Sorry Congressman, but I’m with Ticketmaster on this concert pricing flap

·4 min read
Scott Sharpe/ssharpe@newsobserver.com

Like Bruce Springsteen, I was born in the U.S.A. and thereby endowed from the get-go with certain inalienable rights — among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

As far as I know, though, the Declaration of Independence says nary a word about the right to see one’s favorite performer — not even Springsteen — in concert for a reasonable fee.

Ticketmaster, the evil concert promoter and ticket seller that has long been the scourge of live-performance lovers everywhere, implements something called “dynamic pricing” for tickets.

What’s that? You know how some grubby guy used to hang around outside the arena, furtively open his dirty raincoat and say “Pssst, I got two tickets for Mott the Hoople”?

Now, Ticketmaster is that grubby guy: The company is essentially scalping its own tickets — the more scarce tickets become, the higher the price.

That’s one reason I’ve refused for 20 years to see a concert where tickets are only available through Ticketmaster. (The only exception is Otis Redding, but since he’s been dead 54 years there isn’t much chance of that).

Because of dynamic pricing (pronounced “gouging”) tickets for Springsteen’s latest tour are reportedly going for up to $5,000 per. Some fans, mainly those who still view him as the scruffy, blue jeans-and-bandana-wearing Everyman from his album covers, are singing the blues.

Is their anger justified? Do they have a right to feel betrayed, even though Springsteen hasn’t been that album cover guy since the 1970s? Yes. They also have a right to stay home, pull out the Nebraska album, fire up a fatty and further mythologize Bruce as that working class hero he sings about from a private jet.

I’m all for protecting consumers from being ripped off by greedy corporations, but Bill Pascrell, the N.J. congressman raising a stink over Springsteen ticket prices, should save his powder for a different battle — like the cost of medicine, baby formula, gas. Stuff we really need.

I feel the same way toward Ticketmaster that a snail feels toward an overturned salt shaker — it’s something to be avoided — but I’m with the ruthless entertainment conglomerate on this one: Let them charge as much as they want.

Why? Because, unless you’re something like the Jersey boys with whom I went to college, seeing Springsteen live in concert is not a life-sustaining necessity. Of course, these were guys who knew him when he was just a local hero and were incapable of saying his name without reverentially elongating ”Bruuuuuuce.”

For the rest of us, seeing The Boss in concert would be groovy and no doubt memorable. But life would go on if we didn’t see him.

Why not let Ticketmaster continue trying to separate fans from every simoleon in their pockets until their next No Coin Left Behind tour? After a few shows attended only by Ticketmaster execs and their rich friends, the market will correct itself and the rest of us will again be able to enjoy a live show without taking out a second mortgage.

Of course, how much one pays for a concert has little to no bearing on how much you’ll enjoy it.

The best concert I’ve ever attended cost me $9 — my last $9, mind you — and that included $2 for a bottle of Richard’s Wild Irish Rose purchased from the liquor store across the street from the old Omni in Atlanta. That greatly enhanced my enjoyment of Stevie Wonder and Peabo Bryson.

My second most memorable concert cost zero dollars, as a few friends and I wandered into Atlanta’s Agora Ballroom to see a not-yet-huge Johnny Cougar (I don’t think he was Mellencamp yet) perform in an intimate 300-seat setting with lax or non-existent security.

To paraphrase Democratic presidential contender Walter Mondale when Ronald Reagan tried to co-opt The Boss’s most famous song during the ‘84 campaign, “Springsteen might’ve been born in the U.S.A., but he wasn’t born yesterday.”

Neither were we, Ticketmaster — and we’d have to have been to pay $5,000 for a concert ticket that sold for $250 the day before.

Editorial Board member Barry Saunders is founder of theSaundersReport.com.