Ticketmaster, Taylor Swift and Keith Urban ticket holdbacks exposed Ticketmaster, Taylor Swift and Keith Urban ticket holdbacks exposed
Two of country music’s hottest acts, Keith Urban and Taylor Swift, find themselves and their representatives at the center of a growing ticketing controversy... Ticketmaster, Taylor Swift and Keith Urban ticket holdbacks exposed

Two of country music’s hottest acts, Keith Urban and Taylor Swift, find themselves and their representatives at the center of a growing ticketing controversy in Nashville, as news of the extraordinary number of tickets that are held back and distributed to fan clubs and other parties comes to light.

In both cases, thousands of tickets were reallocated to American Express and the artists’ fan clubs for separate concerts in the city in recent weeks, according to a scathing report on the issue by WTVF-TV News Channel 5 in Nashville. The sheer number of holdbacks, many of them premium seats that then made their way to Ticketmaster Entertainment’s ticket resale site TicketsNow, ultimately meant that only a fraction of tickets were made available to the public, but fans were never told that the odds of them scoring tickets to the shows were dramatically reduced.

At the Swift show, for example, out of about 13,300 available seats, a little less than 1,600 tickets were available to the general public when tickets went on sale, and about 5,000 of those 13,300 tickets were held back for American Express customers under a common side deal the charge card issuer often makes with artists.

“I think it’s terrible, by virtue of the fact that the public has no idea of how many tickets actually go that way,” music industry expert Bob Lefsetz, who runs the influential blog and newsletter The Lefsetz Letter, told WTVF-TV News Channel 5. See the Swift video below. The Urban video is available on the WTVF-TV Web site.

For Urban’s show, about 14,900 seats were reportedly available for the concert, but before tickets went on sale to the general public, at a price of $25 each, more than 10,400 tickets had already been sold, thousands of which went to Urban’s “Monkeyville” fan club and to American Express.

Representatives for the artists claim that the deals help to make tickets that do go on sale publicly more affordable, and both Swift and Urban have sold some tickets for $25 or less for most of their shows on their recent tours.

Despite the largess, the matter of the holdbacks has drawn the attention of U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., who during the summer introduced federal legislation called the Better Oversight of Secondary Sales and Accountability in Concert Ticketing Act (BOSS ACT) that addresses the issue of transparency in the ticketing industry. Pascrell said he hopes the bill will begin being discussed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee Committee before the end of the year. It carries the signatures of 13 co-sponsors.

“If that’s not evidence that there needs to be more transparency, what went on with those Taylor Swift and Keith Urban shows in Tennessee, then I don’t know what is,” Pascrell told TicketNews. “It was an absolute scam.”

Pascrell has made cleaning up the ticketing industry a crusade, and he said that too many artists are “in cohoots” with Ticketmaster over the issue of holdbacks, which in turn make fewer tickets available for fans and help to drive up prices on the secondary market.

Ticketmaster maintains that ticketing decisions are made by the artist, not the company.

Robert Allan, one of Swift’s managers, said in a statement to WTVF-TV that Swift has always looked out for her fans, but acknowledged that the system makes it difficult to keep everyone happy.

“Taylor does not condone sales of her tickets through secondary brokers, nor does she profit in any way from the inflated pricing of secondary sales. We know and your investigation shows that the concert ticketing system in our industry is flawed, at best, and we will wholeheartedly support any legislation enacted to regulate the industry.”

Among other requirements, Pascrell’s proposed legislation calls for primary ticket sellers, such as Ticketmaster, to disclose the exact number of tickets that are being made available, and also pushes secondary ticket brokers to disclose the face value of tickets they are reselling.

“I’m not backing off of this,” Pascrell said, adding that he has rebuffed overtures from Ticketmaster to discuss his ticketing legislation and the proposed merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation, which he opposes. “I know I’m in a battle.”

“When you have a highly desirable product with incredible demand, all kinds of shenanigans go on,” Lefsetz told WTVF-TV. “Listen, the whole business is smoke and mirrors. Because no one is policing them telling them to tell the truth.”

Taylor Swift report

By Alfred Branch Jr.

  • Anonymous

    November 12, 2009 #1 Author

    This should be common knowledge by now to the consumer, or are they just slow in Tennessee. It makes me wonder if this is a PR ploy by the Evil Irving Azoff, so that they can use this as another excuse/reason for going to paperless tickets. Or it is just a slow day and Donnie is pushing his writers to publish something….. Just saying….

  • Anonymous

    November 12, 2009 #2 Author

    How is a consumer going to know about this. Yhey think the artists are god and don’t expect them to be as sleazy as the scalpers

  • Anonymous

    November 12, 2009 #3 Author

    In no way did Keith or Taylor plan to do anything “sleazy”!! They get no extra money from the inflated tickets. Keith has condemned scalping for years and does not want his fans to have to spend a fortune. Unfortunately the on-line scalpers hack in and get away with it. Let’s all work on reworking the system…but do not bad mouth two of country musics’ most beloved entertainers!!!!

