Friday, June 26, 2009

Enjoy Forgotten Hits Today ... WITHOUT A Service Charge (or Any Hidden Fees!!!)

This recent comment / review of a Fleetwood Mac Concert sparked some interesting additional dialog on the subject! (My guess it'll get YOUR wheels turning, too, as Forgotten Hits takes on another controversial topic!!!)

>>>I also found out I could make a can of Budweiser last almost two hours when they charge you 8 bucks for it. A personal best for me. T-shirts were $40.00. Floor seats went for $150.00 a pop. Off to the side seats went for $80.00 and if you wanted to sit in the nose bleed seats back in a corner behind a pole, they went for about $50.00. I think the online "convenience fee" (<~bullshit fee) was about $30.00. After that I walked out of the show, back to my $20.00 parking space<~(no kidding). What's in your wallet? (The Steelworker)

Another stellar edition of "Leftovers," Kent. Hope you're doing well, ditto, Mark.
I loved the piece by "The Steelworker," particularly his remark about the TicketMaster "bullshit fee." Those folks should be ashamed of themselves, just as the mega-acts and large venues should also be. They're all in bed together, playing 'good cop, bad cop' at the expense of the die-hard fans.

The technology is there for ANY major artist with a web site (and half a brain) to offer their tickets DIRECTLY to THEIR FANS -- the very folks who buy their music -- be it vinyl, CD or 'paid' download. Of course some of those fans 'steal' their music -- but that's another issue in itself:)

To pay a corrupt company a 'convenience fee,' is, in my humble opinion, criminal. We use our paper, our computer, and they have the 'audacity' to charge an additional fee above and beyond an already exorbitant service fee.

I applauded Garth Brooks for doing the right thing for his fans -- keeping ticket prices as low as he did during the height of his career ('when you comin' back, Garth?'). It was not only a stroke of marketing genius (heck, it left his fans with more money to spend on merchandise), but it also endeared him to countless hundreds of thousands -- if not millions of fans -- who attended his shows.

Major acts simply aren't worth $150 to $200 or more to see 'live.' Not in this economy, not with labels tanking and radio stations refusing to pay a fair performance royalty to the artists who supply them with free entertainment, which -- in turn -- increases the radio station's ratings, which -- in turn -- increases their advertising revenue. The NAB would like us to believe it's a 'tax,' when, in reality, it's the right thing to do.

But the purpose of this e-mail was to address the inflated price of concert tickets, which falls directly on TicketMaster, and -- in many cases -- the very acts themselves. By the time you factor in dinner, parking, a pair of decent seats, perhaps a tee-shirt or a program, you're looking at $500. That's just plain crazy.

About four years ago I wrote a piece for -- an online trade magazine that publishes a daily country music newsletter. At the time, Bill Hennes, the editor / publisher, had asked me to comment on the closing of Tower Records. Growing up in Sacramento, I was all too eager to respond.

My life has truly been a blessing, be it The Beach Boys, Treasure Isle Recorders (the Nashville recording studio I've owned and operated since 1980), my wife and ten year old daughter, or the personal heroes I've had the rare honor to know and work with -- Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, John Denver, Buck Owens, Brian Wilson, Ray Peterson, Dolly Parton, Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris, among others.

Often, it was a bit of 'luck' and a bit of 'timing,' as was the case of my friendship with Russ Solomon and Tower Records. Russ had started out running a small record department in his parent's Tower Drug Store in downtown Sacramento. When Russ opened Tower North -- store #1 -- I lived a short fifteen minute bike ride away. It was just down El Camino Avenue at Watt Avenue, barely three minutes by car from my high school alma mater.

So, as a sixteen year old who was used to buying 45's at Walgreen's Drugs, or the record department of Brauner's Department Store or Consumer Buying Service (CBS), having a 'warehouse' full of singles and albums was like "Mecca" to us music junkies. Russ, or one of this managers, Dick or Carl, would often wait on me. Sometimes, on a Saturday afternoon or during Summer or Spring break, I'd spend several hours in the store just browsing through bin after bin of vinyl.

When I started doing my rock concerts in the spring of 1963, there was no TicketMaster or Ticketron. There was Coast Radio downtown, Southgate Records on Florin Road, and Tower Records North. I also used the Civic Theater Box Office and Jack's House of Music, a musical instrument and sheet music store near Tower Records.

For the first Beach Boys concert at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, May 24, 1963, I used several of these locations for my 'advance sale' ticket outlets. There was no fee -- not to the concert attendee -- nor a kickback or 'service charge' that would be returned to the store. The store owners were more than pleased to sell my tickets for the free advertising I would give them on our posters and in our radio spots. Needless to say, the ticket buyers meant additional traffic into their stores -- and, as good businessmen, they were thankful for the added promotion and marketing advantages.

