So you want to see a concert this summer. You're daunted by the prices, but
you decide to take the plunge and buy tickets online for a favorite artist.
Just before committing to pay on your credit card, you discover the total is
25 percent higher than what you expected to pay. What gives?
The biggest extra charge is the "convenience fee" added by Ticketmaster:
The cost averages $10 per ticket, but can climb much higher. (See sidebar on
"The ticket prices are not the problem; it is the additional fees that
are a problem," local music fan Brian Hoekstra wrote in an e-mail to the
Sun-Times typical of many complaints from concertgoers. He and his son went
to see Ted Nugent at the Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville, Ind. The price
was $27 per ticket, but they wound up paying $40.50 each. "Sometimes the
fees add up to half of the original ticket price!"
For years, consumers have complained about the big jump in the cost of
tickets purchased from Ticketmaster during a two-minute transaction online
or by phone. But given the lock the ticketing giant has on many venues in
the Chicago area, concertgoers had no choice: They had to buy from
Ticketmaster or not at all, since many venues didn't have box offices where
tickets could be purchased in person without fees.
But two weeks ago, the Chicago office of national concert promoters Live
Nation (formerly Clear Channel) announced it is now selling tickets for all
of its big summer shows -- at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley
Park, the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wis., and the Charter
One Pavilion on Northerly Island -- at the House of Blues box office, 329 N.
Dearborn, with no service charges added, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days
a week. (Live Nation bought HOB last year, and it owns or controls the other
"This is really a local customer service effort," said Live Nation
spokesman John Vlautin. "The benefit customers get by coming to the HOB box
office to buy these tickets is that they don't have to pay a service or
handling fee and they can conveniently pick up the tickets if they work or
Live Nation's major rival, Jam Productions, does not have a central
location where fans can buy tickets to all of its shows, but it maintains
box offices at two of the venues it owns, the Vic Theatre on the North Side
and the Park West in Lincoln Park, and concertgoers can purchase tickets for
shows at those venues without service fees. The company also notes that many
of the other venues where it promotes concerts -- including the Allstate
Arena, the United Center, the Metro, the Aragon Ballroom and the Chicago,
Auditorium, Riviera and Rosemont theaters -- have box offices where
concertgoers can purchase seats without Ticketmaster fees. (Hours vary at
each, and some are only open on the day tickets go on sale and/or the day of
the show, so always call ahead.)
An examination of Ticketmaster service charges this season reveals that the
ticketing company adds convenience fees ranging from 17 to 29 percent to the
advertised ticket prices for Live Nation shows and from 8 to 13 percent for
tickets to Jam shows. Why are the service fees for Jam concerts lower than
those for Live Nation concerts?
"We fight for the fans to pay less for service charges -- we're on their
side," Jam co-founder Jerry Mickelson said. He added that a portion of the
Ticketmaster convenience fee for venues Live Nation owns, including the
FMBA, reverts to Live Nation.
"A percentage of service charges is often kicked back by Ticketmaster to
promoters and venues, giving them a vested interest in keeping service
charges high," alternative rockers Pearl Jam charged in a memo to the
Justice Department written in 1994, during the height of their battle with
Ticketmaster (see sidebar). In 2003, Rolling Stone reported that the
convenience fee is divided with 30 to 40 percent for the venue, 25 percent
for the ticket outlets and the rest after expenses as profit for
"All I can tell you about how the Ticketmaster fees are set is that
they're scaled to the size of the show and the venue," Live Nation's Vlautin
said. He added that only Ticketmaster can comment about how its fees are set
and how that money is divided.
Ed Stewart, Ticketmaster's Los Angeles-based vice-president of corporate
communications, declined to comment or answer numerous questions posed to
the company for this story.
The big news for frustrated consumers is that a major change could be in the
works: The concert industry has been buzzing for months that Live Nation may
begin selling tickets for all of its concerts itself. It is currently
Ticketmaster's single largest client, but that contract expires next year,
and Live Nation owns a stake in two major independent companies, Next
Ticketing and MusicToday.com, which both rival Ticketmaster's
capabilities for selling tickets online.
