UPDATED: The living hell of concert ticket-buying loomed into the foreground again this week, but this time it was not millions clamoring for a limited number of Taylor Swift or Bruce Springsteen tickets but rather attempts by long-running British alternative band the Cure to avoid gouging fans for its forthcoming “Lost World” North American tour.
While the group had managed to avoid such controversial policies as platinum packages and variable pricing, frontman/founder Robert Smith was appalled to see hefty service fees added to the cost of “Verified Fan” tickets, which are intended to protect fans by keeping tickets out of the hands of scalpers, for the tour.
“I am as sickened as you all are by today’s Ticketmaster ‘Fees’ debacle,”’ Smith wrote in part of a long string of all-caps Tweets. “To be very clear: The artist has no way to limit them. I have been asking how they are justified. If I get anything coherent by way of an answer I will let you all know.”
Several hours later, Smith tweeted that “Ticketmaster has offered at $10 per ticket refund to all verified fan accounts for lowest ticket price transactions.”
Reps for Ticketmaster did not immediately respond to Variety’s requests for comments, although sources have said in the past that venues, rather than the ticketing giant, are often responsible for some or all of the processing fees that fans can find suddenly added to their ticket price, late in the purchasing process.
However, the fees are just one of the money-traps in ticketing that Smith’s Twitter feed has been tracking with increasing dismay, practically in real time, in the days since the tour was announced on March 9, mirroring the experience of countless ticket-buyers.
First, he addresses the secondary-market practice of selling “speculative” tickets that have not yet been issued. “All the ‘secondary ticket market’ sites showing insanely price Cure tickets are a con,” he wrote on March 13. “Not one of these scammers has a genuine ticket for sale. Please don’t fall for it.”
The following day, he said the group decided to use Ticketmaster’s “Verified Fan” system in an effort to combat scalping but declined to participate in the company’s dynamic pricing and “Platinum” tickets — which led to soaring ticket costs when tickets for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s current tour went on sale, reaching many thousands of dollars.
“TM have just told me ‘all tickets for the Cure shows of a Lost World tour will be made available during tomorrow’s Verified Fan sale,’” he wrote. “Seems the response to registration has been pretty overwhelming – thanks! However, I realise there are problems, some more real than others… We had final say in all our ticket pricing for this upcoming tour, and didn’t want those prices instantly and horribly distorted by resale – we were told ‘in North America the resale business is a multi-billion $ industry.’”
He continued, “We were convinced that Ticketmaster’s ‘Verified Fan page’ and ‘face value ticket exchange’ ideas could help us fight the scalpers… (we didn’t agree to the ‘dynamic pricing’ / ‘price surging’ / ‘platinum ticket’ thing… Because it is itself a bit of a scam? A separate conversation!).”
A day later, after the “fees debacle,” he noted about the last-mentioned tweet, “What I meant by this bit was… I had a separate conversation about ‘platinum’, to see if I had misunderstood something… But I hadn’t! It is a greedy scam – and all artists have the choice not to participate… If no artists participated, it would cease to exist x.”
In his most recent tweet, late Wednesday night, he added, “I will be back if I get anything serious on the TM fees… In the meantime, I am compelled to note down my obvious recurring elephant in the room thought… That if no-one bought from scalpers… Then… X.”
Fully owned by Live Nation, the world’s largest live-entertainment promoter, Ticketmaster is the world’s largest ticketing company and has been under fire for many years, but particularly in recent months after fans who’d participated in the Verified Fan program for Taylor Swift’s upcoming “Eras” tour found themselves waiting for hours online or not receiving tickets at all. Combined with the Springsteen debacle over the summer, the company has faced withering criticism that revived Congressional inquiries into its practices and accusations that Live Nation could be a monopoly. Live Nation CFO Joe Berchtold appeared before a highly critical Senate committee in January, although that hearing largely amounted to an airing of grievances and posturing for constituents by certain senators.
However, a steady stream of more solution-oriented activity has come from the offices of Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Mn.) and both Mike Lee (R-Ut.) and John Cornryn (R-Tx.), who have called for the Department of Justice to investigate Live Nation for “anticompetitive conduct.” An earlier investigation found in 2019 that the company had repeatedly violated a 10-year consent decree to refrain from monopolistic practices, which was signed after Live Nation and Ticketmaster merged in 2010. However, those findings resulted in fines and little else.
Live Nation, which has posted record earnings since the pandemic lifted and projects even higher profits for 2023, has launched what it calls the “FAIR Ticketing Act,” the main tenets state that “artists should decide resale rules,” which would be an effort to allow artists to take the lead in preventing exploitative prices on the secondary market; “make it illegal to sell speculative tickets,” addressing scalpers’ habit of tricking fans into buying tickets that do not yet exist; “expand the BOTS Act,” to combat the widespread use of ticket-buying bots on the secondary market; “crack down on resale sites that are safe havens for scalpers,” which would force secondary-market sites to police the activity on their platforms more aggressively; and “mandate all-in-pricing nationally,” which would address the processing and other fees that often are not revealed until very late in the sale process.
While many organizations and artists have signed on to support the act, at present it is merely a document.
Variety will have more on this situation as it develops.