This week’s On-Sale by The Cure revealed the whole picture of ticketing problems, including scalping and fees in the secondary market.
Which? Robert Smith meant it. The Cure’s tickets on sale this week were a great case study to show how fans can make the ticketing market more fair.
The English gothic rockers were preparing for their first U.S. concert in seven years. They had developed what live music professionals would call the best measures to ensure that fans are centered and tickets remain at face value, even when demand exceeds supply. They likely lost some cash when they decided not to use dynamic pricing, which is often associated with high-profile arena concerts. Additionally, they made tickets non-transferable in order to make it more difficult for scalpers selling tickets at steep premiums.
Despite all these efforts, Ticketmaster was again under fire from fans by the time it opened on Wednesday. This time, the vitriol stemmed from fees, which in some cases were more than the cost of the tickets. There are also common technical issues, such as long wait times or preventing buyers purchasing tickets.
Smith was vocal for the past two days about Smith’s intention to make sure fans bought their tickets face-value. He called out everyone from scalpers and platinum tickets to fees. By Thursday night, he had announced a rare move where customers will get a refund from Ticketmaster. Smith stated that the company agreed the fees were too high.
This is how it happened. What does it mean for ticketing? And what should you be watching out for.
March 10, The Cure announced fan-friendly restrictions along with a U.S. tour
Smith and Cure knew exactly what they wanted for ticket sales. They had a set price for tickets, but they did not want fans to spend more than that. The band announced that tickets were non-transferable and stated, “We want to make the tour affordable for everyone.”
The Cure placed stricter restrictions on themselves, as well as limiting the transferability of tickets to stop scalpers selling them at a high price on the secondary marketplace. While more artists embrace “dynamic pricing”, which modifies tickets prices according to demand, the Cure resisted that possibility. Smith called it a “greedy scheme” later and noted that it is up to artists to decide whether to take part in this strategy.
This shows how much agency this group has. “They had the agency to answer some of these questions, and in certain ways, they made significant advances that led to some real success stories for their fans,” said Kevin Erickson director of Future of Music Coalition.
Erickson points out that the policies did not completely eliminate some structural issues like fees and resale. However, it supports a common criticism among ticketing professionals that established, larger artists who have greater demand for their tours do exercise some control over on-sales.
Smith and the Cure’s on-sale could set a benchmark for ticket buyers. Fans might be interested in the actual measures taken by an artist against an on-sale that has sold $2,000 of platinum tickets or scalped tickets.
Erickson states that those seeking change should not look to only musicians for help, regardless of whether they are looking to raise their ticket prices or primary.
He says, “It shouldn’t be the artists’ job to find solutions to every problem. It shouldn’t be the fans’ jobs to learn how to fix everything in this industry.” These are jobs for policymakers, and the biggest problem with this is the fact that policy makers never did a good enough job prior to now of involving artists in such debates.
March 15, The Fee-asco
Some customers posted screenshots on the internet showing that their $20 tickets were not being honored with $27 ticket fees. This was a repeat of the frustration customers have had for many years with Ticketmaster.
These fees included both service fees charged by Ticketmaster as well as facility fees. The fee for the second charge is not set by Live Nation unless they own and operate the venue. Live Nation did not own or operate the venue in the instance of the viral ticket photo. Fans were still frustrated and questioned why fees weren’t worth the product. This could not be stopped by any artist, no matter how hard they tried. Smith claimed that he was “sickened” by the high fees.
Erickson states, “It’s going to not be perfect.” Erickson says, “It’s not going to be perfect.” Erickson is a member of the Future of Music Coalition and has been vocal in leading the BreakupTicketmaster campaign.
Ticketmaster has suffered a lot of criticism over the last few months. The Taylor Swift ticketing scandal put Live Nation back in hot water. Customers and regulators have been asking if Live Nation holds monopolistic control over live music. Live Nation is currently under investigation by the Department of Justice and was heavily criticised during a Senate Judiciary hearing about competition in ticketing.
Live Nation denies the claims of monopoly and is active in pushing for additional legislation that would allow artists to decide how they want to manage their tickets. The company called for the banning of speculative tickets, which is when resellers attempt to sell tickets that they don’t own. It also encouraged legislators to adopt laws to protect tickets from being transferred and strengthen existing legislation to combat the unfair purchase of tickets by bots.
Erickson, The Future of Music Coalition and even Erickson have advocated for these calls. They noted that change advocates don’t need to make a choice between brokers or Live Nation.
Erickson states that one of the problems is ticketing. It’s so easy to see them all as one issue that ticketing simply sucks. To solve problems we must look at each problem in its systemic context. It makes sense from the consumer’s perspective to be frustrated, but it is not a good idea to look at policy options in broader contexts.
They want to avoid the system that Ticketmaster has made into resale. This strategy is not without its limits. New York, Colorado, and Illinois have all passed laws that prohibit the band from restricting transferability to their shows. Ticketmaster cannot sell tickets outside the exchange’s face-value ticket market. The Cure specifically requested that resale websites not resell tickets when they announced their tour.
However, that doesn’t stop brokers looking for ways to make a profit. VividSeats, Tickpick and other brokerage sites all have listings for venues in the United States beyond those markets that don’t allow transferability. Some listings may be classified as “speculative zone seats”, meaning that the seller does not have tickets. Others have directions in fine print for buyers to visit the venue or provide details about how they can get a Ticketmaster account.
SeatGeek didn’t reply to a listing of resale tickets from the Cure by this week. Rolling Stone When asked for comments about the listing, they were requested to comment, however, within hours the tickets had been removed.
VividSeats did not respond to a request for comment about its ticket listing, which remains listed for each city where the Cure is currently playing at the time of publication.
StubHub is the largest industry resale website. They have listed tickets in New York, Colorado, and Illinois, where transferability can be required. The company stated that it was disappointed in ticket restrictions, which limit fan choice.
StubHub stated in a statement that “StubHub will fight for choice, competition, and we encourage artists do the same. We keep ticket transferability open and encourage tickets to be distributed across many marketplaces. We believe that this is a benefit to fans as it allows them to use trusted platforms, increases quality and pricing, and gives them the freedom to do what they like with their tickets.
Even though The Cure made extraordinary efforts to get tickets at reasonable prices to as many people as possible, even in unlikely events where ticketing could be perfected immediately, it is still a problem that leaves a lot of disappointed fans. It comes down to the fact that there is always more demand than supply for tickets. That is a problem that great musicians always face. Smith recognized that there are no easy solutions. He tried his best to overcome it. That’s something that is to be respected.
Smith wrote the following tweet on Tuesday, before tickets were put on sale: “The truth is that there won’t be enough tickets for everyone if they don’t sell.” This one at least tries to get tickets in the hands of fans for a fair price.