Despite the drawbacks, some frustrated Springsteen fans wish the singer had adopted a voucher plan for his tour supporting The Ghost of Tom Joad. Ticket sales "have just been really bizarre," says Josh Jacobson, a Minneapolis attorney who has seen some 40 Springsteen concerts in the past 15 years. In New York, wristbands were handed out at the Beacon to determine the order of sales, but fans claim that scalpers paid ringers $5 to cut in line in full view of indifferent security personnel. At a Ticketmaster outlet at Tower Records in Chicago, fans started arriving before dawn. Random numbers were supposed to ensure all comers an equal shot at getting tickets, but people became convinced that the system was rigged when most of the first 25 "random" buyers all appeared to be homeless people from a nearby mission. In Austin, Texas, where a first-come, first-serve system was in place, brokers paid the homeless $50 each to stand in line and buy tickets.
Springsteen has tried to offset woes by upgrading dozens of back-row tickets and putting blocks of tickets on sale at the last minute to thwart sidewalk scalping. "Bruce does care about the fans, and I think Bruce's organization has made some effort to stop scalpers," Jacobson says. "But I think they could have tried harder." Springsteen's managers declined to comment.
How do the scalpers do it? A former worker at a Ticketmaster outlet in Chicago says he routinely pocketed $5 to $15 for every ticket he funneled to scalpers, and he averaged 10 tickets per concert. A former employee for S.E.A.T.S. in Atlanta, which was eventually purchased by Ticketmaster, says experienced workers learned how to punch in customers' orders and then quickly void them so that tickets that were impossible to trace would be spit out and put aside for scalpers. A Ticketmaster spokesman says the company monitors its retail outlets for inconsistencies and cancels contracts whenever wrongdoing is uncovered.
Million-dollar lobbying campaigns launched by ticket brokers have paid dividends in Illinois and New Jersey, where legislators recently eliminated anti-scalping laws over the objections of consumer advocates. (Connecticut and New York lawmakers may soon follow suit.) New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman sided with brokers, arguing that legalizing scalping would actually drive down prices on resold tickets. These states now allow brokers to buy and sell tickets at any price as long as it's done from a business address and not the sidewalk in front of venues.
Promoters and scalpers blame one another for the troubles fans face in getting choice concert seats. Promoters lobby for tougher ticketing laws, insisting that scalpers gouge the public and damage the industry's reputation. Ticket brokers counter that promoters withhold the best seats for their own gain. "They're crying wolf and trying to use brokers as a scapegoat," says Barry Lefkowitz, executive director of the National Association of Ticket Brokers.
"We're trying to stay one step ahead of brokers; every time we come up with a plan, they figure it out," says Scott Gelman, vice president of Jam Productions, one of the Midwest's largest concert promoters. Like many companies, Jam is looking for a system that's foolproof and fairer than wristbands and lotteries. The sophistication displayed last year by Pearl Jam's ETM tickets – which came complete with the fan's name and address and a customized bar code – "forced everyone to look at the big picture of ticketing,'' Gelman says. "We're all in the business of having customers come back. But how many times can a kid get screwed before he stops coming back?"
Additional reporting by Bill Wyman.
This story is from the March 7th, 1996 issue of Rolling Stone.
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