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Opinion

Where’s the Startup that will Disrupt the Concert Ticket Industry?

Modern concert ticketing is a nightmare. We need an Uber or Airbnb to shake it up

ticket grave

Illustration by Dan Redding

Buying a ticket for a high-demand concert has become a nightmare of apocalyptic proportions. The combination of Ticketmaster, scalpers, and digital scalping ‘bots’ can create a perfect storm of failure when you’re trying to purchase tickets to see your favorite band.

The problems with modern event ticketing were painfully obvious to fans of At the Drive-In last Friday. Tickets to the band’s June 17 show at Terminal 5 show sold out in the blink of an eye – literally. Here is a sample of fan frustration on At the Drive-In’s Facebook post promoting the event:

ticketmaster hate

First of all, this is a reunion tour of a legendary band that fans have been waiting to see for many years. There should be no surprise that the event sold out quickly. But this experience is extremely common: all too often, tickets for high-demand events are never available to most fans, sell out within seconds, and quickly pop up at StubHub for two or three times the cost (which was egregiously marked up by Ticketmaster in the first place). The experience is all too common to many modern music fans.

The modern ticket sales system sucks worse than the floorplan at Terminal 5. What’s actually going on, and is there any solution?

The Problems with Ticketmaster

Ticketmaster is a monopoly. According to The Atlantic, “A few years ago Ticketmaster had, according to some sources, over 80 percent market share of major venues, and that was before their arguably monopolistic merger with Live Nation.”

Ticketmaster gets away with sucking so bad because there’s no meaningful competition. They excel at ripping customers off. They don’t do enough to combat scalping. Their website seems to have been designed to emulate the sensation of a hot coal in the eye.

The Louis CK Approach

Louis CK found a solution to Ticketmaster and scalping. He regularly books tours himself and sells the tickets directly to fans on his website. His customer emails and website user experience have a comedic touch (if you forget your password, the site says, “Oh my god you’re an idiot”). Ticket costs are low, and the sale feels refreshingly personal. Louis is also currently selling eight comedy specials by himself and others on his site.

Sound easy? It’s not. Louis has to scour the Earth for venues that don’t deal exclusively with Ticketmaster. More importantly, very few bands are in the position of Louis CK. No one pays for music anymore and being in a band in 2016 is a total grind. Bands have way more overhead than one dude with a microphone. Paying the bills is a full-time hustle, and getting wrapped up in a potential David versus Goliath situation with a major corporation sounds like a supreme bummer.

But maybe a very large, financially stable band could take on the costly, daunting battle against Ticketmaster.

Sound familiar?

Pearl Jam Fought Ticketmaster

Pearl Jam took on Ticketmaster in 1994. It was a valiant effort by one of the era’s most popular bands. Pearl Jam even took the fight to Congress. They ultimately gave up. According to The New York Times, “Because Ticketmaster has exclusive agreements with nearly all the stadium-size performing spaces on the East Coast, the band announced yesterday that it would allow Ticketmaster to sell tickets for part of its 1995 tour.” The headline was “Pearl Jam Bows to Ticketmaster.”

Tickets to Pearl Jam concerts are currently available on Ticketmaster.

String Cheese Incident Fought Ticketmaster

Colorado band String Cheese Incident has battled Ticketmaster, too. In 2012, they scalped tickets to their own show, then sold them at face value on their website. The experiment cost the band money, but must have been priceless in terms of fan loyalty.

Scalpers and ‘Bots’ Complicate Matters

As if a monopolistic ticket sales corporation wasn’t enough, tickets are hoarded by greedy scalpers using sophisticated technology to snatch up tickets before real live human fans even get a chance. According to The Denver Post, “When high-demand tickets go on sale, fewer seats are available to the general public because of ticket-hoarding software bots employed by scalpers.” Furthermore, “large swaths of the venue” may already be held for artists, promoters, and management.

We Need a Disruptive Startup

This problem is too large and too entrenched for any one band to solve alone. It will likely require support from the music community at large. What if there were a union of independent rock bands who united to establish a DIY booking and ticket sales approach similar to Louis CK’s?

Or perhaps a disruptive startup – think Uber or Airbnb for concert ticketing – could take on the task. Their primary initial challenge would likely be acquiring the participation of venues. But if Louis CK can find venues willing to work with him outside of Ticketmaster’s grasp, then it’s surely possible to find a starting point. A smart business model would be very appealing to legions of fans who loathe Ticketmaster and long for an alternative.

Here’s hoping that disruptive new company gets launched sooner rather than later. After all, I wanna see At the Drive-In, too.

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