Interactive Stiffs

There’s an old saying that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Recently, members of the concert industry began speculating that the real proof of this summer’s anemic amphitheatre business can be found in Ticketmaster’s interactive seat map feature.

The seat map feature was quietly launched at in December, and the beta version was tested with some sports teams and events at a few venues like Nokia Theatre at Grand Prairie in Texas. Interactive Seat Maps allow customers to choose from available seats at an event and the service is a standard device for many events listed at and

But the TM world is suddenly in flux.

With stories afloat of the poor amphitheatre business (Lilith Fair has become the water girl for such talks), the NBC News affiliate in Birmingham, Ala., used the Interactive Seat Maps July 11 to conduct research, using the Jiffy Lube Live amphitheatre in Bristow, Va., as an example.

“Here’s a fun exercise. Visit, search for Jiffy Lube Live and click on ‘find tickets’ for the American Idols Live! show,” NBC 13 said. “Or Kings of Leon.

“Or Rihanna. Or, if you really want to see how quickly your jaw can drop, Maroon 5 or Creed. What you will see, thanks to the site’s new interactive map …is that you have a choice of thousands of seats for these shows, not including the space for thousands more on the lawn.”

Bob Lefsetz, author of the popular online music industry commentary “The Lefsetz Letter,” suggested his readers follow suit and check out the interactive map for shows like Lilith at the Verizon Wireless Music Center in Noblesville, Ind., or The Swell Season at the Hollywood Bowl.

“Are these new interactive seat maps good for the company or bad?” Lefsetz asked. “Good for promoters or bad? Good for venues or bad? Good for acts or bad? Mmm…seemed like a great idea prior to the crash, when you couldn’t get a ticket, or believed you couldn’t get a ticket, but now?”

Lefsetz argued interactive maps are like Nielsen SoundScan – an objective way to determine the true popularity of acts.

“Turns out that many of the acts we thought were winners are really losers, or are not that big,” he said.

Lefsetz included hyperlinks in his July 13 blog post to the shows he referenced, and readers soon wrote back that the maps were “crashing” with the message “Sudden demand is forcing us to turn off the Interactive Seat Map; all seats already selected will be released.”

When Pollstar visited that afternoon, the shows Lefsetz mentioned included a map, albeit not an interactive one. However, the interactive maps were still available for shows at Jiffy Lube Live.

Whatever is going on, it should make for an interesting month of observing. Meanwhile, what of the acts that are getting huge guarantees but playing to papered sheds?

“The acts have to play to empty seats,” Lefsetz suggested.  In other words, maybe if the acts got to see the true price of a stiff – a lack of an audience rather than some cash and a facility filled with freeloaders – the guarantees and ticket prices might drop to a level fans will support.

“And if Live Nation is not willing to take this tack, its concert promotion business could implode,” he said. “Without lower guarantees, the model does not work. So either Live Nation fixes it or Live Nation goes away.”