The Springsteen Ticket Fracas

Too many people wanted too many tickets.

Are Live Nation, Ticketmaster and Bruce Springsteen evil entities out to screw everybody? No.

Let’s investigate.

First and foremost, the goal is to eliminate scalping. I don’t think anybody would argue with the fact that Springsteen should get the benefit of all ticket sales, i.e. the revenue therefrom. Forget other issues, like seats not being on the manifest, let’s just focus on scalping. Scalping only exists because tickets are underpriced and people are willing to pay the markups that scalpers charge. It’s simple.

So what scalpers do is buy as many tickets as they can at face value and then resell them. But scalpers don’t buy every ticket in the house, they only buy the ones that they can resell at a profit. To make it even more complicated, there’s no guarantee that the scalpers will get back all the money they pay for tickets. Sometimes the show ends up being an unpredicted stiff. Sometimes the scalpers have paid more than face value for tickets via various purchase methods, like buying from fans who bought extra tickets, and ultimately they find they’re upside down, that they can’t resell the ticket profitably. Scalping is a business. Which many appreciate. Rather than going through the shenanigans of verification, getting up at a certain hour…you can relax and wait until just before the show, when you know you can go, and buy the tickets you want with no pressure that you must make a decision instantly. You’ll pay for this privilege, but many people are willing to.

As for the bots and other ways scalpers acquire tickets…

Scalpers only want tickets if they believe they can resell them profitably. So, if the tickets are originally priced at fair market value, this eliminates the bot problem, because if the ticket is a thousand bucks to begin with, how much more is someone gonna pay for it? Of course the front row may be worth more, but you get what I’m saying here. In fact, the front row for Springsteen is probably worth $5000. There are probably enough people willing to pay that. Maybe not that much, but definitely four figures.

So, for years Springsteen has been pricing his tickets too low. It’s a good look, it makes him appear to be a man of the people, but the upside, the uplift, ends up going to scalpers, and we’ve established above that almost everybody would prefer that this money go to Bruce himself.

So what to do…

Well, you could go the Garth Brooks route. Charge less and play until demand is exhausted. Talk about good will…fans love Garth for this. Although it’s a lot more work for less money for Garth, sometimes he even plays two shows in a day, but they’re not brief, maybe not as long as Springsteen shows, but longer than those of many acts. Garth is delivering value.

Most acts don’t want to deliver this value. Most acts are greedy, they want the money, especially in an era where even the most successful musician makes a fraction of the money that bankers and techies do.

So if you don’t want to play ad infinitum like Garth, what else can you do?

Charge what the tickets are worth. Which means a high price. Which is what the Stones have done for years. People used to bitch, they call the Stones money hungry, but in truth people are willing to pay these prices. And now the prices are flexed, as in up and down depending upon demand. And oftentimes, there are tickets available right up until showtime. Think about it, what are you willing to pay to go to the World Series, or the Super Bowl…the Stones come around less frequently than that!

But it’s all not programmatic with the Stones, it’s all not algorithmic. There’s a human element, which was missing from the Springsteen on sale.

So let me explain this…

You register in advance, you get a code, you’re a verified fan. The goal of this is to weed out scalpers. Ticketmaster can investigate who registered, who gets the codes. And yes, this information is valuable to Ticketmaster, it may even affect initial sales price, but probably not. Initial sales prices are discussed heavily, debated, they’re not established on a whim.

And Springsteen knows at least in major markets he can sell every ticket he wants.

But the dirty little secret inside the business is the demand for Springsteen tickets is not even close to that of many other acts. He’s got hard core fans, but not the same number in every market. So Bruce doesn’t want to have unsold tickets, so he does an underplay, the opposite of the Garth Brooks paradigm. And Bruce has made so much money, on Broadway, where tickets were verging on a thousand bucks, and via his catalog sale to Sony, that he doesn’t have to eke out every last dollar, so he plays indoors, even though in stadiums he can make so much more money, never mind accommodating more fans. But indoors is a better experience, and when it becomes about the music rather than the money…you do it the way you like best.

But, once again, whatever money is there Bruce wants to keep to himself, he doesn’t want to let it flow into the hands of third parties, i.e. the scalpers.

Which brings us back to the Boss fans. Everybody thinks they’re an original, that no one is more dedicated, that they’re ENTITLED to tickets, and good ones, AT A REASONABLE PRICE!

This is insane.

I’ve never met someone who saw Springsteen earlier than I have, except those who saw him as an opening act in his initial go-rounds. I saw him at the Bottom Line THE YEAR BEFORE “Born to Run.” That’s right, 1974. After “The Wild, The Innocent…” He was mind-blowingly good. But do I shake my pedigree in front of people’s faces saying that I should therefore be entitled to Springsteen tickets, good ones at a fair price, forever? OF COURSE NOT! I sat fewer than five feet away. Because demand was low and I lined up and got in early. But after “Born to Run”…

I’ve seen Springsteen many times, it’s never a bad show, but you’d think he’s God by the fervor of the fans. But we know that is incorrect, we know Jerry Garcia is God, and the Dead his apostles.

