Boss Ticket Talk

The last two weeks have been anything but easy for Ticketmaster Entertainment, with the company’s recent Bruce Springsteen ticketing mishap fueling fan outrage, as well as investigations by attorneys general in two states and a class action lawsuit in Canada.

What could have been a manageable setback for the ticketing giant instead evolved into round-robin explanations by the company of what exactly went wrong during the onsale in attempts to save face with fans and clients alike.

Springsteen and manager Jon Landau posted a letter saying they were “furious” Ticketmaster had redirected New Jersey fans to its secondary subsidiary site TicketsNow during the Feb. 2 sale. TM CEO Irving Azoff was the first to speak up in response.

“While we were genuinely trying to do the right thing for fans in providing more choices when the tickets they requested from the primary on-sale were not available, we clearly missed the mark,” Azoff wrote. “We have committed to Bruce and state publicly here that we have taken down all links for Bruce’s shows directing fans from Ticketmaster to TicketsNow.

“This redirection only occurred as a choice when we could not satisfy fans’ specific search request for primary ticket inventory, but to make sure there is no misunderstanding in the future, we also publicly state that we will never again link to TicketsNow in a manner that can possibly create any confusion during a high-demand on-sale.”

Fans who inadvertently purchased tickets from TicketsNow, mistakenly believing they were purchasing from the initial onsale, were offered a refund of the difference between the purchase price and the face value of the ticket.

Azoff’s sentiments were echoed by Ticketmaster spokesman Albert Lopez, who explained the Boss blunder was far more complicated than it seemed, and that fans faced not just one, but three separate issues during the onsale.

“The net effect that is happening here is that fans and some politicians are melding together three separate issues that all happened to occur in a relatively short space of time, and they’re all chalking it up to us redirecting tickets and that wasn’t the case,” Lopez told Pollstar. “It is incorrect to say the fans are redirected. The fans are given the option to redirect.”

But in an odd twist, Ticketmaster Chairman Barry Diller explained during a Feb. 10 Live Nation / Ticketmaster investors conference call that the ticket snafu that caused the numerous Boss fans to receive error messages and redirects wasn’t in fact due to faults in TM’s own system, but credit card giant Visa’s.

“It had to do with, I think, Visa that couldn’t process the data,” Diller said. “So it kind of froze the system for a bit. When it froze the system, essentially what Ticketmaster screens said was it couldn’t do anything.

“It couldn’t process tickets and another screen came up and said you could go back, try your thing again, you could modify, etc., and on the other side of the screen it said you could also go to TicketsNow, which is our reseller, sister company.”
Visa, which apparently hadn’t discussed the issue with Diller, found the explanation just a bit puzzling.

“We were surprised by the comments of Ticketmaster CEO Barry Diller regarding their recent ticket issues,” a Visa spokesman said in a statement. “Ticketmaster’s characterization that an earlier technical ‘glitch’ impacting its online ticket sales was related to Visa’s systems is inaccurate. Visa’s processing network was fully functional on Feb. 2 with no authorization issues. In fact, VisaNet has run with nearly 100 percent reliability for the past decade.”

Despite the alleged Visa connection, it’s likely TM will be on its own in answering to the investigations of the attorneys general of New Jersey and Connecticut.

The New Jersey AG’s office launched an investigation Feb. 4 after hundreds of fans logged complaints with the state’s Division of Consumer Affairs.

“Consumers are questioning what transpired and if they had an equal opportunity to purchase these concert tickets. We share these concerns and are investigating this matter,” N.J. Attorney General Anne Milgram said.

It was same story, different state in Connecticut the next day.

“Glory days for Ticketmaster – and its reported stranglehold on tickets – cannot be used to manipulate the market and cut out consumers,” state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said in a statement. “I am deeply disturbed that Ticketmaster may be exploiting its market dominance – funneling consumers to its subsidiary in order to inflate profits.”

Blumenthal added that Ticketmaster’s pending merger with Live Nation raised numerous concerns about “antitrust and consumer protections … I will be discussing with other attorneys general possible investigation of such a merger.”

Also seeking an investigation were Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Bill Pascrell, who called on the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Department of Justice to look into the matter.

Across the border, Canadian courts are looking into TM’s business practices. Members of a class-action suit are seeking $500 million, claiming the company conspired to divert tickets to popular events away from Ticketmaster Canada – in favor of TicketsNow, where the same tickets were sold at premium prices.

While the pending investigations and legal issues might have some company executives reeling, Diller wrote off much of the hullabaloo during the conference call, explaining why it’s become “sexy” for people to rally against the company.

“Ticketmaster is never perceived to be on the side of the angels because in fact, there are only so many tickets. It’s got tickets to sell and when they’re finished selling, people get angry. That’s understandable.”