Phish Fans Caught Up in the Ticketing Perfect Storm

I was writing an email and one of those creepy Google ads popped up for the Phish page on TicketsNow, the Ticketmaster-owned secondary ticket site similar to StubHub. A few observations:

- The market has ballooned to nearly $650 per ticket for the opening night Hampton show - nearly double where it stood a couple weeks ago (are Phish tickets the only thing in America that have gone up in value over the last two months?).

- The spike came right before paper tickets were mailed out and received. Not sure what that means, but the availability of actual paper tix will probably push the marketplace in one direction or another. It's hard to believe single tix are going to go for MORE thann $650, so that would indicate it's not a great time to buy. If you feel you MUST buy tickets on TicketsNow or Stub Hub, or any other broker site, consider waiting another week or so. 

- TicketsNow is pushing a laughable 100% Unconditional Guarantee that is dressed up to look like consumer protection, but actually is a shield for sellers (brokers) who put tickets on sale before they actually have them. The brokers "sell" the tickets they don't have, run people's credit cards, then go out and try to buy tickets for less then what they charged the buyer. If the brokers can't find tickets for less than what they sold them for, they just refund the person's money. No loss. No gain. And the buyer is left with no ticket, and staring face up at the higher price. TicketsNow is doing nothing to stop this. They've stopped brokers from putting tickets on sale before they actually go on sale to the public, referred to as "speculative tickets" in a policy listed on the TicketsNow site, but there is nothing to stop brokers from advertising tickets they don't actually have after that point.

- Here is TicketsNow's pitch for Phish (who wrote this? as if Phish fans need to be sold): "When it comes to jam bands, few can top the energy, passion, and precision of Phish! Don’t miss your chance to see Trey Anastasio and the rest of Phish perform LIVE! Phish puts on a must-see show at every stop!"

These are interesting times for the world of ticketing. Lets recall a brief timeline of the recent past.

- Aug 22, 2007. Live Nation, the world's largest concert promoter, announces that it won't renew its long term contract with Ticketmaster. It later reveals plans to launch its own ticketing service.

- Oct 18th, 2008. Phish tix go on sale on Ticketmaster. Maybe 1 in 20 people snag a pair. But everyone notices the TicketsNow link on the Ticketmaster site, selling them for 6x face value or more.

- Oct 23rd, 2008. Super manager Irving Azoff (Guns N Roses, Journey, Smashing Pumpkins) buys Ticketmaster

- Jan. 30, 2009. Live Nation launches its ticketing platform with a quiet little on-sale from a quixotic quartet from Vermont. The system can't handle the (highly predictable) influx of buyers and breaks down.

- Feb. 2, 2009. Springsteen tix go on sale. Maybe 1 in 20 people snag a pair. Everyone notices the TicketsNow link selling them for 3x facevalue of more. And suddenly the world takes notice, including NY Sen. Charles Schumer (D), the New Jersey Attorney General and the Boss himself (He calls it a "conflict of interest" on his website).

- Feb. 4, 2009. Live Nation and Ticketmaster merger talks are reported in the Wall Street Journal.

- Feb. 4, 2009. Ticketmaster issues an apology to Springsteen, and says it won't allow ticket postings for shows that haven't been put on sale yet. 

- Feb, 2009. Phish fans who bought through brokers start getting emails saying the brokers didn't really have the tickets they were advertising, with a refund. The phans are stuck with no tickets or having to pay the new market price - nearly double.

- Feb. 10, 2009. Live Nation and Ticketmaster officially announce merger plans. 

- Feb. 17. Phish tickets get mailed. Aftermarket prices skyrocket.

Phish fans now find themselves right in the middle of a brewing consumer protection and anti-trust issue. So what can we do about it? Lots.

HeadCount is going to put out a poll this week asking music fans what issues we should focus on in 2009. We will be staging letter writing and education campaigns around three issues, chosen by the community. We just added one new issue to the list of choices - "Consumer protection for concert ticket buyers." We will wait to see the results of the poll, but we are ready to take this on. It's obviously something the community cares about deeply, affects us all, and has the ear of the government. 

Personally, I believe in the free market. I don't think the aftermarket for tickets is inherently bad. And I don't think these companies are bad either. We have great friends at Live Nation, and years ago I personally knew the CEO of Ticketmaster, who was a brilliant guy. But I think there are real issues of disclosure, fairness in advertising, credit card fraud, and stifling of competition here. If Senators and attorney generals are already taking notice, then it means our community can organize and shape the debate. That's what HeadCount is here to do. We can make our voice heard on this. Afterall, we can make our voice heard every day, not just on election day.