Seatwave U-Turns Over PR Gaffe

Someone at Seatwave looks to have concluded that accusing Marek Lieberberg of behaving like the Mafia wasn’t the smartest public relations pitch, leaving the U.K. ticket broker’s press advisers to carry the can for a major PR gaffe.

A week after the secondary market ticketer released a statement saying the country’s major promoter was using "mafiösenMethoden," and hours after Pollstar had posted the story online, Seatwave released an apology that said the first statement "was not drafted, approved or authorized for distribution by Seatwave, and the statements do not reflect our position or those of Veit Spiegelberg."

Matthias Werner of Euro Marcom Dripke PR wouldn’t comment on whether his company made up the press release that quoted Spiegelberg, who runs Seatwave’s German operation, and then circulated it without client approval, although he did confirm that his company still has the Seatwave account.

Spiegelberg was also staying quiet, referring all questions to James Burgess in the company’s London office. Burgess wouldn’t say why it took seven days to correct the initial press release, because "it’s an internal matter," but he denied that the retraction was sent out in response to the Pollstar piece.

The second press release came from Stanton Crenshaw Communications, Seatwave’s American PR company, which sent Pollstar a cover note that referred to the story and requested that the retraction be published online.

Burgess also denied that Spiegelberg got a slap on the wrist for his comments about Lieberberg and that the press agency was being made the scapegoat.

"It’s totally ridiculous and shows how this company seems to work," said Alex Richter of Four Artists, which is already at loggerheads with Seatwave over an earlier press release from the company’s German office. "To me, it’s just bullshit."

Richter was furious after reading a statement the company published March 27, just after the cancellation of the Tokio Hotel tour. It said many of the German band’s fans were worried about getting their money back.

Seatwave was making the point that its own ticket site, which it calls "our fan-to-fan ticket exchange," protects the punter by guaranteeing a refund, but Richter and local promoter Jochen Tiffe of Dortmund-based NRW Concerts said the press release made both of them "look like dubious promoters."

It described how "helpless kids" queued outside the Dortmund Westfallenhalle and worried about getting a full refund. Richter says fans would have been worried only if they bought an overpriced ticket from a tout.

He disputes the second press release’s claim that Seatwave has "good relationships with many promoters in Germany," although Burgess declines to name them on account of the information being "confidential." Richter says he and Lieberberg aren’t the only ones fed up with Seatwave’s practices and its aggressive press releases.

Lieberberg’s lawyer, Matthias Atrott of Frankfurt-based Atrott & Böttcher, also complained about the press release and applied for an injunction to stop Seatwave from repeating it.

Lieberberg said Seatwave’s U-turn strategy is to prevent the matter from escalating and, while welcoming the clarification and the apology, said he doesn’t believe the original press release went out without Seatwave seeing it.

He received a second apology a week later, this time a personal one from Seatwave founder Joe Cohen, which didn’t go as far as denying that the original comment did come from Spiegelberg.

"I wanted to contact you directly to apologise for inappropriate comments attributed to Seatwave’s interim country manager, Mr. Spiegelberg," it said. "The press release that contained the comments should never have been sent out and as CEO I am responsible for communications that come from Seatwave."

The original statement accusing Lieberberg of behaving like the Mafia came after the German promoter asked the company to stop selling tickets to his Rock Am Ring festival. But Folkert Koopmans from FKP Scorpio – another major German festival promoter – is also angry that he takes the economic risk and the Internet touts get rich on the back of it.

"Another aspect that annoys me is the prices that our clients have to pay on the secondary ticket market," Koopmans said in a recent interview with Musikmarkt, the leading trade paper for the German music industry.

He recommended fans buy from the authorised ticket agencies and not pay more than the recommended prices, even if it means missing out on seeing an act until it comes back to do more shows.

"I’m not sure they have good relations with the promoters, but they seem to have good relationships with some of the ticket outlets," said Stefan Gunter, senior promoter with Peter Rieger Konzertagentur. "Marek’s absolutely right. It’s not a fan-to-fan site, it’s much more than that. I think they have people buying the tickets.

"We’ve had shows that have sold out in minutes and then the tickets start appearing on Web sites, but we traced them and found a lot were coming from certain outlets. We contacted CTS in Bremen and warned them about these outlets," Gunter explained.

Secondary ticketing is becoming the hot issue in the German live music business in the same way as it has in the U.K. Atrott believes that promoters, managers, agents and artists will need to work together to fight against it.

Although the law isn’t clear on touts, Atrott believes it’s better to test it rather than rely on the German government to intervene, particularly after the U.K. government has told the British live industry to sort out the problem itself.

Seatwave, which was launched by Cohen in February 2007, claims to offer tickets to 25 times more events than eBay, and that it has 500,000 tickets available at any given time.