The Ticketmaster Monopoly: Lamenting the Hurdles Fans Face to See their Favourite Bands
Radiohead’s exalted 1997 album OK Computer explores the themes of distrust of technology, alienation in a mechanized society and the emptiness of consumerism. Unfortunately, these are also some of the feelings that the ordeal of buying Radiohead tickets can bring about.
I was ecstatic when the band expanded its tour two weeks ago to include a performance at Toronto’s Downsview Park. However, the method by which tickets were sold soon tempered my enthusiasm.
There were two rounds of sales: an allotment was released through an official fan site before the remainder became available from Ticketmaster the following day. The pre-sale was evidently intended as a favour to loyal fans, but in this regard, it backfired immensely.
The start time for the pre-sale was kept secret, forcing myself and other fanatics to sacrifice sleep in order to avoid missing out. Beginning at 5 a.m., I reset my alarm every half hour so that I could frantically refresh the site. Buzzing online message boards informed me that I was not alone in my obsession. After several heart-stopping page loads, I claimed victory six hours later from the back of my physics class. As widely expected, the pre-sale sold out within hours.
Sadly, my sense of triumph was equally short-lived for several reasons. Ticketmaster’s supply lasted for many more days. Moreover, Ticketmaster extended the pre-sale discount to all Rogers wireless customers and offered an otherwise unavailable VIP option. Rather than rewarding its most faithful followers with the pre-sale, Radiohead inadvertently subjected them to much confusion, sleeplessness and aggravation for little benefit.
This miscalculation highlights the madness that often accompanies scoring tickets for the biggest and most buzzed-about performers. The digital age has made buying music simpler than ever, but getting concert tickets can still be a trial. Many McMaster students recently experienced the problem firsthand when a TwelvEighty show by The Weeknd sold out within hours. It is a disappointing reality that as an artist’s popularity rises, it can become more difficult to appreciate their work in person.
Ticket sellers routinely exploit the resulting desperation of fans. It is not surprising that Radiohead would try to circumvent Ticketmaster with its pre-sale, as the company has been widely criticized for its monopolistic business practices and excessive markups.
Ticketmaster is the exclusive ticket provider for most large venues and charges service fees that typically amount to a sizable percentage of a ticket’s face value. In 1994, Pearl Jam famously sued to lower these fees. The band subsequently cancelled its tour when the U.S. Department of Justice decided in Ticketmaster’s favour.
More than a decade later, buying high-demand tickets remains troublesome. However, there are some possible solutions. Influential bands should follow the examples of Radiohead and Pearl Jam by working around Ticketmaster and experimenting with alternative sales strategies. Still, such approaches must serve the interests of fans and provide an obvious advantage over the status quo, which Radiohead’s pre-sale approach certainly did not.
Meanwhile, live music lovers should explore their local scene. Take the opportunity to see up-and-coming bands now before they explode and purchasing tickets for their shows becomes a nightmare.
Once Radiohead launches into their set, I highly doubt that the Downsview Park crowd will be contemplating the hassles they experienced buying tickets. Nevertheless, Radiohead won its devoted following with innovative, high-quality albums. Music fans deserve a system for buying concert tickets with these same features.