Rearviewmirror: 5 Ways Ticketmaster Survived Pearl Jam
Do you hate Ticketmaster convenience fees? If you don't, it's because you've never been to a concert. The various fees tacked onto admission prices by the global ticketing behemoth can add a pretty penny in a hurry to the face value of a chance to see and hear our musical heroes, and they're one of the biggest inconveniences associated with live music today. The fees are nothing new, either -- fans and artists alike have been complaining about the practice for decades.
Pearl Jam vs. Ticketmaster: No Contest.
Few have ever gone to such extreme lengths to try to eliminate service fees as Pearl Jam did 18 years ago this week. The Seattle-based grunge icons took a stand against Ticketmaster in 1994, filing a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department over the company's abusive service fee practices and growing monopoly over ticketing distribution.
They flat refused to sell tickets through Ticketmaster unless the fees were ditched. At the time, Pearl Jam was the biggest rock band in the world -- there was no hotter ticket in live music. If any artists could force Ticketmaster to change its business model, it would be them.
Long story short, they couldn't.
Because Ticketmaster had (and still has) exclusive agreements with most of the major arenas and stadiums across the U.S., Pearl Jam found themselves with no venues to play that could provide the sound and seating that their massive fan base required. Ticketmaster pressured promoters not to work with them.
Cut off from the established rock circuit, the group wound up playing places that were not designed to handle large-scale rock concerts. The band decided to cancel their '94 tour, pissing off a lot of people in the process. Ticketmaster's already poor reputation took a beating from fans.
Despite an antitrust investigation, Ticketmaster never had charges brought up against it by the Justice Department or by Congress. Pearl Jam did its best to book shows at venues with no exclusivity agreement with Ticketmaster, but the ticketing giant was inescapable in the end.
By the turn of the century, Pearl Jam had glumly slunk back into the fold, licking their wounds. The hassle of fighting a losing battle simply wasn't worth it anymore.
Although Ticketmaster's power in the live-events industry seemed all-encompassing back in 1994, a lot has changed in the past 18 years. Or has it? Ticketmaster is still the dominant force in concert ticket sales, but the industry's landscape has changed.
To illustrate our point, here are the five biggest changes that Ticketmaster has had to cope with since Pearl Jam waged holy war on them nearly 20 years ago.
5. The Internet Arrives: Duh. Back in '94, most ticket buyers were still experimenting with 14.4K dial-up modems, chatting about Pearl Jam and Snoop Doggy Dogg on Prodigy and AOL. That's assuming they even owned a computer at all.
If you wanted good seats to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the Woodlands Pavilion, you had to wake up extra early and stand in line at your nearest Ticketmaster outlet before it opened. If the Ticketmaster in Tomball opened up ten minutes earlier than the location you were at, tough shit -- the best seats were gone before you even had a chance.
The Internet changed that overnight. All of a sudden, you could buy tickets the minute they went on sale from the comfort of your own kitchen computer nook. Ticketmaster took the new technology quickly. Before long, they were charging a new fee for the privilege of printing out your own tickets.
People were actually happy to pay this little convenience charge if it meant they no longer had to line up at Fiesta at 6 a.m. That happiness lasted about five minutes -- less time than it takes to suffer through "Yellow Ledbetter" one more time.
4. The Secondary Market Explodes: One major change in ticket sales that the Internet made possible was a newfound ease with which buyers could resell their tickets. Instead of standing out in front of a venue hawking their unwanted tickets, buyers could now log on to sites like the eBay-owned StubHub and offer them up to thousands of music fans. Suddenly, anybody could become a scalper.
This development seemed good for consumers at first. Soon, though, the system began to be exploited by scalpers using online bots to snatch up reams of primo seats as soon as tickets went on sale. In order to combat StubHub and others, Ticketmaster set up its own secondary marketplaces, including the Web site TicketsNow.com.
In 2009, Ticketmaster hatred took a new turn when more than 2,000 fans complained that their initial attempts to buy tickets online to a Feb. 2 Bruce Springsteen concert in New Jersey simply redirected them to TicketsNow, which offered the tickets at an inflated price. This was some seriously shady shit.
Ticketmaster claimed the issue was due to a software glitch, but widespread backlash forced the company to change the way it handled secondary ticket sales. It's a problem that the ticketing giant is still searching for a solution to in its quest for absolute control.