If Live Nation cuts Ticketmaster out of the transaction and sells tickets
direct to concertgoers, industry experts say that it will be able to keep
more of the ticketing revenue for itself -- and hopefully reduce service
fees for concertgoers.
"We're in the midst of talking through next steps with Ticketmaster,"
Vlautin said, "so it wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment on that."
Chicago and Ticketmaster: The History
Ticketmaster first became a center of controversy in the music world 13
years ago, when alternative rockers Pearl Jam declared war on what they
called an unjust monopoly -- and it all started in Chicago.
Though Ticketmaster was founded in 1978, its rise to prominence in the
concert world really began in 1982, when it was purchased for $4 million by
Chicago investor Jay Pritzker, head of the billionaire family that owns the
Hyatt hotel chain. From that point on, its headquarters were based in Los
Angeles, and it quickly became the dominant force in ticket sales
Seattle's alternative rockers stumbled into the role of Ticketmaster's
most famous critics: In March 1994, they were touring in support of their
second album, "Vs.," and trying to keep ticket prices under $20 when they
performed at the Chicago Stadium and the South Side's Regal Theatre. The
musicians were outraged when they learned that Ticketmaster had raised their
$18 ticket price to $21.50 per show (though the $3.50 convenience fee the
company added to each ticket seems reasonable when fees now top $10).
At the time, the federal government was already investigating
Ticketmaster's dominance of the concert field, and the Justice Department
asked Pearl Jam to file a memorandum about its experiences in Chicago. It
did, and Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament soon found themselves testifying
before an investigative subcommittee on Capitol Hill.
It's important to remember that the government went to Pearl Jam, not the
other way around, but the press covered the story as a personal crusade by
singer and Evanston native Eddie Vedder, especially after the Justice
Department dropped its investigation without taking action. The government
said Ticketmaster was not a monopoly; Pearl Jam eventually returned to
performing at Ticketmaster-controlled venues, and a class-action lawsuit
filed against the company by Chicago concertgoers went nowhere.
Generally overlooked in the media coverage was the fact that Ticketmaster
negotiates exclusivity agreements with major venues in most cities. In the
Chicago area, it controls the right to sell tickets at every major concert
venue except for the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, which sells its
tickets direct. Artists performing at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre,
Charter One Pavilion, Allstate Arena, United Center, U.I.C. Pavilion, Aragon
Ballroom, and the Chicago, Auditorium, Riviera and Rosemont theaters must
sell tickets through Ticketmaster -- and allow the company to charge
whatever convenience fees it wants -- or they cannot perform on those
Inside the Numbers: Breaking down the cost of your concert ticket
The price of concert tickets is steep enough, many consumers say, but the
service fees incurred by ordering from Ticketmaster drive the cost even
higher. The Sun-Times took a look at the breakdown of fees when purchasing
tickets online for a sample of shows from this summer's busy concert season.
Some notes on these numbers: While the House of Blues box office does not
charge service fees when selling tickets for shows at the First Midwest Bank
Amphitheatre, the Charter One Pavilion or the Alpine Valley Music Theatre,
it does charge a $2 box office fee and a $2 facility fee for tickets to
shows at the House of Blues. And customers must still pay for parking -- a
cost labeled as a "facility fee" and which averages $4 to $6 per ticket --
for the Live Nation amphitheater shows. (Don't be deceived when you arrive
at FMBA and see traffic attendants collecting $20 for "premier parking":
You've already paid to park in a dirt lot that is only slightly farther from
the venue than the "premier" dirt parking lot.)
Another additional cost online is Ticketmaster's delivery fee: There is
no charge if you choose to have the tickets sent to you by standard mail,
but Ticketmaster does charge extra for UPS delivery, and it also charges
$2.50 for "Ticket Fast" -- which is simply you printing the ticket out with
your own home computer and printer.