This 'arrangement' went on for a half dozen concerts, dances and teen club shows I promoted in the Sacramento area, in addition to similar events in Reno, NV, Marysville / Yuba City, and Stockton, CA.

At some point in the late fall of '63 -- or early 1964 -- Russ approached me with this 'novel' idea: would I consider paying him a small fee or service charge for being a ticket outlet. It made perfect sense: he took a certain amount of risk for selling the tickets as he agreed to pay for any shortages.

I could only hope that he wouldn't demand a fee that would push the tickets into a higher price range, thus possibly pricing the tickets out of the reach of the average 'fan.' That was not the case. Russ politely asked me if I would consider giving him a nickel -- five cents -- as a handling fee for each ticket he sold. It would come out of my gross, we would not pass this fee on to the buyer. It was a no-brainer. I agreed to the terms.

Keep in mind the average ticket prices at the time were $1.75 to $2.50 -- most, if not all, were 'general admission.' No reserved seating. If you wanted the 'front row,' you'd show up two to three hours prior to show time! Not a bad price for a ticket to see The Beach Boys, The Four Seasons, The Ventures, or a 'package' show featuring Freddy Cannon, Ray Peterson, Johnny Burnette, The Rivingtons and The Righteous Brothers. A meager five cent service fee amounting to about 2% of the face value of the ticket that was not even added to the price of the ticket ... it came out of my end!

Now, let's 'fast forward' to 2009 -- forty-six years. Would you be willing to pay 2% on top of a $50 ticket -- an amount equal to $1!! Or, how about paying a $5 fee on top of a $50 ticket purchased through the artist's fan club in exchange for a reserved seat toward the front of the main floor -- a slightly higher 10% service fee -- but still more than fair.

Right now, what can best be described as the greed of Ticketmaster (and, in some cases, the artists), the best seats are often 'held back' from the general ticket sales. Of course TicketMaster says it does not 'hold back' tickets -- it's the promoter, the record label, the artist's management or the act themselves. Regardless who is to blame, these preferred good seats are purposely held back but somehow manage to make their way into the marketplace through scalpers, or on the secondary market via eBay, through re-sellers like the Ticketmaster subsidiary TicketsNow, through Stub-Hub or through high end 'brokers.' The acts

-- and the promoters -- rarely, if ever, 'hold back' the bad seats -- only the top dollar ones.

Scalpers and high end 'ticket brokers' are an excepted way of life -- and that's a real tragedy for the die-hard fans. Fan club members should have a crack at those best seats, not see them go to the scalpers and re-sellers. Fans should not have to pay through the nose for the privilege of sitting close to their favorite star. They have earned that opportunity by a thing called 'loyalty.'

Software programs are available to the fan clubs, just as they are to the online outlets. The artists should sell their own tickets or the 'big box stores' should do for a modest 'service fee,' just as Russ Solomon did 46 years ago. They can surely use the extra traffic and business that such an arrangement would provide them with.

Fred Vail
Treasure Isle
Nashville, TN
"Music City, USA"

Without question, it has gotten COMPLETELY out of hand ... to the point that we very rarely pay to go to concerts anymore ... as if the ticket prices aren't already high enough, there are times that you can expect to pay another 30%-50% in additional fees and charges. When "Face Value Tickets" exceed $250, how on earth do you justify paying another $25-$30 per ticket in "convenience charges" and "service charges" and "handling fees" and "building restoration" charges, etc, etc, etc. Now add in the typical $20-$25 for parking and even a so-called "reasonably priced ticket" of $75-$90 ticket ends up costing you about $130 each! (Didn't it used to be a flat-rate service charge "per order" ... of something like $3.50 - $5.00 as sort of a "processing fee"??? This additional $15.00 per ticket on top of the face value PLUS service charges, processing fees and OTHER hidden charges in downright gouging ... isn't their profit already built into the actual ticket price BEFORE all these other charges are tacked on to your order???)

Here are a couple of recent cases in point from our own first hand experiences:

Last month, 1964, one of the premier and highest regarded Beatles Tribute Bands, was coming to play here locally. We had seen the group a few years back at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth and they put on a heck of a show. (That concert happened quite by accident ... we were walking around downtown Fort Worth, saw the sign, popped into the box office and bought tickets on the spot for that evening's performance ... now that's one way to AVOID all the additional bullshit charges!) Anyway, I got three or four emails touting a "Very Special Price" of only $19.64 per ticket in honor of the band's namesake ... so I thought, "Why not??? We enjoyed them before, Paige is a little bit older now and really getting into The Beatles' music ... how can you go wrong for twenty bucks a ticket?" Yeah, right! By the time they added in the $16 service fee per ticket, the $4.50 per ticket in "convenience charges" and something like $3.50 per ticket for some building fee, the price of the tickets literally better than DOUBLED!!! And, this place typically charges $25 for parking. So we skipped the show completely. The whole "come on" of $20 tickets was exactly that ... and I doubt that the artists see a penny of these tacked-on charges.

