Tennessee Ticket Probe

A months-long ticketing investigation in Nashville recently reinforced what many have been saying for years – holdbacks eat up a large percentage of tickets before onsales and artists may play a larger role in secondary ticketing than they let on.

The city’s NewsChannel 5 recently dug up internal ticket contracts and audit reports for a Keith Urban benefit concert for the Country Music Hall of Fame, plus Taylor Swift and Kenny Chesney concerts – revealing details of seldom seen but industrywide practices.

Urban and Co. had advertised all tickets were $25 and said they’d go on sale Sept. 2, but WTVF found that roughly 10,000 tickets to the 15,000-capacity show at the Sommet Center had been allocated to holdbacks and members of Urban’s Monkeyville fan club before the onsale.

And of those tickets allocated to Monkeyville, for which fans also paid $25 to gain access, NewsChannel 5 reported numerous tickets ended up on the secondary market at prices as high as $642.

The story was the same for some of the seats allocated to American Express cardholders and fan clubbers at Taylor Swift’s show. The station found section 2 tickets that went for $49.50 being sold on the secondary market “for the super rich,” as NewsChannel 5 put it, for as much $1,177 each.

Louis Messina, who promotes Swift and Chesney, told Pollstar he was perplexed by the accusation of NewsChannel 5.

“The artists are not scalping their tickets,” he said. “Some artists are, I suppose, but none of the artists I work with. They’re legitimate. It’s a business. It’s their property. … If the artist wanted more money from their tickets, all they need to do is raise their ticket prices. We can easily add $20 to our tickets across the board. And we would receive 100 percent of the money. We wouldn’t have to share with the buildings, wouldn’t have to share with Ticketmaster or anything like that.”

As for AMEX, Messina was equally nonplussed.

“I pursued the American Express deal myself because the fans don’t have to spend more money – it’s not a cost-plus thing,” he said. “And for the super rich? Guess what: I guess I’m one of the super-rich and so are my sons because they all have cards. And it’s advertised. It’s not like a secret society that you belong to. They’re full-page ads.”

It’s not just American Express and fan club tickets that have ended up on the secondary market in recent times, however.

Ticket documents for Urban’s Escape Together tour showed that his team instructed venues to hold 50 prime seats to be auctioned off through Ticketmaster and another 150 Platinum seats to be sold at a markup through TM’s TicketExchange for each date.

Representatives for Urban reportedly told WTVF the singer agreed to the TM deal in order to help finance the remainder of the tickets for the Escape Together run, which were sold for $20 each.

However, the station found that only 389 of the 15,000 tickets for Urban’s Escape Together show in Nashville Aug. 29 were available to the public for $20.

Likewise, ticket documents for the Swift concert showed that out of 13,330 seats, only 1,591 were available during the public onsale.

And in Chesney’s case, the station found TM had auctioned off two pairs of seats in the first five rows during his 2008 tour.

But Messina explained that WTVF had failed to mention that the auctioned tickets – a “handful” of approximately 25 – were GA in the coveted “Sandbar” pit and most were “upgrades or promotional or just tickets we give away.” A $79 ticket might go for $115, he said.

Industry commentator and “Lefsetz Letter” author Bob Lefsetz told WTVF, “The whole business is smoke and mirrors” and these situations occur because “no one is policing them, telling them to tell the truth.”

In the case of this Urban show specifically, Lefsetz said one problem is that those tickets were worth much more than $25, a price determined more by the country star’s image than value. And, of course, “Scalpers are working everything.”

Messina thought the station threw Urban “under the bus” – especially because it failed to point out that, for the Hall of Fame show, Urban played for free. All the money, whether it came from primary tickets or through auction, went to the HoF.

Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper issued a statement to NewsChannel 5 regarding the ticket offerings.

“Promoters should be careful not to make misleading claims about the price and availability of tickets,” Cooper said. “Deceptive practices in the marketing of goods or services is a violation of Tennessee’s consumer protection laws.

“Whether a violation has taken place depends on the facts of each case. We encourage consumers who feel like they have been misled to file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs. We need as much detailed information as possible so we can determine if a violation of the law has occurred.”

Borman Entertainment referred Pollstar to Urban spokesman Paul Freundlich, who was not available at press time.

Swift manager Robert Allen issued a statement to the station.

“If you look at the numbers, Taylor Swift tickets are supposed to be some of the more affordable shows in every marketplace,” he said. “Taylor herself made sure the price points were affordable for fans, and anybody can sign up for free for pre-sales at TaylorSwift.com.

“Taylor does not condone sales of her tickets through secondary brokers, nor does she profit in any way from the inflated pricing of secondary sales. We know, and your investigation shows, that the concert ticketing system in our industry is flawed, at best, and we will wholeheartedly support any legislation enacted to regulate the industry.”