Jam to Ticketmaster/Live Nation: Drop dead!
Quietly and with no formal fanfare, Jam Productions—Chicago’s biggest independent concert promoter and one of the few of any size remaining in the U.S.—has begun to sever its longstanding relationship with Ticketmaster and, in the wake of that company’s mega-merger with archrival Live Nation, at long last followed the lead of many concertgoers in giving the much-hated, consumer-gouging ticket broker a defiant middle-finger salute.
This blogger first noticed several months ago that the vast majority of concert tickets being sold on Jam’s Web site are no longer being made available via Ticketmaster but through the alternative ticket seller etix.com. But Jam officials were and have been reluctant to talk about the shift.
This morning, Sun-Times pop music critic Thomas Conner broke the news that Jam filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court on Monday asserting its right to sell tickets at the three local venues that it owns—the Park West, the Riviera Theatre and the Vic Theatre—however it chooses, despite long-term deals with Ticketmaster.
Ticketmaster was an independent company when Jam signed its exclusivity agreements for those venues in 2006. But in a move that remains one of the most controversial in the history of the concert business, the Department of Justice earlier this year approved Ticketmaster’s merger with the monopolistic giant Live Nation—which once publicly vowed to “crush, kill and destroy” Jam, as well as many of the other remaining indie promoters in the U.S.
Neither Ticketmaster nor Jam have commented on the lawsuit. But when he testified at the Senate hearings on the merger in February 2009, Jam co-founder Jerry Mickelson said that the merger meant that, “Our competitor would be receiving income from every ticket we sell. That is not something I would relish.”
When the hearings ended, C-SPAN’s cameras and microphones continued running, and they captured the delightfully entertaining moment of Mickelson cautiously approaching downstate native and Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff, “the poison dwarf” now considered the most powerful man in the music industry.
“Irving, this has got nothing to do with you,” Mickelson said.
“I’m fine,” Azoff replied. “I’m fine.” But the churlish and hateful corporate greedhead clearly looked anything but.
Through much of its three-decade history of promoting concerts in Chicago and other stretches of the Midwest, Jam defended Ticketmaster’s absurdly overpriced “convenience fees” as a cost of doing business, even when Pearl Jam declared war on the ticket broker based on charges that Ticketmaster tacked on to several Jam-promoted shows in Chicago in the early ’90s.
However, added fees on Ticketmaster tickets to Jam shows routinely were much less—sometimes 70 percent or more—than those tacked on to tickets to Live Nation shows, indicating that Jam took much less of a cut from those fees than Live Nation did. Jam also maintained box offices at several of its venues where tickets could be purchased without any fees, in stark contrast to Live Nation, which added the extra costs everywhere except, at times, the House of Blues.
Convenience, facility, and order fees for Jam shows via etix.com are not cheap: They seem to be adding an average of $11.75 to tickets in the range of $30 to $35 at the Riv and the Vic.
In comparison, Ticketmaster/Live Nation is adding $11.66 to the $65 ticket for Chris Botti at the Chicago Theatre on Nov. 13; $11.65 to the $61 ticket for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra at the Allstate Arena on Nov. 26, and $12.08 to the $35 ticket for Cake at the House of Blues on Dec. 14.
UPDATED: There are, however, some savings on the etix order fee of $3 per order on Jam tickets since that fee is charged per order no matter how many tickets a concertgoer buys, while Ticketmaster/Live Nation fees are charged per ticket.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss? Perhaps. But veteran concertgoers would argue that even if they’re paying the same fees they’ve been paying, anybody has got to be better than the notoriously unresponsive and consumer-hostile Ticketmaster.
UPDATED: The Jam lawsuit also notes that in recent months, several other venues in Chicago that are not owned by Jam--Schubas, Martyr's, and the Aragon Ballroom among them--have pulled out of their exclusivity agreements with Ticketmaster, underscoring that Jam certainly is not the only local promoter dissatisfied with the newly merged Ticketmaster/Live Nation.
Sources say that the giant company's president and CEO Michael Rapino is especially distressed by indie promoters and venues attempting to sever their ties with Ticketmaster--which is ironic and an indication that the firewall the Department of Justice allegedly erected to keep the ticketing end of the new giant's business separate from the concert promotions end is not nearly as strong as the government promised. (Rapino came from concert promotions at Live Nation--not ticketing at Ticketmaster.)