  • Anonymous

    November 12, 2009 #4 Author

    They approved the hold backs and mislead the fans. They are not loved their image is loved. Maybe if they come clean folks will understand.

  • Anonymous

    November 12, 2009 #5 Author

    You’re a fool if you believe this. Maybe the artists themselves didn’t know, but they DID profit off this. Everytime this happens, scalpers are blamed, but the truth of the matter is that the promoters/management controls the tickets. So, like they did with Hannah Montana, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, and countless other acts, the promoters and management of the artists worked with Ticketmaster to ensure the premium seats were not available on Ticketmaster’s system but rather put on sale through TicketsNow, with the profits going to the artists’ management and promoters, with Ticketmaster taking a cut through their TicketsNow commission. Brokers didn’t ‘hack’ into Ticketmaster, otherwise TM would be splashing that all over the news. This was nothing more than Ticketmaster facilitating some extra revenue for the artists by enabling them to exploit the secondary market…ironically, at the same time they are rallying against all the supposed evils of it.

  • Anonymous

    November 12, 2009 #6 Author

    This is pretty ridiculous. Taylor Swift doesn’t even have a fan club. It’s a mailing list free for anyone to sign up for. You go to her site, enter your zip code and email address, and they email you with a generic presale code for any concerts within driving distance of the zip code entered. Maybe they should have publicized ahead of time the amount of tickets that were going to be held back for the mailing list. But it’s not like she is profiting off of fan club memberships like Keith Urban is.

    The real problem at hand is the artists that hold back tickets, and then put them for sale as “VIP Packages” such as Bon Jovi, Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, and the countless others. Those are the ones blatantly holding back tickets and giving Ticketmaster the right to resell them at inflated prices so they can all make more profit off of the fans.

  • Anonymous

    November 12, 2009 #7 Author

    Taylor Swift is the biggest thing going in the entertainment industry. Of course her shows sell out quickly. These venues hold what 15,000 people. The population of most of these cities is well over 1,000,000. You do the math.

    The good news is that there are plenty of good seats on the secondary market for reasonable prices. I see show after show with tickets in the $80 range. That is not bad, especially for those who chose not to participate in any of the many presales that took place all week long before the regular onsale.

    People just like to complain and moan. And politicians like to placate those who complain and moan.

    It’s not that big of a deal people. If you didn’t get tickets through American express, Swift’s fan club, Pickler’s fan club, the radio presales, or the venue presales, or even the regular onsale, then just buy some on the secondary market. But let’s be real clear and real honest about something. There were plenty of opportunities to buy good seats for these shows. And one more piece of information. Fans did get most of the tickets during these presales. Take one look at the secondary market and you will see that only 5-10% of the tickets are even actually on that market. Most were bought by fans at the on sale time.

    Or, how about this concept, if you don’t like high prices. Wait till the next tour when she isn’t as popular. Remember Miley Cyrus? 2 years ago people shelled out whatever it took to attend those shows. I just saw in Rolling Stone Magazine that she had to offer $13.00 tickets for her shows on this tour.

  • Anonymous

    November 12, 2009 #8 Author

    And it is so funny to see these people ***** and moan about not being able to get tickets, when those same $25 seats were for sale on Stubhub for $8.00. That is what is so funny. “Scalpers” lost money. You could have gotten the tickets for well below original cost.

    [Comment moderated due to inappropriate language.]

  • Riley

    November 13, 2009 #9 Author

    But, in the country music world, Louis Messina is a big name.

    Now, the Texas promoter says Congress needs to do something to regulate how concert tickets are sold.

    Messina says, just like our NewsChannel 5 investigation discovered, fans can have a tough time finding the good seats at a good price.

    But, in an exclusive interview with NewsChannel 5 chief investigative reporter Phil Williams, Messina said it’s not because artists like Taylor Swift aren’t trying.

    “Here’s an artist that wanted to legitimately sell her tickets for $49.50 and $39.50 and $20 — and before they even go on sale, it’s being advertised at $300. We tried.”

    The promoter behind Taylor Swift’s highly successful Fearless Tour, Messina said the 19-year-old country sensation tried to avoid the scalping craze that saw tickets to her shows being listed, in some cases, for more than a thousand dollars a seat.

    “In her world, she wanted to sell every ticket for $20. She wanted to go, ‘I just want my fans to be able to come to my shows.’ So I said, ‘Taylor, you can’t do that ’cause you can’t afford that. It would cost you so much money.'”

    Messina said Taylor’s deal with American Express helped to keep ticket prices down.

