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Bands Must Bow To Ticketmaster If Pearl Jam Wanted To Rock, It Had To Roll Over, Group Learned

Like the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger, the E Street Band without Bruce Springsteen, the Blowfish without Hootie, it’s not easy for a rock band to go on tour without Ticketmaster.

That didn’t stop Pearl Jam from trying. Angered by what it considers price-gouging of concertgoers by Ticketmaster, the nation’s most popular rock band opted to use an upstart ticket agency with lower service fees to put on a summer tour.

It didn’t take long for Pearl Jam to realize how difficult it is finding adequate venues not affiliated with Ticketmaster. The problem, coupled with bad weather and lead singer Eddie Vedder’s illness, turned one of the most awaited tours into an onagain, off-again odyssey. Shows were canceled, shows were rescheduled.

“There is no other ticket agency out there to speak of,” said Rob Collins, general manager of the Forum in Inglewood. “There are real small ones, but they’re not capable of generating the reports and providing a service that we need.”

The feud between Pearl Jam and Ticketmaster has highlighted the mounting legal woes plaguing the Los Angeles-based company, the nation’s largest distributor of live-entertainment tickets.

Consumer groups have joined Pearl Jam in criticizing the size of the service fees Ticketmaster tacks on to tickets. Smaller, regional ticket agencies complain their attempts to expand are met with insurmountable obstacles created by Ticketmaster.

Many have taken their grievances to court. In addition, the U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether Ticketmaster has a monopoly in the $1 billion concert industry.

Ticketmaster sells tickets via telephone or outlets to everything from rock concerts and basketball games to the ballet. It sold 55 million tickets Behind the scenes is 51-year-old Fred Rosen, the man credited with building a 25-person operation on the verge of bankruptcy in 1982 to a company that today employs 4,200 workers and operates in more than 40 states.

Along the way, Ticketmaster gobbled up at least a dozen rivals, including Ticketron, the granddaddy of the business. Ticketmaster’s dominance was gained, in part, by locking up exclusive, multi-year contracts with twothirds of the nation’s major venues.

Rosen declined to comment for this story because of what spokesman Larry Solters said were legal considerations. But in interviews, Rosen has charged that his competitors’ complaints stem from jealousy and inability to offer a quality service.

Solters said Pearl Jam’s cancellation of much of its summer tour “has nothing to do with Ticketmaster.”

Band publicist Nicole Vandenberg said recently: “The difficulty the band has faced (in booking summer venues) only reinforces their position that Ticketmaster has a monopoly. It’s not a fight they (the band) are going to quit.”

The venues themselves aren’t complaining. In fact, a group of owners hired attorneys to support Ticketmaster in the Justice Department investigation.

One of those questioned, Tom Keenan, managing director for Fastixx of Portland, said that he considers Ticketmaster “absolutely a monopoly.”To secure contracts, Ticketmas ter gives some venues a portion of the service fees and sometimes issues an up-front guarantee.

“It’s now become common knowledge that Ticketmaster secures exclusive contracts by paying venues a $5 million advance. That pretty much precludes any new businesses from coming in,” said Peter Schniedermeier, a cofounder of ETM Entertainment Network, the Costa Mesa-based company that sold tickets for the Pearl Jam tour.

Ticketmaster tacks on an average of $3.15, but depending on the event, the fee can reach $15.

While Ticketmaster claims its fees average 12.5 percent of a ticket’s face value, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group contends it is an average of 27 percent. U.S. PIRG and Consumers Against Unfair Ticketing want to see that drop to 10 percent.

“The entertainment ticketing industry is the least consumer-friendly industry. There’s no choice, a lack of information and unreasonable charges passed on to the consumer,” said Maura Brueger, executive director of the Seattle-based consumer group.

It was Pearl Jam that launched the Justice Department investigation by filing a complaint in 1994. Last year, two band members and others in the music industry testified at a congressional hearing on ticketing practices.

Pearl Jam’s stand hasn’t led other bands to take up the cause.

Singer Chris Isaak said: “For a lot of bands who are struggling or coming up, there’s no way to go head-to-head with someone like that - you’d be out of business.”

xxxx AT A GLANCE Ticketmaster employs 4,200 people and has outlets in more than 40 states. Founded by Fred Rosen in 1982. Billionaire Paul G. Allen bought 80 percent of the company in 1993. Has exclusive contracts with nearly two-thirds of the nation’s major venues. The L.A.-based company is looking ahead to launching new ventures, including a home-shopping channel to sell concert and theater merchandise.

Tags: concert