Shortly after that, my daughter wanted Sox tickets for her birthday ... there was no time to find anything decent anywhere so I went to Stub Hub. I finally found AWESOME seats ... 2nd row right behind the Sox dugout for a Saturday Night Fireworks Night Game ... but ended up paying 3 1/2 times the face value of the ticket through their service ... and, as if that wasn't painful enough, they then had the nerve to charge me an additional $21 per ticket in service charges and fees AND $35 to mail them to me!!! (What, the 350% profit wasn't enough for you?!?!? You had to weasel out another $77 from me?!?!) In that this was my first experience with Stub Hub, I cancelled out my first go 'round, refusing to pay these exorbitant charges. The next day I was besieged with emails from them, wanting to know why I hadn't completed my purchase. So I told them ... I wrote back to state that I thought it was a COMPLETE rip-off to charge these kinds of prices and then STILL hit you up for service charges and mailing fees ... you CAN'T tell me that you didn't make enough profit on my 350% bumped purchase. (Strangely enough, THAT email they didn't answer!!! lol) But as time ran out ... and her birthday got closer ... I had no choice but to cave and bought the tickets anyway, selecting an option to print them at home myself for $15 rather than pay the $35 delivery fee.

I'm sure we all remember the recent press hub-bub about no Bruce Springsteen tickets being available for his New Jersey concerts ... and then Ticketmaster referring customers to the brokerage company that they ALSO own a piece of, TicketsNow ... so that interested fans could buy seats at four to five times their original face value. I don't think that there are EVER any "premium" seats available for online purchase ... the best blocks of tickets always seem to be "committed" somewhere else. Even these early "pre-sales" that lure you in ahead of time to buy tickets before they go on sale to the general public is a real scam ... you typically find that either there are only certain seats available (again, never the GOOD seats) ... or, in fact, you may find better seats when ALL the tickets are released the following day ... or you're already up in the third balcony on the pre-sale ... now how on earth could THAT many of tickets have already been sold to this show when I go on line at EXACTLY 10 am, the moment the pre-sale starts?!?!?

Clearly, the current method of securing tickets is COMPLETELY out of control ... and SOME sort of regulation is in order. I think Fred's got some good ideas here ... and I'm sure some of YOU out there will have some, too. Unfortunately, as things stand right now, Ticketmaster is pretty much the only game in town unless you just resign yourself in advance to pay three, four or five times the face value of a ticket to get a REALLY good seat to a show and deal with a ticket broker or agency. (At least in the old days we had Ticketron and Ticketmaster competing for our business ... now, quite honestly, where else are you gonna go?!?!?) Moving the control to the Fan Club Websites is an EXCELLENT idea ... yeah, there'll still be some behind the scenes bullshit going on, with some of the fan club organizers trying to make an extra buck for themselves by selling some of these tickets at a much greater profit margin to some of these agencies ... but why not reward the people who have been there to support you all these years first, BEFORE making seats available to those folks only interested in turning a quick buck???

I'm sure this topic will spark a number of opinions and revelations of your own bad experiences ... SOMEBODY needs to get involved with this at a higher level and put us all on an equal playing field. I spent many a night in my 20's camped out in line to get the very best seats possible for a show ... and, as a result of these efforts (and persistence) often scored second, third and fourth row seats to some of the biggest shows that came through town. (Of course, I've ALSO been there, fifth in line, only to find out that they're doing a lottery and my fifth place spot is now 111th in line to buy tickets ... again, not a very FAIR way of rewarding the faithful willing to do whatever it takes to get a good seat.) Even back then I considered it a pretty steep price to pay to see a show you wanted to see, having to practically sleep outside the box office the night before just to hold your spot in line. Surely SOMETHING in between can be worked out ... maybe some of the artists can negotiate clauses into their contracts limiting the amount the ticket agent can add to a ticket for helping them sell out an arena. Honestly, I don't know what the REAL solution is ... but we'd love to hear your ideas. We'll do a follow-up piece on this topic somewhere down the line. Let us know your thoughts ... and your suggestions. Who knows ... maybe we'll get somebody's attention with this whole campaign and change the way business is being conducted!!! (kk)