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Who Needs Tickets? It Seems We All Do…

Who Needs Tickets? It Seems We All Do…

By Dave Price

If you are planning to get tickets to an anticipated concert or a special event with a highly popular star, you better be financially well-off. Or lucky. Or, even better, both.

Securing seats at some events has become as difficult as finding that proverbial leprechaun’s pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Although, if you were able to find that full pot, it might give you a better chance of getting those elusive, highly-sought after concert seats.

Now I understand that entertainment is a business and is governed by the same economic laws as other enterprises. When the demand (for tickets) exceeds the supply (of tickets), some people are going to be left out.

But that is only part of the problem.

While tickets are sold at hefty prices – $100 to $225 seems to be the current average for the best seats at regular concerts – many tickets are scoffed up by resellers and scalpers, and then offered to fans at exorbitant rates of profit.

For example, there are currently two $850 tickets for Bruce Springsteen’s upcoming solo Broadway show available for $8,500 each.

This is particularly vexing for Baby Boomers like me, who, in our youth were able to make a day-of decision to take in a Jimi Hendrix or Cream concert and find $3 to $5 tickets still available. I remember the outrage when the Rolling Stones decided to charge the then-unheard-of, top-ticket price of $8.50 for their American tour in 1969.

If you’ve tried to procure concert tickets recently, you know what I’m talking about. But, in the event you haven’t, here are two of my recent tales of trying to get some sought-after seats.

As a writer, I usually get comped to events I’m writing about. But if I’m not sure I’ll be writing about an event, I pay my own way. So, when I heard the operators of the famed 9:30 Club here in Washington were opening a new, 6,000-seat venue in The Wharf section of the city and DC-area native Dave Grohl and his Foo Fighters would be the first act, I decided I would try my luck at getting a ticket online.

Now, The Foo Fighters have sold out the 18,000-seat Capital One Center in DC, so I knew securing a ticket, which ranged from $100 to $175, to the much-smaller Anthem would be difficult.

On the day of the sale, I was signed in and began my search at 10:01, one minute after the Foo Fighter tickets officially became available. I was greeted on my computer screen by a tiny avatar, who would walk across my screen, in a simulated journey to indicate how close I was to procuring tickets. As the minutes ticked by, I was pretty sure my chance to attend the opening night of The Anthem was gone, but since my avatar was still marching, I maintained slight hope.

Suddenly, at 10:09 my little avatar disappeared, meaning he had arrived at his destination. Maybe I would be getting a ticket, after all. However, I was met by a screen bearing these words:

Super Excellent Seats:   None Available
General Admission:   None Available
ADA wheelchair accessible:   None Available
ADA accessible Super Excellent Seats:   None Available

So, I was shut out.

Since I was researching this story, I immediately logged into the ticket resale site StubHub. There I found a general admission ticket available for $1,200. And two more general admissions tickets, each for $1,250. Then there was one uber-avaricious capitalist who was offering two opening night tickets for $25,000 each.

Yes, you read that right – $25,000.

Now I have no idea who would pay $25,000 to see the Foo Fighters, but I know as much as I admire Dave Grohl and his band, it wouldn’t be me. I have never paid more than list price for a ticket and have vowed I never will.

In late summer, when Bruce Springsteen announced that he was going to perform in a one-man show on Broadway, where he would read passages from his autobiography, tell stories, and accompany himself on guitar or piano for selected songs, I thought I would enjoy the event – provided I could get tickets for a low list price.

The prices for the show, which would be held in the 960-seat Walter Kerr Theater, varied from $75 to $850, with the majority of seats in the $200 to $750 range.

In heralding his first-ever extended stay on Broadway, Springsteen announced he wanted to perform a series of shows that were “as personal and intimate as possible.”

I chose Broadway for this project because it has the beautiful old theaters which seemed like the right setting for what I had in mind. In fact, with one or two exceptions, the Walter Kerr Theatre is probably the smallest venue I’ve played in the last 40 years,” Springsteen said in a press release.

My show is just me, the guitar, the piano, and the words and the music. Some of the show is spoken, some of it is sung. It loosely follows the arc of my life and my work,” he added. “All of it together is in the pursuit of my constant goal to provide an entertaining evening and to communicate something of value.”

Springsteen has long enjoyed a devoted fan base and wanted to make sure that as many of his true fans as possible could attend the series of shows, which were originally scheduled for five weeks beginning in October.

To that end, Springsteen joined with Ticketmaster to have all tickets distributed through a new program called Ticketmaster Verified Fan.

First, each purchase was limited to two tickets. Secondly, to have any chance to get tickets, Springsteen ticket seekers had to preregister with the Verified Fan program. Preregistration did not mean you would get tickets, but they would not be available for anyone not registered. A random group from the fan program would be emailed a code that would allow them a chance to purchase one or two tickets.

The first round of 39 shows sold out in a matter of minutes, and Springsteen added 39 more shows, extending the Broadway run until February. Those too were purchased in minutes, a tribute to Springsteen’s popularity, but a disappointment for thousands of fans who were shut out from seeing any of the 78 shows unless they agreed to pay the exorbitant prices being charged on resale websites.

So how did I make out?

I didn’t get a code for either sale. But I do know fans who did. And my missing out was certainly no tragedy. I was determined to only get tickets if I could get the cheapest $75 seats since I’ve set $150 as the maximum I will pay for a ticket, have seen Springsteen more than 25 times since 1975, and knew going in my chances of getting those lowest priced-seats were miniscule.

And what about the Ticketmaster Verified Plan – was it a success?

Not really – at least not if the goal was to get tickets directly into the hands of certified Springsteen fans without resale. Internet resale sites are filled with tickets for the performances for anyone willing to pay more than $1,000 for a single ticket. On StubHub, for example, as of this writing, there are tickets for all 78 performances. On some days, tickets are scarce, while there are more than 45 tickets available for a few dates if you want to pay enormously inflated prices.

But the combination of high ticket prices online and astronomical prices on the resale market doesn’t mean that there aren’t live shows from long-established acts you can still see for a reasonable (at least for me in today’s expensive market) expenditure. Between now and the end of the year, I’ve been able to secure tickets for Randy Newman ($90) and Bob Dylan ($115). For holiday season entertainment, my wife and I will be seeing Darlene Love ($75 each) and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra ($125 each).

Of course, if you want to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in a more luxurious DC setting, there is a single Capitol One Center suite ticket available on a resale site for $5,356. But for that price, I hope you would also get the new Foo Fighters CD; a personally signed copy of Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography delivered to you by Bruce himself; a backstage meet-and-greet with Santa, some of his elves, and Rudolph, and the chance to play your favorite Christmas song with the Orchestra on stage.

But I fear even with all that, you might still be overpaying.

Of course, you could argue I don’t see the value in that fantasy package because I’m cheap. But remember my background – I saw Eric Burdon and the Animals in 1966 for $2, Jimi Hendrix in 1967 for $3.50, Cream in 1968 for $5 and the Rolling Stones in 1969 for $8.50.

So, you’ll have to excuse me if I just can’t find a way to pay $5,356 to see a group in 2017, especially a group I’m only going to see because my wife wants to see them.

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Dave Price operates a freelance writing/speaking/consulting/tour guiding practice in Washington, D.C., where he focuses on 3 topics – the Baby Boomer generation, classic rock, and issues on aging, especially those affecting men. A former journalist and educator, Price is researching 2 books, one on the status of classic rock music and its songs, performers, and fans today and the other a DC guidebook designed especially for Baby Boomers.