Live Nation presents the Barenaked Ladies at Charter One, June 18
Face price on the ticket: $55.50
Ticketmaster convenience fee: $12 (an
additional 22 percent)
Parking fee: $4.50
Total price from Ticketmaster: $72
Total if purchased at the House of Blues box
Jam Productions presents Steely Dan at the Auditorium Theatre, June 27
Face price: $123
Ticketmaster convenience fee: $11 (a 9
Facility fee (for theater restoration):
Total from Ticketmaster: $136
Total at the box office: $125
Jam presents Tool at the Sears Centre, June 27
Face price: $59.50
Convenience fee: $10.50 (an 18 percent
Order charge: $4
Total price from www.searscentre.com: $74
This new venue is the only major local arena
that does its own ticketing. Owners promised reduced service fees, but the
fees have been comparable to Ticketmaster's.
Live Nation presents Def Leppard at FMBA, June 30
Face price: $85
Ticketmaster convenience fee: $14.25 (a
24 percent increase)
Parking fee: $6
Total from Ticketmaster: $105.25
Total at the HOB box office: $91
Live Nation presents the Vans Warped Tour at FMBA, July 28
Face price: $25
Ticketmaster convenience fee: $7.25 (a 29
Parking fee: $6.25
Total from Ticketmaster: $38.50
Total at the HOB box office: $31.25
Jam presents Kelly Clarkson at the Allstate Arena, July 29
Face price: $79.50
Ticketmaster convenience fee: $10.40 (a
13 percent increase)
Total from Ticketmaster: $89.90
Total at the box office: $79.50
C3 presents Lollapalooza at Grant Park, Aug. 3-5
Face price: $195 for three-day pass; no
The Texas-based promoters no longer charge a
convenience fee for ordering through www.lollapalooza.com, but they raised
ticket prices $30 from last year, when a $16 convenience fee was
added to online orders.
Scalpers leave fans in the dust
After exorbitant service fees, the single biggest complaint from many
concertgoers concerns "scalpers," as music fans call them, or "secondhand
ticket brokers," as they prefer to be known.
Every fan has had the experience of getting up early to pick up the
phone, log on or stand in line to buy concert tickets only to find that the
show instantly sold out, or that the only available seat was in the last row
of the top balcony. Yet scalpers always seem to have great seats -- for
people willing to pay their astronomical prices.
"I feel something is very wrong and it needs to be checked now, before it
gets worse," local concertgoer David Pearlman wrote in a recent e-mail to
the Sun-Times. "When a show sells out in 1.5 minutes, and 2 minutes after
that you can buy eight tickets for $160 each instead of $29 each, something
is very wrong. I dare say it should be illegal."
In the most striking example this summer, the reunited Police quickly
sold out two shows at Wrigley Field on July 5 and 6. The top ticket price
was $275 -- Tickets.com, an independent rival to Ticketmaster, added
a $21 service charge to the face price of $254 -- but ticket brokers are now
selling those seats through Web sites such as StubHub.com and
eBay.com for as much as $3,000.
How do the scalpers get their tickets? They refuse to say, but frustrated
promoters and artists claim brokers use a number of ploys ranging from
hiring homeless people to stand in line at the box office to employing small
armies of temporary workers to man the phones and computers when tickets
first go on sale.
Many states have anti-scalping laws prohibiting brokers from reselling
tickets above a set price over their face value, though some of these have
been overturned because of developments on the Internet. Illinois has never
had such a law, but Jam co-founder Jerry Mickelson has been urging state
legislators to pass one for years.
"Ticket scalpers are scum to me," Mickelson said. "They're just ripping
off the real fans and regular people who stand in line to get tickets."
But the technology exists to assure that only the person who buys the
tickets can use them, thereby making them impossible to resell. Concertgoers
could pick up tickets at the venue by checking in with their credit card,
the way travelers do for airline tickets sold online, Mickelson said. "I
think that technology will be in place by the end of the year for concerts,
and that to me is the ultimate way to stop scalping."
The Jam executive said Ticketmaster supports this initiative, though the
ticketing giant declined to comment.