Ticket Truths

Reading the new book “Ticket Masters: The Rise Of The Concert Industry and How The Public Got Scalped” was like a flashback through 30 years of Pollstar’s reporting on the business.

Authors Dean Budnick and Josh Baron have done an excellent job of pulling together the story of the industry’s mom and pop history, the SFX rollup that forever changed the landscape, and how in the course of all this, ticketing went from a cost center to a virtually out of control revenue stream.

The book explains in pretty clear language what has happened to ticket pricing in the past two decades, why all those add-on fees exist, and why they vary so wildly from show to show. Industry professionals know these answers but this is the first consumer-oriented book that explains it to the masses.

There are two fundamental, but ugly, truths exposed to the light of day.

The first is that many artists and their management reps reap huge profits by quietly diverting large numbers of tickets to the secondary market.

Despite all that disingenuous lip service to fans, in essence it is the artists themselves who are often the biggest source of tickets for the secondary market. Some of the best known artist managers in the business have been doing it for years and it is inconceivable that the artists themselves are not willing partners.

Some concert promoters are also guilty of routinely diverting tickets to the secondary market. Some claim they had no choice but to cheat on expenses or scalp tickets if they wanted to stay in business. After all, how can a promoter pay its overhead when a headline artist demands 95 or even 100+ percent of the primary gross?

The second ugly truth is why ticket service charges began spiraling out of control. For many years Fred Rosen kept those fees within reason and helped provide a valuable income stream to the promoters and buildings that were Ticketmaster clients. This was money outside the basic artist/promoter deal and for many years it was not directly controlled by the artist. Venues could get beat up on rent percentages and promoter deals were increasingly tightened, but the extra buck or two added on the ticket price was their money.

In today’s world that is no longer the case. The biggest reason add-on ticket fees vary so wildly is that the artists themselves are now dictating how much extra income they want from those fees.

It’s true they could just as easily raise their face value ticket price but then they might look greedy to their fans. It’s much easier to let the public blame TicketBastard or the promoter for the incomprehensible fee gouging. And besides, this way they can often cheat their own agent out of commissions on this income. It’s all about mystification and misdirection and is the real reason why all-inclusive ticket prices have not become the norm.

The only way this will likely ever stop is if the consumer media gets the balls to start asking the artists the embarrassing questions directly during interviews about why they or their reps can’t be honest with fans about pricing and fair access to primary tickets.


Previously: Mastering The Concert Ticket