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Bruce Springsteen tour employs paperless ticketing for select U.S. concerts

By Allison Reitz

It might not make much of a difference to the average consumer whether a concert is booked at and sold through a Live Nation venue or a site under Ticketmaster's control. However, for the next leg of Bruce Springsteen's U.S. tour, that distinction could make a difference for fans when doors open on the night of the big show.

For at least two upcoming Springsteen shows handled by Ticketmaster -- September 10 at the Sommet Center in Nashville, TN, and September 13 at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, FL -- ticketing in certain sections of the venues will use paperless technology and only be available for Will Call pick-up.

The paperless process cuts out the use of hard tickets in favor of seat receipts printed at a venue's doors. Buyers are required to show a valid ID and swipe their credit card at the door before they, along with any guests, are admitted to the venue. The process is often used at high-demand shows as an effort to cut out the resale of tickets or restrict purchases for premium seats.

The decision by the Springsteen camp makes this the latest major tour to employ paperless ticketing, following the upcoming Miley Cyrus tour, which is entirely paperless and is also handled by Ticketmaster. Possibly as a result of the potential hassles associated with paperless ticket transferability and other related inconveniences, the Cyrus tour has not sold as well as her previous "Hannah Montana" tour in 2007.

Australian hard rock act AC/DC also used paperless ticketing for designated seating sections during its 2008-2009 tour, without any real cut in sales, while Metallica used paperless tickets exclusively for a performance at the O2 Arena in London during its 2008 tour.

But how Springsteen fans will react to this development remains to be seen. Some of the performer's spring shows this year struggled to sell out, and the artist and his representatives have been at the center of a ticketing controversy over the way Ticketmaster and its secondary ticketing subsidiary TicketsNow handled initial onsales for that tour. In addition, the iconic rocker has had to defend decisions about ticket holdbacks for some of his other shows this year.

The stakes for Ticketmaster in this latest paperless scheme are quite high, as the company tries to gain federal favor for its proposed merger with Live Nation. If it is viewed that the company is over-utilizing its market dominance to cut out competition and secondary ticket sales through paperless tickets, federal regulators could view the potential merger as a problem.

BankAtlantic sales opened today, July 24, at 10 a.m. local time, with pre-fee prices ranging from $39 to $100. On Ticketmaster, a note for the show explains that only "select locations" will use the non-transferable paperless tickets, but does not detail which sections are included. The venue did not immediately respond to questions about the process.

Meanwhile, Sommet Center onsales start tomorrow, July 25, at 10 a.m. local time, with face values at that venue ranging from $35 to $98. The designated paperless sections for that performance are for all general admission floor tickets, as well as lower level sections 105, 106, 107, 114, 115 and 116.

It is unclear whether the other Ticketmaster-operated venues on Springsteen's upcoming U.S. itinerary will follow suit. If so, Madison Square Garden would be among the venues using the process when its Boss tickets become available to the public. However, at this time, an official announcement has not been made regarding the performer's use of paperless ticketing.

While paperless ticketing always has its share of supporters and detractors, some fans are questioning why the technology is necessary for Springsteen's fall tour leg. In a Google group dedicated to Springsteen, fans discussed the restrictive ticketing move in a thread titled "Bruce is going paperless for tickets."

Some noted that soft ticket sales during the spring portion of the performer's 2009 tour led to below face value sales on the secondary market -- a good deal for fans. However, with paperless ticketing edging out more of the sales to brokers and scalpers, some wondered how the new concerts will fare at the box office.

One early commenter, identified only as Steve, pointed out, "Since when, beside about 3 shows a tour, is a Bruce Springsteen ticket anything but sold at face or WAY lower? Sure there's a few select seats at every event that sells for more before the show, but way more the exact opposite. It's totally CRAZY to think that Bruce needs to do this, sounds like they have an inflated sense of self still. ... They thought their sales were soft before in certain markets, boy are they in for surprise."

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