In order for a business to be successful, it has to find a
niche. It has to provide a certain product or service to the vast,
consuming public that no one else does. Ticketmaster, however, has
taken that niche and turned it into a chasm filled with soaring
service charges and anti-competitive practices that leave the
little guy out in the rain.
Through Ticketmaster’s 3,500 retail outlets, 19 telephone call
centers and ticketmaster.com, it sold more than 95 million tickets,
putting $4 billon in the bank, according to the company’s Web
In 2000, the entertainment industry’s admission granter acquired
its closest thing to competition, the smaller ticket vendor,
TicketWeb, for $35.2 million in stock. This addition to the
Ticketmaster portfolio gave the company access to ticket sales for
small to mid-size venues, such as the Ogden and Bluebird Theaters
However, there are several folks out there who don’t necessarily
see these numbers as a good thing. The company, often referred to
as “Ticketbastard” on Internet message boards, has ruffled more
than a few feathers over the years.
The swelling of frustration with the country’s master of ticket
distribution began in 1994 when grunge-rockers Pearl Jam filed an
all-for-naught anti-trust complaint against the company in federal
court. The band, wanting to keep the cost of tickets to its
concerts no higher than $20, charged that Ticketmaster was a
monopoly, unfairly hiking up the cost of tickets via excessive
service charges, according to its congressional testimony.
This swelling recently came to a head when the Boulder-based jam
technicians of The String Cheese Incident decided to take the
ticket-printing behemoth to court for the same anti-trust issues.
The band alleges that besides the frustration of high service fees,
Ticketmaster’s business practices don’t allow room in the
marketplace for the band’s own ticketing company, SCI
SCI Ticketing is a band-owned direct-to-fan service, which can
be used by the band to sell tickets directly to loyal Cheese Heads
for a cheaper price.
“There was a massive disconnect from when we would seat a ticket
price and what people would see on their tickets,” said Mike Luba,
a partner in the band’s SCI Ticketing service, in a recent
interview with “Rolling Stone.” “People are…sick of it. We got
sick of it, and that’s why we did this.”
According to Ticketmaster, the service charges that plagued
Pearl Jam and that are now making all of String Cheese’s incidents
a little more costly, are necessary. Part of the charge covers the
cost of the transaction being done over the computer, whether it be
in someone’s home or at the local ticket outlet. The rest of the
fee is a facility fee, and varies from venue to venue.
Ticketmaster struck a deal with concert promoting giant SFX
entertainment, now owned by Clear Channel, in 1998 that entered
Ticketmaster into exclusive contracts with most sports and
entertainment venues across the country. In exchange, SFX got to
keep whatever service fees were above a certain level, according to
an article on Salon.com.
But Ticketmaster spokesperson Larry Solters said that the
presence of one major ticketing company in the entertainment market
does nothing but benefit the consumer.
“Say you live in Fort Collins and you want to go to a show at
the Pepsi Center in Denver,” Solters said. “Without Ticketmaster,
you have to drive to venue, buy your ticket and drive back. With
Ticketmaster, you don’t have to go anywhere. You just have to ask
your self, ‘Is it worth the $4 or $5 not to have to get in the car
But what seems to irk most people is that the cost of the
service fees varies from show to show, a discrepancy that Solters
attributed to individual contracts that Ticketmaster holds with
However, it is exactly those contracts that have the boys in The
String Cheese Incident barking up the legal tree.
“We’ve come to a point where Ticketmaster is not allowing us to
get tickets available to our shows,” String Cheese bassist Keith
Moseley said in “Rolling Stone.” “Our supply of tickets has
essentially dried up to the point where we can barely stay in
This ticket supply drought began in May 2002 when Ticketmaster
laid down a series of guidelines that must be met in order for a
band to receive tickets for direct-to-fan sales, according to the
band. Among those guidelines, a band must have what is referred to
as a “legitimate” fan club. In an August 2003 article in “Forbes,”
this was defined as an organization that fans had to pay at least
$15 to join.
Some bands such as the Dave Matthews Band, have what the
almighty master of tickets would consider a “legitimate” fan club.
DMB’s club, The Warehouse, had no problems getting tickets allotted
for the band’s upcoming summer tour. These tickets are sold to
members at a cheaper price than what Ticketmaster would charge.
“Typically, The Warehouse receives 50 percent of the ticket
allotment,” said Warehouse spokesperson Anne McDaniel. “The exact
percentage varies from place to place, depending on Ticketmaster’s
contract with the venue.”
In an article in the “Philadelphia Inquirer,” String Cheese made
the point of saying that their fans shouldn’t have to pay extra
dues for the honor of supporting the band.
But what really curdles the Cheese is the idea of
anti-competitive practices setting a precedent for the future. If
Ticketmaster says that $15 membership dues are required now and
everyone complies, the company can then continue to increase the
“We are not saying Ticketmaster doesn’t have a place in the
ticketing business, but we have a different philosophy of doing
business, one that caters more directly to our fans,” said Jason
Mastrine, general manager of SCI Ticketing. “Now, for the first
time in our company’s history, Ticketmaster is preventing us from
acquiring the same reasonable ticket allocations we used to get
from promoters and venues. There’s room in the mix for
But, according to the band’s publicist Carrie Lombardi, things
are beginning to look up for SCI.
“While I can’t say much because it is still in the legal system,
it’s safe to say that we’ve made progress,” said Lombardi, adding
that there has been no problems getting tickets allotted for the
band’s upcoming shows at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver. “We’ve
definitely made a little headway.”