Nix On Free U2 Tix

Anyone who uses the Internet regularly has seen them: the ubiquitous ads offering free iPods for those willing, along with a few friends, to test products or answer surveys for third-party companies. It’s called viral advertising – creating an online buzz for a product by word of mouth, or click of a mouse.

Would-be entrepreneurs in Los Gatos, Calif., came up with such a scheme, using not the iPod as bait but rather tickets to see the band that has most famously advertised the portable media players on television.

Brendan Monahan and Brian Cornerstone launched a Web site April 14th offering free U2 tickets using the same viral advertising pitch used to give away those iPods online. promises a pair of U2 ducats to anyone completing three “easy” steps: supply an address where the tickets should be mailed, sign up two friends, and “participate in some of our advertisers’ offers.”

Logos for companies such as Bank of America, Dish Network, America Online and Verizon appear on the site. A list of recommended charities, to which net proceeds can be earmarked for donation, includes the American Red Cross, UNICEF, Amnesty International and one that would seem to carry Bono’s own endorsement – The One Foundation.

Monahan and Cornerstone got the idea after finding themselves unable to buy reasonably priced prime seats to U2’s recent concert at San Jose, Calif.’s HP Pavilion At San Jose. They missed out on the fan club presale and were forced to turn to the secondary market.

“The only tickets that were available were really kind of crappy seats at $250 per seat through the secondary market,” Monahan told Pollstar. “There’s a whole lot of Web sites out there where people sell their tickets online. We were so distraught over this; we thought it was ridiculous the amount of money people have to pay just to see U2.”

Monahan said he tried to sign up on‘s fan club list to get in on the presale for the band’s second U.S. leg in the fall, but found he was still out of luck; the site was accepting no new memberships. That’s when he and Cornerstone came up with an alternative plan.

“We realized that if we had a bunch of sponsors and advertisers, and we got people to get the products and services they wanted by participating in our advertisers’ offers, that the compensation we would receive for bringing our sponsor new clients would surpass the price of two tickets,” Monahan told Pollstar.

“What that means is not only would we be able to give people free tickets, we’d bring advertisers new customers and we’d be able to raise money to give to charity, which is really what we’d like to do.”

While iPods can be purchased in bulk orders to fulfill conditions of a legitimate viral ad program, U2’s “Vertigo//2005” tickets have been snapped up almost as quickly as they could be put on sale.

And given U2’s sensitivity to the band’s recent fan club presale snafu, it didn’t seem likely a third party ticket giveaway would earn Bono & Co.’s stamp of approval.

It doesn’t.

Spokespeople for Ticketmaster and U2 all confirmed that the promotion is not authorized by the band, venues, ticket vendors or tour promoters – and none of them provided with the ducats.

Monahan said he personally purchased 10 to 20 tickets per venue on the Vertigo tour, starting with a May 10th show in Chicago, for an “investment” of about $10,000 in cash and credit card charges.

He might have done well to read the very fine print on the back of those tickets, though.

For example, the disclaimer on the back of U2 tickets for an upcoming Oakland Arena show reads: “This ticket may not be used for advertising, promotion (including contests and sweepstakes) or other trade purposes without the express written consent of the … promoter of the Event.”

A spokeswoman for Ticketmaster declined to comment on the Web site promotion, but cited the “no unauthorized promotions” language and added that TM makes it very difficult for single buyers to obtain more than a minimal number of tickets.

Arthur Fogel, president of Clear Channel Entertainment Touring and longtime North American promoter for U2, told Pollstar the company was looking into the Web site and its offer, and considering its options.

“We’re looking at the entire situation,” Fogel said. “No one knows who this guy is or what he’s up to. Obviously, we’re going to find out. Beyond that, I have no idea. It’s rather bizarre, to say the least.”

Monahan insists his methods are completely legit.

“We’re not affiliated with U2 just as we’re not affiliated with the products, retailers and the services that are provided on our site,” Monahan said. “These are secondary companies we basically negotiated with that will directly represent them and direct people to their Web site. Then, if people sign up, we’ll get a commission.”

With the commission, Monahan explained, he and his group will use the money to buy more tickets if needed and on the secondary market, if necessary. But he added not that many people, a week after the promotion began, had qualified for the tickets.

“We’ve only had about 2,000 people actually sign up and proceed to the offer section,” Monahan said. “But, so far, we’ve got 50 people who are qualified for tickets.”

Fogel has his doubts.

“There is no possible way, as Joe Public, that he could have gotten 10 to 20 tickets per show on some organized basis,” Fogel emphasized. “There’s just no way. I’d be shocked if he has the tickets.”

He may well find out, as sources familiar with the promotion confirmed the site has been brought to the attention of Clear Channel’s legal department, and likely to those of the possibly unwitting “sponsors” as well.

— Deborah Speer