Free Ozzy

After 10 years of caravaning the country, rock’s Prince of Darkness and his merry band of metalheads known as Ozzfest will hit the road again this year, but with one eye-popping difference: Admission will be free.

Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, agent Marsha Vlasic and Live Nation’s Bruce Eskowitz made the announcement during the Concert Industry Consortium in Los Angeles February 6th, stunning a group of press and music industry professionals gathered at the Century Plaza hotel.

The tour will be underwritten by sponsors, led by Jagermeister and Monster energy drink, whose swag was already highly visible at the press conference. Ozzy kicked it off by spray-painting the word "free" over an Ozzfest banner.

"This will change everybody’s impression of the way touring in the summer in America should be," Sharon Osbourne said in a statement. And the reaction in the room, and discussion on CIC panels and in hallways, was generally one of agreement.

Ozzy will headline the tour, which will feature a roster of heavy bands willing to forego a paycheck in exchange for the kind of exposure Ozzfest offers.

"For the last few years, ticket prices have steadily climbed as artists demand more and more money for summer tours," Sharon said. "We certainly want everybody to make money; however, we also want the kids to be able to afford to come out and have an incredible experience. If we continued with the traditional touring festival model, we would have no choice but to raise ticket prices again this year."

With Live Nation producing the tour and routing it through venues it owns, the elimination of high artist guarantees, and a heavy boost from sponsorship packages, the economic model to pull off such an unprecedented tour begins to come into focus.

"It came about in a meeting [Live Nation CEO] Michael Rapino had with Sharon," explained Jason Garner, Live Nation’s president of North American concerts. "It started as two big thinkers analyzing the past and the future of Ozzfest, and they came up with a crazy idea and went back and challenged their respective teams. How would this look; how would this feel – can we do this?"

There will be a hard ticket for Ozzfest and the distribution details are still being worked out, Garner told Pollstar, but it will likely be done primarily online and sponsors will be involved in getting the free ducats in fans’ hands.

What happens to the tickets after that isn’t going to be a major area of concern to Live Nation. Though the appearance of otherwise "free" tickets for prior events on sale at locations like eBay and StubHub has been a sore spot for promoters, Garner acknowledges the prevention of profiteering by ticket holders isn’t high on the list of things LN has any control over.

"We announced a free Ozzfest and we are going to provide one thing, which is a free ticket," Garner said. "We’re not standing up and saying we’re going to solve a myriad of things that are facing the industry. Right now, fans have the ability to get the free ticket and resell it. We would hope that fans wouldn’t want to resell free tickets. Will they? I think it’s a fact of life."

Garner emphasized the free ticket also means no surcharges – a major gripe of concertgoers in addition to high ticket prices.

"It’s not going to be your traditional ‘buy a ticket and pay a service fee’ thing," Garner said. "It’s going to be 100 percent free and so there will be alternative methods to get those tickets directly in the hands of fans."

A spokesman for Live Nation told Pollstar that while ancillary streams including parking, food & beverage, and merchandise will still carry their customary price tags, fans can be assured those prices won’t be inflated to help cover the cost of the show.

"We haven’t finalized the plan for how people will get their tickets, but this is truly about creating a great live experience for fans and let them experience it for free," Garner said. "There isn’t some ulterior motive. We’re working to finalize our sponsor package and our talent lineup and get the word out to the public how to go out and get your tickets."

Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne, with Vlasic’s help, are already in the process of choosing other artists on the bill, and it’s likely the final roster will include a mix of local, regional and national acts, according to Garner.

"I think that’s up for grabs right now as they sort through the myriad of bands that are interested in playing this festival," Garner said. "At the end of the day, Ozzy and Sharon control the creative content of what goes on stage. It’s all about free music so we don’t have a rigid rule at this point.

"We have one overriding rule, and that is to put on the best show possible every night. The fans have rewarded us for 10 years with their support and now they have a chance to be rewarded with a free Ozzfest."

The tour starts in San Bernardino July 7th and will continue through Live Nation sheds in 25 cities including San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Dallas, San Antonio, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, Indianapolis, Columbus, Pittsburgh, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Hartford, Charlotte, Atlanta, West Palm Beach and Nashville. A final confirmed list of cities and dates is forthcoming.