Chicago-based Jam Productions is the latest of the dwindling number of independent concert promoters nationwide to sign a long-term deal with Ticketfly, the upstart online ticket seller owned by the music streaming service Pandora and increasing its competition with the dreaded and monolithic Ticketmaster.
The deal will cover all tickets sold at the three venues Jam owns in Chicago—the Vic and Riviera theaters and the Park West—as well as some of the other concerts the company promotes throughout the Midwest. But most of the largest concert venues where Jam and its competitors host shows—including the United Center, the Allstate Arena, the Aragon Ballroom, and the Chicago Theater—continue to be locked into exclusivity agreements with Ticketmaster-Live Nation.
These exclusivity deals, as well as Ticketmaster’s egregious “convenience fees” and lack of responsiveness to its customers, have been controversial and reviled by concert-goers since the mid-’90s, when Pearl Jam led an assault on the company and a Justice Department investigation into its near-monopoly status in the concert industry ended without action. Two decades later, Ticketmaster is part of the giant Live Nation monolith, and it’s arguably stronger than ever, despite digital technology that makes it easier and cheaper for indie promoters to sell tickets on their own.
Ticketfly already is a player in Chicago, selling tickets to the Pitchfork and Riot Fest music festivals, as well as some smaller shows. In addition to its link with one of the largest streaming music services, the company is trying to build an element of social networking into ticketing transactions. Its stated aim: “To make it easy to discover events, buy tickets, and share events with your friends—all with world-class technology and customer support.”
In recent months, Ticktfly has been aggressively courting the remaining independent concert promoters locked in fierce competition with Ticketmaster-Live Nation and the other international giant AEG. The ticket seller already works with Seth Hurwitz, the promoter of Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club and Maryland’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, and it recently inked a deal to sell tickets at the Bowery Ballroom and the Mercury Lounge in New York.
Since the Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger, a move that Jam co-founder Jerry Mickelson, 9:30 Club promoter Seth Hurwitz, and other indie promoters strongly protested at Congressional hearings early in the Obama administration, Jam has sold many of its tickets through the independent eTix service. The benefits for the local promoters in partnering with another aspiring ticket-selling giant are unclear, and Mickelson could not immediately be reached for comment.
Ticketmaster’s ironically named “convenience fees” can add as much as 20 to 45-percent to the cost of a ticket. San Francisco-based Ticketfly initially promised fees that were 30-percent lower than Ticketmaster’s when the company launched in 2008. It was acquired by Pandora last year, and since has drawn criticism for fees that fall in the same obnoxiously expensive range. The breakdown for what these fees add to the cost of a ticket are not clearly delineated or easily discerned in online transactions.
“Ticketfly does not claim to be the cheapest ticketing alternative,” a company prospectus once stated. “But we are striving to be the better ticketing alternative.”