Most artists resent how commercialized the live music scene has become. Many bands dream of challenging Ticketmaster but lack the means to stand up to the ticketing giant and fend for themselves. But, at the pinnacle of its fame, one band decided to go against Ticketmaster in a legal battle that Time magazine would eventually call “Rock ‘N’ Roll’s Holy War.”
Pearl Jam decided to take action against Ticketmaster when it learned that the surcharges that its fans were forced to pay increased ticket prices by as much as 30 percent for its 1993 tour. In order to reduce ticket prices for its fans, Pearl Jam decided to boycott Ticketmaster for its 1994 Vs. Tour. Pearl Jam realized that Ticketmaster’s control over ticketing and its exclusive contracts with most of the leading concert arenas left the band with nowhere to play. As a result, Pearl Jam cancelled its 1994 tour and railed against Ticketmaster for its monopolistic behavior. However, the Department of Justice could not prove that Ticketmaster was in violation of antitrust laws and didn’t pursue the case.
As bitter as Pearl Jam’s 1994 defeat was, the situation is now worse. Though Ticketmaster seemed to be a monopoly in the past, it only had control of part of the process — the part that interacted with consumers and therefore drew the most attention. As of Jan. 25, 2010, Ticketmaster merged with its main competitor, Live Nation, forming a new mega-ticketing conglomerate called Live Nation Entertainment, Inc. The merger created an all-powerful company in the music industry, combining under one roof the ability to manage artists, book them at venues that it owns and sell tickets to its concerts. The company can also sell merchandise and, in some cases, control the sale of recorded music.
Although Live Nation Entertainment has grown more powerful in recent years, we as consumers have also grown more powerful. In the age of Twitter, word spreads quickly. As a result, sweeping changes can begin with the dissent of only a few people, as shown by the Arab Spring. While I am just as guilty of buying tickets from Ticketmaster as everyone reading this, I believe that we can organize a grassroots campaign of our own. While we all would have to forgo a few concerts, a Pearl Jam-style boycott of Live Nation Entertainment could hit the corporation where it hurts: in its profits.