    But part of the price, as our investigation discovered, was that certain prime seats had to be reserved for people with Platinum Cards or for people with the very exclusive Centurion Cards given to the very rich.

    “It’s a great marketing vehicle for us. They spend a lot of money — full-page ads in the New York Times, which cost $150,000 to buy, full-page ads in the Philadelphia newspapers and LA. It just helps offset some costs.”

    Just like the deal that Keith Urban struck with Ticketmaster to pull out some seats to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, Messina said Swift also was offered a piece of the action.

    “Actually, she called and said, ‘We can’t do that That means I’m like scalping my own tickets.’ So it cost her millions and millions of dollars, I means millions of dollars, to not to do that,” Messina said.

    “She did not want to scalp her own tickets?” Williams asked.

    “Taylor didn’t want to. She said, ‘I don’t need the money. I don’t want my fans to pay what we’re selling them for. That’s it.”

    Ironically, another one of Messina’s clients, Kenny Chesney, has cut such deals.

    Ticketing documents from his 2008 tour show Ticketmaster’s auction got two pairs of seats in the first five rows — for a total of 20 tickets.

    For the ticketing instructions given to venues for Kenny Chesney’s “Poets & Pirates” Tour, click here.

    In some cases, Messina said it may have been more.

    “It’s like 50 tickets,” the promoter said.

    “Does he consider that to be scalping his own tickets, the way that Taylor considered it?” Williams asked.

    “Kenny’s got so much invested in his show. It helps just offset costs. But it’s not much money.”

    Messina says artists like Taylor Swift are doing their part to keep costs down. And, if fans want to help, they should just refuse to pay scalpers’ prices.

    “Don’t buy the tickets — just don’t buy the tickets. Just don’t spend $500 on a $50 ticket. Just don’t go. Go buy the CD.”

    Messina said that, ultimately, it’s the professional ticket brokers — or scalpers — who are driving up the price of concert tickets.

    He says Congress needs to either outlaw scalping or, at least, regulate it.

    “What’s really going to curtail it is if it is from the top down, not than from the bottom up,” Messina added.

  • wong info

    November 12, 2009 #10 Author

    This “investigation” has wrong info on so many levels. They are confusing issues. The $25 tickets were only for the All for the Hall benefit held on Oct 13th. Keith Urban’s fanclub only held a very small amount for their members that went on sale a few days before the general public. The Summet Center, where the even was held & a local station also had their own presales. There were also tickets that were held back for packages that included entry to the after party. Nothing wrong with that. It’s typical. You don’t think scalpers join fanclubs & get on mailing lists to venuues so they can get the secret passwords? Of course they do. Keith Urban also had a limited amount of tickets to his own tour for $20. It was NEVER advertised that huge amounts would be held at that price. Only certain sections & only a limited amount. No false advertising there. And I can’t think of a recent show I’ve been to by any artist that have not had tickets held for auctions. All artists do this. It isn’t reserved for these mentioned in this hatchet job of an “investigation”. Why these particular artists are being made the fall guys I don’t know. But this “investigation” was released during CMA week in Nashville. I guess this station just wanted ratings.

  • Tickettip10

    November 13, 2009 #11 Author

    For years in Houston Louis Messina and his Pace Group sold a percentage of all the best tickets to ticket brokers. I know, I use to work for one of them.

  • Horsefuture

    November 13, 2009 #12 Author

    I do believe that it is fine for fan club members to get the first seats. They do usually pay a membership for that reason. What I do not agree with is brokers getting these seats and selling them for outrageous prices before the tickets even go on sale to the public. This should be mandated and someone should put a stop to it. There are so many young people who love Taylor and Keith and these ticket prices make it very difficult for families. I would love to see legislation overseeing this. I will say also that I have obtained good seats from both Taylor and Keith fan clubs (Taylor’s mailing list). There are good seats to be had by joining and I can say first hand that I have gotten as good as 9th row floor from a presale. I do not believe Taylor or Keith have any thing to do with these inflated prices. They are both great artist who care about their fans!

  • MikeBigado

    November 16, 2009 #13 Author

    Hey I just bought a piece of property in downtown Memphis for $5,000 and sold it 2 weeks later for $10,000. Now I find out that is illegal scalping of real estate and I have to give all my profit back. It’s terrible to live in a country where free enterprise is no longer available unless you are one of the big real estate firms like RealEstateMaster or LiveRealEstate. Maybe I should become a food broker, but then have to worry of spoilage and my inventory expiring worthless after the event date.

  • Anonymous

    November 22, 2009 #14 Author

    all aeg and live nation shows, there is nothing in the best800 seats.
    for the public onsale. why do these artist use these guys.and rip them blind

  • Anonymous

    November 22, 2009 #15 Author

    you are right. why dont someone do something.
    this is going on for years

  • Anonymous

    June 22, 2010 #16 Author

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