Pearl Jam's Tickets To Ride

The band hits the road their way

Pearl Jam
Peter Still/Redferns
Pearl Jam
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Almost a year after throwing down the gauntlet and refusing to work with Ticketmaster, Pearl Jam have found a new ticket distributor and booked 13 shows.

The brief tour will be ticketed by ETM Entertainment Network, a start-up company. The tour begins June 16 at a basketball arena in Boise, Idaho, and ends July 9 at a fairground in Milwaukee, with stops in Salt Lake City; Denver; Lake Tahoe, Calif.; San Francisco; San Diego; Phoenix; Austin, Texas; New Orleans; and Las Cruces, N.M. Tickets will be $18 for traditional venues and $21 for nontraditional ones, with a flat service charge ($2 plus a 45-cent handling fee) for each ticket. Initially, the band planned dates through Aug. 6 but chose not to book the shows until the success of the tour could be determined.

Pearl Jam's decision to seek a new ticket agency arose last year because of Ticketmaster's seemingly arbitrary service charges, says band manager Kelly Curtis. These fees ranged from $3 to $8 on Pearl Jam's last tour. When the group was unable to negotiate a deal to keep tickets under $20 and couldn't find another ticketing service, they canceled their 1994 summer tour. Pearl Jam also filed a complaint with the Justice Department, accusing Ticketmaster of monopolistic anti-competitive actions, something the ticket giant adamantly denies.

According to Pollstar statistics, Ticketmaster has exclusive contracts with 63.2 percent of the venues in this country, and some of the remaining 36.8 percent work with Ticketmaster on a noncontract basis. As a result, Pearl Jam have been forced to book several second-rate venues, including a ski lodge and a racetrack. "It would be easier to play regular venues, but that wasn't an option," says Curtis. "This whole thing's been a huge pain in the ass." Curtis adds that the band expects to make money, "but not as much money as a band like Pearl Jam should be making."

Pearl Jam negotiated with 40 organizations before choosing ETM. The firm can take orders on a fully automated phone system capable of handling more than 4,000 calls at once – 10 times more than Ticketmaster operators, according to ETM co-founder David Cooper. "None of this is new stuff technically, but no one has put it out because it would cost a few dollars and make [ticket sales] less profitable," says Cooper.

Ticketmaster spokesman Larry Solters says Pearl Jam would have been better off accepting Ticketmaster's offer of a $2.50 service charge (plus handling fees) - a mere 50 cents more than ETM's base rate But Curtis says Ticketmaster made the proposal only after Pearl Jam had already canceled its tour and complained to the Justice Department.

"Competition will change the way Ticketmaster does business," says Maura Brueger, executive director of the group Consumers Against Unfair Ticketing. "And it will change the way consumers get treated. AT&T provided a great service, too, but breaking it up changed the way long-distance service is provided and it sure changed the cost"

This story is from the May 18th, 1995 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 708: May 18, 1995