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Pearl Jam Concert Sales Spur New Ticket Controversy

This time, it's small companies who have beef

September 19, 1996
Pearl Jam's concert sales spur new controversy
Pearl Jam's concert sales spur new controversy
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Pearl Jam have found themselves a new ticketing enemy: Small regional companies that compete with Ticketmaster in pockets of the country are angry with the renegade band for not supporting them during the group's tour this fall. With Pearl Jam bypassing both Ticketmaster and its competitors to work exclusively with the group's handpicked vendor, FT&T, some regionals have charged that the band's crusade against Ticketmaster was a charade.

"Last year they were fighting Ticketmaster," says an executive from a passed-over ticketing company. "Now they want to be Ticketmaster. How can you sit around and complain about Ticketmaster and then say, 'We want to control everything, We want to be the monopoly.'"

We're kind of in a no-win situation," says Pearl Jam manager Kelly Curtis. 'The frustration from the other companies, I can understand and appreciate. But I believe we have the best system out there."

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Pearl Jam's well-documented two-year battle with Ticketmaster peaked when the U.S. Justice Department investigated and later dismissed the band's charge that the ticketing company enjoyed a monopoly within the concert business. Not surprisingly, Pearl Jam are trying to stay clear of Ticketmaster and associated venues for the 11-date North American tour in support of No Code. Two exceptions include the Key Arena, in Seattle, where the band scheduled a Sept. 16 benefit concert – which means that neither Pearl Jam nor Ticketmaster will profit – and Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens, which employs Ticketmaster Canada. "Whatever issues the band has with Ticketmaster have nothing to do with Ticketmaster Canada," says a source at Maple Gardens. "It's the same name but not the same company."

Rather than steering Pearl Jam's business toward local ticketing companies for the remaining non-Ticketmaster venues, the group effectively required that arenas use FT&T or forfeit the concert dates. That's similar to what the band tried and failed to do two years ago. "In '94, basically they said, 'If you have an agreement with Ticketmaster and you want us, break your contract," says a senior concert-industry source. "In '96, basically they said, 'If you have no Ticketmaster contract but an agreement with another company, and you want us, break it.' What's the difference? Either you believe in the sanctity of contracts or you don't."

Newcomer FT&T, a division of the Philadelphia-based Filmore Mercantile company, successfully sold tickets via 800 numbers for a handful of Pearl Jam dates last summer before that tour was aborted. (One year later, Pearl jam remain FT&T's only concert client; Curtis says the band has no financial involvement in the company.) FT&T's advanced technology utilizes thousands of phone lines to virtually eliminate busy signals, issues tickets with bar codes to help curb scalping and allows fans to purchase tickets by check. "If anyone can match this system, we'll use them," says Curtis. "Nobody can come close."

None of FT&T's regional peers, including Fantastix, Next, PrimeSeat, Pro-Tix, SCAT and Select, can rival FT&T's ability to handle 4,000 phone calls at once. Competitors concede the point – most ticket companies don't even have 100 phone lines open at once – but insist that the phone count is a red herring. "What difference does it make how fast it sells out?" says Michele Ross, director of the John F. Savage Hall, on the campus of Ohio's University of Toledo, which hosts the band Sept. 22 but whose in-house computerized ticketing company, Select, did not sell the tickets. "It's going to sell out anyway. I guess they want to set records on how fast tickets can be sold. That's their prerogative."

Unlike Ticketmaster, most of the small companies were willing to lower their service fees to match Pearl Jam's consumer-friendly $2 limit. "We would have done everything possible to meet it," says Beth Thornton, general manager of SCAT, which lost out on Pearl Jam's concerts at the North Charleston Coliseum, in South Carolina, and Augusta Civic Center, in Maine, despite the fact that both venues contract with SCAT.

Upstart Fantastix, which handles sales for its parent company, the new Marine Midland Arena, in Buffalo, N.Y, would have offered to charge $2 in service fees for Pearl Jam's Oct. 1 concert there, even though it would have meant handling the show at a loss. And Toledo's Savage Hall charges no service fee for box-office or phone sales, just a $4 handling fee, regardless of the number of tickets purchased.
Despite the dust-up, some give the band the benefit of the doubt. "I certainly understand Pearl Jam's point of view," says Larry Quinn, president of the Marine Midland Arena. "They were fighting Ticketmaster alone. Now they're touring in hostile territory, trying to do something that nobody has ever done before, and they need their own system. They're not trying to screw anybody."

But what if other high-profile acts follow Pearl Jam's lead and handpick outside ticketing companies? "That's our big concern," Quinn says. "We're making a big investment [in Fantastix], and we can't junk it every time a band comes to town.'

This story is from the September 19th, 1996 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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