Concert-goers organize to reform ticket industry

March 21, 1995|By Bob Dart | Bob Dart,Cox News Service

Tired of paying high service charges or seeing scalpers get the best seats, concert-goers are starting a grass-roots movement to reform the ticketing industry.

Organizers said the problems go beyond Ticketmaster, the nation's dominant distributor of tickets for live entertainment.

"The entire ticketing industry needs, as Ross Perot would say, a good look under the hood," said Trevor Neilson of Consumers Against Unfair Ticketing, or CAUT.

Representatives of Seattle-based CAUT, the Consumer Federation of America and other groups will announce their legislative agenda in Washington today. They want several reforms:

* Ban rebates, in which venues get a percentage of the service charge collected by ticketing companies.

* Restrict exclusive long-term contracts between venues and ticket companies.

* Require disclosure of service charges on the ticket itself and in all event advertising.

* Monitor ticket outlets to prevent blocks of tickets from being held back or sold early to brokers or scalpers.

"For consumers buying tickets, there is basically no free market," said Bill Wood of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "There are no choices or alternatives."

A survey by U.S. PIRG found service charges add an average of $5.10 to entertainment tickets, a 27 percent markup. Ticketmaster said yesterday the average service charge is only $3.15 a ticket.

The consumer groups said the problem began in 1991, when the government allowed Ticketmaster to buy Ticketron and monopolize the national ticketing market.

Led by Pearl Jam, R.E.M. and Stone Temple Pilots, some entertainers have protested the exclusive contracts under which Ticketmastercontrols ticket sales at most of the nation's major venues.

The Justice Department is investigating a Pearl Jam complaint charging Ticketmaster with anti-competitive practices.

Ticketron does not have a monopoly, said Alan Citron, a vice president of the Los Angeles-based company.

"We're obviously the industry leader, but then we lost the contract for the biggest live events of next year -- the Olympics," said Mr. Citron, explaining that IBM will do that ticketing. "We have over 100 competitors. Now Blockbuster Entertainment and Sony are getting into the business."

The exclusive contracts are preferred by most of Ticketmaster's clients, said Mr. Citron. "It makes life easier for venues. They don't want to contract for each event with a different agency."

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