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Promoter Seth Hurwitz calls out Live Nation / Ticketmaster on 'Fans First' conflict

By Alfred Branch Jr.

When Live Nation and its Ticketmaster division recently launched the Fans First Coalition (FFC), the names of a host of influential promoters were among the members, names like Jam Productions, Rose Presents, Red Light Management and Front Line Management, which was founded by Live Nation Chairman Irving Azoff.

But, one name was conspicuous by its absence, and now we know why. Independent promoter Seth Hurwitz, owner of I.M.P. and Washington DC's famed 9:30 Club, told TicketNews in an exclusive interview this week that when he was approached by a representative from the local Baltimore/Washington DC Ticketmaster to join the coalition, he flatly turned them down.

"My first reaction was, 'Are you kidding me? Why are you asking me? Have you stopped scalping tickets?' and of course the answer was no," Hurwitz said. "That's like Peta sponsoring a Ted Nugent tour. With a taxidermy business on the side, for animals killed the 'right' way. It's absurd."

The Ticketmaster-led coalition, which boasts dozens of venues and artists among its members, has come out strongly against the secondary ticket market, which it hopes to essentially control with its restrictive paperless ticketing solution.

Hurwitz, however, believes the group has a serious conflict of interest because Ticketmaster owns its own ticket resellers TicketsNow and TicketExchange. To him, the emperor has no clothes, so to speak.

"I don't know how anyone could support this thing, if it's in lockstep with a company that is reselling tickets at higher than face value," he said. Despite opposing it, the FFC is careful not to call for the abolishment of the ticket resale industry. "And just where are they getting those tickets? And are they promoting the end of ticket resale, or are they only promoting the end of a certain type of resale that they don't control? I don't know how many more lessons they need to learn about the public not being stupid. 'Fans First?' That's right up there with 'Quality Used Cars.'"

Hurwitz is no fan of the secondary ticket market, which he believes hurts the concert industry because brokers sometimes obtain tickets before fans can get a fair shot at them. So, in some ways, he is in favor of part of the FFC's message to help put tickets into the hands of fans faster and easier. Yet, despite his competition with Live Nation and his ongoing legal battles with the company, Hurwitz his opposition to the FFC is purely on the basis of Ticketmaster trying to have it both ways.

"I don't believe in ticket resale, but I'm also not interested in campaigning against it. Chuck La Vallee [head of music and entertainment business development] at StubHub is a good friend of mine, and I wouldn't do anything personally to hurt his business, and I'm sure he wouldn't personally do anything to hurt mine, but I'm not in favor of ticket resale. In 32 years in this business, I've never sold tickets to a scalper. That's a personal decision...I am not judging those that do."

The FFC was established, in part, to counterbalance the rapidly growing Fan Freedom Project (FFP), an advocacy group launched earlier this year — with backing from dominant ticket resale marketplace StubHub. The FFP is fighting for open ticket resale markets, and against Ticketmaster's restrictive paperless ticketing initiative, in order to protect consumers' rights. Ticketmaster's restrictive paperless tickets are virtually impossible to transfer to friends or family members, or resell on the secondary market, because they are tied to the specific credit card used to make the original purchase. The card must be swiped at the gate in order to gain entry into the show, and Ticketmaster can control whether such tickets can be transferred through its own, proprietary exchange.

"I would support paperless tickets if the people who sold them also weren't in the scalping business," Hurwitz said.

Both the FFC and FFP were started with the help of lobbyists working on behalf of Ticketmaster and StubHub, and in some ways the two groups overlap in supporting the same thing, such as the ban on software "bots," slick computer programs that some brokers have used over the years to circumvent internet security protocols and surreptitiously and instantly procure large blocks of tickets when they first go on sale. Several states have outlawed the technology, and a recent federal case exposed the nefarious practice.

"Our industry is fraught with people trying to avoid reality," Hurwitz said. "The real concert business is making tickets available to fans first, not to use their phrase, at reasonable prices, in a venue they like, run by people who care about the music business. That's it. Everything else is a bunch of stuff to try make money doing everything but that. You can't negotiate reality."

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