Madonna Like A Scalper
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
-William Shakespeare, 'Hamlet'
It's Saturday evening, twelve hours after Madonna's Chicago show for her Sticky & Sweet tour went on sale. Unlike previous years, it appears there will be only one show for the Material Girl this time around. Unlike in 2004 or 2006 a second, third or fourth show will not be added. I'm rather confident in this as I could bring up four tickets together at any price level (including the $55 obstructed view price) as of 11pm Saturday night. In previous years, this was not the case. Madonna has four days off between Chicago and her next gig and I doubt she and Live Nation intended it that way. They expected to add a second date, but sales were not strong enough to warrant it. What happened? Is it over saturation? Maybe. Are people tired of Madonna? Probably not. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the 90% of the arena is priced at $114 (with service charges) or more ($370 for the top tier tickets). However, this wasn't even the tip of the head-scratching iceberg. The following morning, I went back on-line to see if anything else had popped up. However, I couldn't bring up anything but singles. How is this possible? Tickets were plentiful just twelve-hours earlier. Did half of Chicago wake up in cold sweats Sunday morning and rushing to their computers to buy $350 tickets? No. I'll tell you what I believe happened.
As I was mentioning the oddity of this sequence of events to a friend, they asked me if I had seen the Wall Street Journal article about Madonna making a deal with StubHub for a percentage of the money from sales of her tickets. I had not and after reading it online I immediately went to StubHub. What I found was startling; all of the tickets I was pulling up but throwing back all day Saturday was on StubHub…AT AN INFLATED PRICE. OK, in what world does this make sense? No one is buying tickets because they are overpriced, so let's move them over to StubHub and raise the price? You may ask why and I'm here to tell you.
Madonna signed a huge twelve year deal with Live Nation earlier this year. Considering what Live Nation has at stake with this investment, they can not be happy with the numbers in Chicago. Live Nation's stock dipped from Friday to Monday and a carefully placed press release by Live Nation said Madonna seats were selling out, however, only New York had additional dates added (as of the writing of this article). Sure, she had three shows go on sale at Madison Square Garden, but this is New York...at least one show has to be comped for all the industry people in the city! It's a far cry from the six shows she did there in '06. Could you imagine what would happen to Live Nation's stock if single shows in cities like Boston and Chicago didn't sell out? This is a big disguise by a corporate juggernaut to protect its stock price. They are giving the illusion that the show is sold out, but it's not…not even close. They're creating demand by taking the face value tickets off of Ticketmaster. They want you to believe in the illusion that these shows are sold out and that the only way you will get tickets is through StubHub or inflated Ticketmaster auctions.
I'm not anti-Madonna or even anti-Live Nation. I believe in both of them, I'm anti-ridiculous ticket price. Someone here is losing money. But even if Live Nation was, would they admit to it for fear of their stock falling? Never. So let's get this straight…they can't even sell out one show and they pull all of the tickets and place them on the Ticketmaster auctions and StubHub at higher prices? Yes, there will be some stupid and foolish people who freak and pay the money, but any reasonable human will wait until show time gets closer where you may even be able to get tickets for far below face.
Let me tell you what's sexy and cool; NOT being able to find a ticket…at any cost! That proves your true popularity just the same as its how many hard drives your music is on and not Billboard chart position that matters. Last fall in a week period I saw Van Halen, the New Pornographers, Fall Out Boy and Bruce Springsteen twice. The size of the venues ranged from 1,100 to 20,000. At all of the shows, tickets were far below face outside the arena…except one; Fall Out Boy. The Chicago lads charged $35 for every seat in the building ensuring anyone who wanted to see them could. They delivered a show for the ages and if tickets had even been $50, I wouldn't have gone and would have missed out on the incendiary evening. I became a fan because tickets were cheap. Outside the arena and on auction sites, fans were selling tickets for $70 and $80…and yeah, I'm sure Fall Out Boy missed out on some extra cash as a result. But let me tell you when an artist should start worrying about their future; when tickets begin to sell on the secondary market below face value. A big act came through Chicago earlier this year for three nights at an arena. I was speaking to a broker I know and he told me that he personally had upwards of 500 unsold concert tickets to the three shows and couldn't unload the tickets even at half the price. This included seats in the first ten rows! Any time a concert costs over $100, I can pretty much guarantee you can find them outside the arena below face. Artists shouldn't be mad at people scalping your tickets; you should dread the day they can no longer sell them because of the inflated price.
Do you know who Live Nation and Madonna are hurting? Themselves. I've contacted the two dozen people I knew who have seen Madonna since 2001 and asked if they were going to see her and not a single one of them are going. How is this good for business? These are people who are not going to buy her new album even if Timbaland and Justin Timberlake make appearances. But, if they saw these songs come to life in concert, they might think otherwise. Even more importantly, they would want to see Madonna on her next tour. Alas, as of now, they saw her in '01, '04 or '06 and are priced out of this tour and will probably not even give her a second thought in the years to come. I saw her in '04 and must admit, I was bored to tears as the intensity she is known for wasn't there. Playing her hits did not suit her, she's always been about the present and future and not living off of former glories. But her 2006 tour was spectacular. I'll run that review later this week on antiMusic, but it made me go back to Confessions On A Dance Floor, an album I had dismissed and ultimately overlooked. This wasn't a throw away disc, but a wildly inventive, creative and feverish collection of tunes that I never would have appreciated if I had not seen them in concert.
Madonna is a one-of-a-kind elite celebrity; she's famous amongst famous people, a rarity in this industry. However, her prices are out of line and putting unsold tickets on StubHub is a slap in the face to everyone who has ever bought one of her record. This isn't a one-off tour or even a show in Vegas. This is her fourth concert tour in seven-years. Hell, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have only toured together three times in the last decade and they can't sell the majority of their shows out anymore at a much more reasonable price of $95- how does Madonna plan on doing so? Auctioning off seats and getting in bed with the enemy will be looked at years from now as the second stupidest thing that the music industry and its artists will have done since shutting down Napster in 2001.
The Sound Opinions
podcast interviewed the head of corporate communications at StubHub just this past Friday, Sean Pate. Needless to say, the whole interview was beyond ridiculous. I'm shocked Pate agreed to be on the show as the hosts could not hide their disgust with his business sense and even cut him off early. He compared ticket prices to pieces of art, real estate and memorabilia. However, he forgot one simple thing…a concert is a specific moment in time that you can't take home with you and wait to sell it. There's no physical item, it's a memory you take with you. What if restaurants started auctioning off their best food to only the elite? Or how about airline prices while we're at it? Heck, why we are at it let's auction off milk, eggs and gasoline. I doubt there is anyone on the planet who loves the experience of a live concert more than me. Its life changing, but I have to tell you, tickets should never cost more than $1 per minute. The concert is a moment in time, it can't be replicated or resold and in my opinion, no concert ticket should ever be more than $100. The only acts in my opinion who warrant charging over $100 would be Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd or a full fledged Guns N' Roses reunion. If you play arenas or stadiums, the price should be even less. Just because an artist has mass appeal doesn't mean their music is bad. It warrants a huge following and an event to match the supremacy of the music. Music is something everyone should enjoy, experience and afford and not something for the elite stockbrokers of the world who are more obsessed with celebrity than the art. What if every museum in Europe began auctioning off tickets for the spring and summer seasons? I'm not saying an artist does not have the right to make a hefty profit, but there are limits. You can own a house, you can own a painting, you own the baseball card and wait for all of these items to increase in value. A concert is a moment in time; it can't be replicated and should never be spoken of in the same ray of light.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer for the antiMusic Network and his daily writings can be read at The Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com.