U2 apologizes for site's ticket sale debacle
By Greg Kot
Tribune music critic
Published January 29, 2005
Complaints about U2's bungled pre-sale for its 2005 world tour continued to pour in Friday, with ticket brokers and scalpers offering tickets to the shows --including the Chicago dates -- for more than 20 times face value.
The band Friday apologized to fans who paid $40 to U2's official Web site, U2.com, for pre-sale privileges beginning Tuesday only to be left without coveted $49.50 general-admission floor tickets nearest the stage, or no tickets at all. Dozens of prime U2 tickets ended up in the hands of third-party profiteers. By Friday, tickets to U2 shows around the country, including the ones May 7 and May 9 at the United Center with top-end prices of $95 to $165, were being sold on eBay for more than $1,000 each.
Tickets to the general public for the 13-city North American tour go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday through Ticketmaster, the same agency that handled the pre-sale.
The band already has announced it will schedule additional North American tour dates in the fall. Speculation also grew this week that the band would book additional Chicago shows in May once the two United Center dates sell out because its next show isn't until May 14 in Philadelphia. Though thousands of tickets reportedly remain for both Chicago shows, they are expected to sell out within minutes because of the heavy interest. Usually, tickets for added shows are not available for fan club presale.
Band blames technology
On U2.com, the band blamed "new technology" for sabotaging its first Internet pre-sale, saying the system failed because "everyone tries to do the same thing at once." U2 acknowledged only that "demand exceeded supply" for certain shows, but didn't present any plan for compensating subscribers. It also vowed to address ticket scalpers who were already profiting from the band's tour, but didn't say how. "We are currently looking into the possibility of identifying these people and withdrawing their tickets," U2.com said.
One Illinois agency that acts as a marketplace for ticket brokers, TicketsNow.com, was offering U2.com members a $40 discount on any ticket order. Tickets were selling on the site for up to $970. "We have ticket brokers on our site who are selling U2 tickets, but we don't know how they got them," said Jennifer Swanson, a TicketsNow executive.
"Fans who bought tickets saw a market for themselves and sold them to us, and we also got tickets from people close to the band with connections trying to make a buck," said Kate Fettig, a publicist representing the agency. She said U2 tickets began showing up on TicketsNow.com a week ago, several days before the pre-sale. "It's a who-you-know type of deal."
Ticket brokers operate legally in Illinois but not in some other states. In New York, reselling a ticket for more than 10 percent above its box office price is considered scalping and is prohibited. Yet eBay listed 24 sets of general-admission tickets closest to the stage available for U2's Madison Square Garden concert May 21 for hundreds of dollars, while U2.com subscribers complained that they were able to acquire only two sets of floor tickets for the same show.
In offering a $40 subscription to fans last year, U2.com promised to provide subscribers "with an advance window when they can buy U2 tickets at all venues before they are offered to the general public." The Web site further assured fans that it has "secured some of the best available tickets for U2.com subscribers."
The reality of the pre-sale proved quite different. "U2, and their associates presenting this tour, are killing our spirits," said one of the most dedicated fan Web sites, atU2.com.
"Thousands of U2 fan club members are left without seats or with crappy ones after paying their $40 dues -- yet hundreds of scalpers nationwide have all those seats," said one irate fan, Tony Healy, a Chicago account executive. "It's time to look at what really goes on inside Ticketmaster."
The huge ticketing agency took over U2's fan-club sales in partnership with Signatures Network Inc., a San Francisco marketing company whose clients include Madonna, Britney Spears and Usher. In past years, U2's fan club had been a grass-roots operation known as Propaganda, which offered direct-ticketing to its most ardent fans. But the music business has changed dramatically in recent years as bands have begun to see fan clubs as revenue streams and hired outside corporations to run them.
Christina Aguilera's club, run by a corporation called FansRule, charged fans $30 to access tickets before the general public for her 2004 tour. When the tour was canceled, fans became irate when hundreds of thousands of dollars in tickets weren't refunded promptly. Other bands, such as the Rolling Stones, also have begun charging fans for early access to prime tickets.
Some industry insiders are alarmed by the trend. "The Internet is such a great tool for bands to utilize, but it should be used as a marketing and informational tool to sell your product, not as a revenue stream," said Jerry Mickelson, president of Chicago concert promoter Jam Productions. "You're charging people for the privilege of charging them to buy a ticket. I'm not in favor of that."