August 7, 2006 Sean Burns
By Christine Paluf
Performers are starting a new trend: canceling tickets that they find on reseller sites. Kylie Minogue this week joins the ranks of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, who may have started the trend with the cancellation of nearly 500 tickets sold during a presale auction on Petty’s fan club site in May.
Minogue insisted that the tickets found on eBay for up to five times their face value be cancelled, going head to head with eBay in an effort to stamp out reselling of tickets to her comeback concert at Wembley Arena. Minoque demanded the cancellation by the arena in order to resell the tickets.
The demand was so high for this London concerts, that tickets disappeared in as
little as five minutes.
The singer’s Web site cautions that fans be wary of Internet sales, saying the tickets may be lost, stolen or that the vendor may not even have any tickets. This was prefaced with a list of appropriate places to purchase tickets, including Ticketmaster as an approved vendor.
Not surprising, considering Ticketmaster had a hand in the cancellation of the Petty tickets as well. They also were involved with London’s “T in the Park” concert ticket cancellations, for some of the same reasons.
In order to understand where the performers are coming from, you have to look at this practice from both sides of the coin. The performers and promoters don’t like the fact that in a capitalistic society, the free market reigns. They’re not getting a cut of the markup –and the government isn’t either.
If there were no market for these tickets, the resellers wouldn’t sell them. Wholesale and resale, when you have something someone wants, you sell it to them, plain and simple, and keep the profit.
But in order to call this a free-market practice, there would have to be a free market in the first place, which implies competition. In the case of the primary ticket industry, it’s basically a monopoly.
Ticketmaster has exclusive contracts with over 70 percent of the clubs and theaters and over 90 percent of the large arenas in the United States. Their exclusive contracts make it so that whether or not the arena is independent, if the promoter of the event is contracted with Ticketmaster, the tickets must be sold exclusively through them.
The band String Cheese Incident tried their hand in 2003 at selling tickets directly to their own fans. They use their fan club to help fans avoid Ticketmaster’s myriad of charges, similar to Tom Petty and Dave Matthews’ arrangements. As a result of Ticketmaster’s monopoly on the venues that were sized for their fans, they were unable to play in San Diego. They tried to sue the mega-ticket giant for violating antitrust laws.
Ticketmaster countersued, claiming the band interfered with their contracts.
String Cheese Incident had been relying on ‘holds,’ tickets reserved for performers by promoters and venues. They could sometimes could get them up to 50 percent of the house, and would then resell them for only four dollars in fees, according an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer, compared to Ticketmaster’s 30 to 35 percent markup.
Ticketmaster changed the rules to make it harder for bands to qualify for the holds, limiting who they could sell tickets to, and defining exactly what those conditions were. String Cheese and other bands were only able to get up to eight percent of seats after the 2002 change.
Incidents such as this and Pearl Jam’s suit against the ticket seller draw a scary picture. This is what happens when you cross a major company that is acting like all other media in this country, consolidating until there are very few choices for fans any longer.