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Ticketmaster, Taylor Swift and Keith Urban ticket holdbacks exposed

By Alfred Branch Jr.

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

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