"Itís the concert industryís dirty little secret. The big scalpers move nearly 2000 tickets to every event in every major market," former CAA agent Tom Ross told Chuck Philips of the LA Times recently. Philips has uncovered a scam whereby SFX Entertainment, the worldís largest concert promoter, sells nearly 200 prime seats to every show at its Irvine Meadows CA amphitheater directly to ticket scalpers. The brokers then resell the tickets for many times their face value. Thus the Times was able to buy a ticket to a sold-out Jimmy Buffet show for $375.
SFX doesnít share the revenue from those seats (so-called sponsorsí box seats) with the artist or anyone else. (Anyone wanna bet whether the artists have lost more money to this scam than to Napster?) The rows the seats are in donít appear on any seating chart or ticket manifest. Presumably, there is an additional fee for the "sponsorship" that merits the box, and such fees are never shared with performers. So the income SFX gets is pure profit.
Scalpers are desperate for tickets to shows by big acts. Late last year, the Allman Brothers played 24 shows at the Beacon Theater in New York. Allmans fans could buy tickets for those shows through the Peach Corps, an offshoot of the bandís website. According to Allman Brothers representative Lana Michellizzi, the band discovered that 3,000 tickets meant for the Peach Corps were in fact sold to scalpers. The band then had to work with Ticketmaster and building management to void those sales, resell the seats to legitimate fans, and deal with disputes throughout the shows. Michelizzi says that one scalper became so outraged that he called a Ticketmaster executive and threatened him, screaming, "You canít do this to me. Iím a millionaire and Bruce Springsteen tickets built my house."
But if they did, at least it wasnít by means of a backdoor deal with the promoter. Or was it? Philips reports that some insiders believe that in buying up concert promotion companies around the nation, SFX figured scalping income into its bidding price. The company denies it, of course, but it also denies that the bands were deceived about the scalper seats at Irvine Meadows, even though Philips discovered that contracts didnít inform bands about the off-the-books seats.
A very real question is whether this scenario is isolated to Irvine Meadows. There is no reason to think that such practices donít go on in many other buildings.
A word of caution, however. There is no fair way to distribute concert seats. As long is there is one more person who wants a ticket than there are tickets available, someone is likely to feel cheated. As long as some seats are more desirable than others, there will be that many more crying foul. Unquestionably, the existence of corporate boxes that let rich people buy seats without queuing up doesnít help matters. But even eliminating that wouldnít make the situation fair, if by fair we mean "satisfactory to everyone."
Thatís no reason, however, for every state in the nation not to investigate local SFX-owned venues to see if there are hidden seats going to scalpers. Itís certainly not a reason for music fans not to demand such investigations nor is it an excuse for any of us not to try to imagine better, fairer ways to deliver live music to all the people who love it.
[from Rock & Rap Confidential/2000]
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