The cheapest tickets to see Britney Spears perform at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. on April 20 cost $36.50. But that's not what you'll end up paying. Factor in an $11.70 "convenience charge," $3 "building facility" charge, and a $2.50 charge to print your own ticket at home, and you're up to $53.70, 47% more than the original price. Thanks Ticketmaster!
For those who enjoy concerts, sporting events, Broadway shows, or even the Ringling Brothers Circus, Ticketmaster is a necessary evil. The company makes it easy to find seats at most major venues in the U.S. (and many abroad) and various events are aggregated on one easy-to-use web site. What rankles customers, though, is the fact that Ticketmaster's behemoth status seems to give them the ability to impose expensive fees on top of standard ticket prices. (See TIME's Top 10 Songs of 2008)
And now Ticketmaster wants to gobble concert promoter Live Nation to further extend its reach. (Live Nation, which puts on more than 16,000 live shows annually, also recently launched its own ticketing service.) Word of a Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger has angered fans and performers alike, including Bruce Springsteen. Ticketmaster was already on The Boss's bad side after it recently directed fans to its secondary sales apparatus, which charges more, while regular tickets were still available. (The company publicly apologized.) An open letter on Springsteen's web site expressed his outrage: "The one thing that would make the current ticket situation even worse for the fan than it is now would be Ticketmaster and Live Nation coming up with a single system, thereby returning us to a near-monopoly situation in music ticketing...If you, like us, oppose that idea, you should make it known to your representatives. The abuse of our fans and our trust by Ticketmaster has made us as furious as it has made many of you." (Read TIME's 1975 cover story on Bruce Springsteen "The Backstreet Phantom of Rorck")
A pair of Arizona State University staffers, with some business partners, started Ticketmaster in 1976, which sold its first tickets the following year for an event at the University of New Mexico. In 1981, the company opened its first overseas operations and in 1982, a new CEO named Fred Rosen took over the company. Rosen, who told the Los Angeles Times in 1985 that his competitors were "asleep at the switch," was an aggressive businessman and proud of it. He was so good at dominating the ticket industry (and consequently became practically the only game in town) that Pearl Jam rebelled in 1994 with a campaign known as "TicketBastard." The band wanted to offer summer tour tickets to fans for under $20 and asked Ticketmaster to charge less than $2 in service fees. Ticketmaster refused, Pearl Jam canceled its tour and took its case to Congress. Ticketmaster prevailed, but not before the band accused the company of sending private investigators to snoop around Pearl Jam's affairs.
Responding to criticism that Ticketmaster was approaching monopoly status by the mid-1990s, Rosen told the New York Times his critics were fueled merely by "jealousy and envy." By then, Ticketmaster had already swallowed the company that had previously dominated the market, Ticketron, and was in the process of evolving its business model from selling tickets only over the phone and at retail outlets to the marketing them on the Internet. (Read "Going After Ticketmaster")
Several years later the company went public and continued to feast on its competitors, including ReserveAmerica, an online company that takes reservations for everything from state park campsites to the Washington Monument. (Buy a ticket for the monument in person and it's free. Buy it in advance online via ReserveAmerica, via Ticketmaster, and it cost $4.35.)
What changed the public perception of Ticketmaster from a convenient aggregator into an evil empire was the Internet. People, including music fans, buy everything directly online these days, so it's jarring not to be able to buy concert tickets straight from individual venues or, for that matter, the bands themselves. Plus, it annoys fans that Ticketmaster with its exclusive agreements with venues and 2008 acquisition of a company that manages artists has such a stranglehold on the industry. (To be fair, not all of the fees tacked on to ticket prices are collected by Ticketmaster, but the company's financial arrangements with venues facilitate many of the charges.)
In 2007, Ticketmaster sold more than 140 million tickets and industry experts estimate the company controls 70 % of the market for major concerts. If it merges with Live Nation, that share would increase substantially. The companies announced the terms of their merger Feb. 10, but the deal will have to be approved by government antitrust authorities. New York Senator Charles Schumer, who's on the Judiciary Committee, has already come out against the merger, signaling an uphill battle for further consolidation of the concert business. Eddie Vedder may yet get his revenge after all.