But Jerry is dead. Phil Lesh is 82. He doesn’t want to tour. But Bob Weir and a couple of drummers and John Mayer go out and play STADIUMS performing Grateful Dead music. At least it’s still the original Springsteen.

So everybody says they live for Bruce, he’s their number one and…


So, ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.

The on sale begins, the demand is insane, and the algorithm, not some evil genius at Ticketmaster or Live Nation or Bruce himself, sees this demand and jacks up prices through the roof.

Is it worth it to pay four digits for a ticket in the upper ring? I don’t think so, I don’t think many people would say so, but demand was so high that they ended up being that expensive.

As for the truth, how many tickets were offered at that price… The LN/TM/Bruce team isn’t speaking, because they got caught with their pants down, they didn’t foresee this problem, they didn’t expect the algorithm to go wild and cough up these crazy numbers!

But all the Boss fans are pissed if they can’t get a good ticket for every show right up front. So they’re bitching like crazy online, you should see my inbox. I’d like to see a report of what every seat actually sold for, but I doubt that will be forthcoming.

So some people paid outrageous prices and some people refrained from paying and…

What have we learned here?

Springsteen is a heritage act, it’s all about the old material, people want to hear “Rosalita,” not something from the twenty first century records. They want to relive their youth, they want to take their kids to see Bruce before he stops, or dies. But when they’re not going to see Bruce…

They’re buying Teslas. Living in 4,000 square foot homes. Believe me, the Boss’s audience is not broke. Those days passed long ago. He may project a working class image, but his fans are not working class. They’re willing to pay through the nose for everything but Springsteen tickets. And if it looks like Springsteen grew up and wants to get paid what he’s worth it messes with their image of him.

I hate to disillusion you, but Bruce is just a person. With foibles. Singing about driving before he owned a car. You’re the ones who built him up. And he’s not your friend. That’s just in your head. And this is the same WITH ALL THESE ACTS! And you don’t want to meet most, talk about being disillusioned.

So you’re laying your mental construct upon Bruce. Sure, he stimulated some of this, but he lost control of it decades ago. No one complained about Broadway prices, because there were so many fewer seats in the building and it was Broadway.

And Broadway is uber-expensive. The unions… But almost none of the shows charged what Bruce did, and they had much higher expenses. “Hamilton” was really the only show in Bruce’s league.

So it’s not like the fans didn’t get a warning, it’s not like Bruce didn’t show his hand.

So what is going to happen here?

One thing is for sure, the buildings will be full when Bruce plays the shows, the market will ensure this. We know there is a limited supply and a huge demand. What is a ticket worth exactly? WHO KNOWS! Which is why this algorithm based system was employed, to try to find out the value of a ducat. But not enough thinking was done to ensure that the machine didn’t go out of control with negative effects. So, if you’re willing to pay a lot to go, just hang on, as the dates get closer… You won’t find four digit seats up for grabs in the upper deck. That’s just too expensive.

Or maybe not. Like I said, Bruce’s camp has not released all the details. And believe me, Bruce is in control, the act always is. Live Nation and Ticketmaster do nothing the act doesn’t want them to.

So if you want to go to see one show on Bruce’s tour… You’re gonna pay a lot, especially the closer to the stage you are. Is it worth it? Only you can decide that.

But really, this kerfuffle is a lot of ink and angst about nothing. Everybody who ultimately attends the show will testify how great it is, especially since they got in the building and others did not.

And the next time around…

People are not going to opt out, sit on the sidelines, instead they’ll be more prepared, knowing what these tickets are worth.

And so will Bruce’s camp. They’ll come up with a better system. Because this cockamamie system is flawed.

Want to be egalitarian?

Eliminate all pre-sales.

But the acts won’t do this, they like the extra income.

Well, as for the rest of the tickets available…

The promoter could tell how many are actually available. Which they will never do. By time the on sale hits, many times fewer than a thousand seats in an arena are actually available, the rest have already been sold, your odds of getting a good ticket to a show at this point are extremely low, A GREAT TICKET? FUGGETABOUTIT!

What Bruce should have done is price the tickets so high that he knew there wouldn’t be instant sellouts. And then lowered them if the tickets didn’t move. Or keep them high until the end, trying to eke out every last dollar.

Humanly, this is impossible to do and make sure you get every last dollar. But if you want to get rid of the scalpers and get all the uplift yourself, you’ve got to do something like this. So far, we don’t have an algorithm, a program, that suffices all by its lonesome, which has been illustrated with this Springsteen on sale. Maybe it’s a hybrid of humans and machines, but you’ve got to have humans involved.

In any event, the public always bitches, always. And it’s the “biggest fans” who complain loudest, believing that based on their “fandom,” they’re entitled to great seats at a cheap price.

But this is untrue.

But they’d rather not look at themselves, they can never be at fault.

Do these same people go to Tesla and say they’ll pay half? Hell, at Tesla you pay what they say on the website, you’ve got no bargaining power, demand is so high that people have sold new cars for more than they paid for them!

This is economics. This is America. Live Nation/Ticketmaster/Bruce are doing their best to live in the present. But the fans…


Comments are closed