Attempting to lure fans to summer concerts in a bad economy, promoter Live Nation Entertainment announced "no-service-fee June" Monday at its 50 U.S. amphitheatres — covering 700 shows by 110 artists, including the Dave Matthews Band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Green Day, Kings of Leon, Phish and Rihanna. "A fan in every seat is our mission this summer," Michael Rapino, Live Nation's chief executive, says in a statement. "We know that's tough in this economy, so it's our job to find a way to make concerts more affordable."
Although Live Nation reps wouldn't comment for this story, many in the concert business say the deals are in response to an unusually struggling summer concert season, in which Christina Aguilera canceled her tour, Eagles nixed three stadium dates and numerous tours, from Lilith Fair to the Jonas Brothers have had trouble filling seats. (Aguilera and Eagles have cited scheduling issues, but numerous sources in the concert industry say the shows suffered from slow sales.) "Ticket counts are going to go through the roof," says Jared Paul, manager of Smashing Pumpkins and the Glee tour, which just ended its sold-out run. "It works. People want value."
"For us, it couldn't be better," adds Doc McGhee, manager of Kiss, which also offers free lawn seats to kids under 14, by phone after a concert in Germany. "What I'm excited about is getting people kind of activated to go back to shows — to get a guy saying, 'I can take my wife and get my two kids to go in for free.' It's a great deal."
But some say such last-minute deals — which first popped up in the middle of last summer, when the bad economy truly kicked in — are unfair to fans who've purchased full-priced tickets in advance. Facebook pages for Lilith Fair filled up Monday evening with angry comments: "Bought regular price during pre-sale, now they are half-price," read one. "I feel completely ripped off now." Also, many in the concert business fear the bargains are conditioning fans to wait for last-minute deals. "I wish there was no service charges on any shows any more," says Matt Galle, manager of the Bamboozle Road Show, starring Boys Like Girls and All Time Low. "That would help give the concert industry a kick in the ass to get it going, so it's not down like the economy at this point."
Concert promoter Live Nation joined Ticketmaster earlier this year in a $2.5 billion merger, but has hit a stretch of bad luck in recent weeks. In addition to the slow-selling tours, the company's biggest 2010 act, U2, postponed its North American tour last week after Bono underwent emergency back surgery. For Live Nation, selling last-minute tickets at bargain prices is better than letting empty seats go to waste — at its own amphitheatres, the promoter profits from beer, food and parking sales. "It's a way of trying to attract more patrons to their venues. In that sense it's positive," says Dennis Arfa, agent for Metallica, Rod Stewart and Billy Joel. "If somebody buys a beer, they make money. They can't lose. It's better than having a space [in the seat]. A space does them no good."