Ticked over tix, buyers take ‘master to task

Ticketmaster Corp. has been summoned to court Wednesday on allegations the nation’s largest ticket distrib has become an entrenched monopoly whose “service charges” have gouged thousands of Southern Californians for years.

At stake is the $ 1 billion-a-year tix purveyor’s unrivaled market position in the Southland for computer-and-telephone sales of seats to live events, from opera to ice hockey, from the Greek Theatre to the Whiskey. Ticketmaster recently branched further from its core business of theater and concerts into advance movie admissions.

Ten tix buyers, alleging unfair competitive practices, were granteda hearing in San Francisco Superior Court Wednesday to ask the judge to permit a class-action lawsuit to proceed against Ticketmaster-Southern California Inc. and against Bay Area Seating Service Inc. (BASS).

Ticketmaster distributes in the southern part of the state, while separately owned BASS is a tix powerhouse operating in Northern California. Together, they handle most of the non-box office sales in the state, valued at several billion dollars a year.

Among the plaintiffs’ claims:

o That Ticketmaster and BASS in 1986 quietly divided the state in half, the midpoint being San Luis Obisbo County, and stopped competing in each other’s territory.

o And they claim the pair has evolved into a “trust” by further “affiliating, ” sharing management and jointly demanding of their promoter clients that only BASS be hired to sell tickets when the promoter took his act north, and Ticketmaster likewise in the south.

Ticketmaster has secured exclusive contracts with more than 200 venues and promoters “which restrict competition” and enable it to impose “artificially inflated” service charges that violate anti-trust provisions of the Cartwright Act, the suit says.

The court battle could become a high-profile tangle, as attorneys from no less than 12 Bay Area law firms face off with those hired by Ticketmaster’s master, the wealthy Pritzker family from Chicago.

Attorneys for Ticketmaster, the nation’s largest computerized ticket distribber, did not return phone calls Monday. Company officials declined comment.

Claire L. Rothman, g.m. at Inglewood’s Great Western Forum, said 50% to 70% of Forum seats are sold by Ticketmaster. “They’re big and it’s easy to throw stones at Ticketmaster, but they’re dependable and reliable,” Rothman said.”How do you develop an alternative that gives you as much research and development, and help and instruction, as Ticketmaster does?”

She noted it also dovetailed accounting systems and automated the Forum’s subscription base.

Venue owners typically sign three- or five-year contracts with Ticketmaster, which collects the face value plus a $ 1 to $ 6 “service” or “convenience” charge per ticket. The suit alleges Ticketmaster “has made substantial payments to promoters and venues to maintain its status as the exclusive distributor of their tickets.”

Since it merged with rival Ticketron Inc. in 1991, Ticketmaster has gained a virtual lock on L.A., many concertgoers complain. However, competition comes from venues’ own box offices. While staff and resources generally can’t match Ticketmaster’s marketing clout, rival computer and phone services such as the Shubert Organization’s Tele-charge and Prodigy Services Co. have some success.

Affected by the lawsuit’s outcome are virtually all the major Southland houses and hundreds of smaller ones. From the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Forum, to Club Shivers in the city of Corona and Mission Viejo’s Coto de Caza Equestrian Center, owners could find more distrib avenues springing to life if Ticketmaster’s franchise is broken, or perhaps solidify their relationship with the tix behemoth if it emerges victorious.

1a hearing in San Francisco Superior Court Wednesday to ask the judge to permit a class-action lawsuit to proceed against Ticketmaster-Southern California Inc. and against Bay Area Seating Service Inc. (BASS).

Ticketmaster distributes in the southern part of the state, while separately owned BASS is a tix powerhouse operating in Northern California. Together, they handle most of the non-box office sales in the state, valued at several billion dollars a year.

Among the plaintiffs’ claims:

o That Ticketmaster and BASS in 1986 quietly divided the state in half, the midpoint being San Luis Obisbo County, and stopped competing in each other’s territory.

o And they claim the pair has evolved into a “trust” by further “affiliating, ” sharing management and jointly demanding of their promoter clients that only BASS be hired to sell tickets when the promoter took his act north, and Ticketmaster likewise in the south.

Ticketmaster has secured exclusive contracts with more than 200 venues and promoters “which restrict competition” and enable it to impose “artificially inflated” service charges that violate anti-trust provisions of the Cartwright Act, the suit says.

The court battle could become a high-profile tangle, as attorneys from no less than 12 Bay Area law firms face off with those hired by Ticketmaster’s master, the wealthy Pritzker family from Chicago.

Attorneys for Ticketmaster, the nation’s largest computerized ticket distribber, did not return phone calls Monday. Company officials declined comment.

Claire L. Rothman, g.m. at Inglewood’s Great Western Forum, said 50% to 70% of Forum seats are sold by Ticketmaster. “They’re big and it’s easy to throw stones at Ticketmaster, but they’re dependable and reliable,” Rothman said.”How do you develop an alternative that gives you as much research and development, and help and instruction, as Ticketmaster does?”

She noted it also dovetailed accounting systems and automated the Forum’s subscription base.

Venue owners typically sign three- or five-year contracts with Ticketmaster, which collects the face value plus a $ 1 to $ 6 “service” or “convenience” charge per ticket. The suit alleges Ticketmaster “has made substantial payments to promoters and venues to maintain its status as the exclusive distributor of their tickets.”

Since it merged with rival Ticketron Inc. in 1991, Ticketmaster has gained a virtual lock on L.A., many concertgoers complain. However, competition comes from venues’ own box offices. While staff and resources generally can’t match Ticketmaster’s marketing clout, rival computer and phone services such as the Shubert Organization’s Tele-charge and Prodigy Services Co. have some success.

Affected by the lawsuit’s outcome are virtually all the major Southland houses and hundreds of smaller ones. From the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Forum, to Club Shivers in the city of Corona and Mission Viejo’s Coto de Caza Equestrian Center, owners could find more distrib avenues springing to life if Ticketmaster’s franchise is broken, or perhaps solidify their relationship with the tix behemoth if it emerges victorious.

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