Wednesday, March 22, 2017

U2 and the question which won’t go away

An interview with their ex-manager Paul McGuinness is a reminder of new realities in the ticket selling business

I’d kind of forgotten about the fact that U2 were blanking me until I came across a transcript of a recent interview with Paul McGuinness. The band’s ex-manager spoke at length to former Dire Straits manager Ed Bicknell about the ins and outs of the music business at the International Live Music Conference (ILMC) in London the other week.

One of the many issues covered in what sounds like an entertaining session at the annual get-together for agents and promoters was ticket selling and touting. It was the mention of allocations for fan clubs which reminded me that I’m still waiting for the band to answer a simple question about the number of tickets sold in the fanclub presale process for their upcoming Croke Park show.

I’ve now asked U2′s Irish spokesperson for this information three times and I’ve even tweeted the band (#journorequest) and am still none the wiser as to the answer or, indeed, why the band are not answering the question. I was kind of hoping that one of those fanboy hacks that the band only talk to these days might do a solid for me, but they’re far too worried about access to dare ask a tough question.

But McGuinness was certainly happy to comment about fan club allocations and he uses the word “unfairness” to describe the situation around such allocations. “I know there’s a sense of unfairness in the air, he told Bicknell. “People go online to buy a ticket and think they have an equal chance of getting that ticket. If two minutes later they see the same tickets being scalped, it’s a miserable feeling. It has to be acknowledged that certain promoters, certain managers and certain acts connive at this. You could say it’s unfair that members of the U2 fan club get a two day jump on the rest of the public — knowing as they do that many members of are bot operators.

The fact that McGuinness acknowledges that many members of are touting their tickets is, as far as I can work out, one of the first times anyone on that side of the house has acknowledged this dirty little secret. It stands to reason that touts are making merry with fan club memberships. They can make back the cost of the sign-up fee many times over by upselling the tickets on sites like Seatwave and Get Me In. If a tout gets fan club memberships for a bunch of people, he or she suddenly has easy access to possibly hundreds of tickets for a sellout show. Profits ahoy.

The question now is just how many tickets go on sale to the public in these situations. Take U2′s Croke Park show, for example, which sold out in about six minutes when tickets went on general sale. You’ve got the fanclub allocation – while I’ve yet to hear from the band’s rep about this despite several requests as outlined above, I’ve heard figures from inside sources indicating “tens of thousands” – and you’ve got the allocation for sponsors, venue holds and the like. Add those figures up, take the total away from the venue capacity (78,000 per the band’s rep) and what are you left with? 20,000? 30,000? 14,500? All that fuss and buzz and hype and anticipation for a sale of a quarter or less of the stadium? No wonder people were fuming that they couldn’t get their hands on tickets.

All of this part of a much bigger issue, which McGuiness also acknowledged. “I don’t really know what to do about it. There’s good scalping and bad scalping. If you sell four tickets at face value to a college student at $100 each and when the gig takes place six months later the market value for that ticket is $300. Who is going to say to that college student, “You’re not entitled to sell that ticket and make a profit?” It’s very hard to address fairly. It’s a market that defies regulation. I have never seen a comprehensive proposal to deal with this fairly and where do you stop? Will it then extend to Wimbledon and football matches? Are you going to clean up the whole of the ticket economy?”

Regular readers will know that ticket touting is something covered at length on OTR – you’ll also find a great selection of recent pieces put together here by Matty Karas at MusicREDEF – and it is a complex area, especially now that various government agencies and bodies (and attention-seeking TDs) have got involved.

However, it is also an area where it would be very easy to overlook the involvement of the some key parties and that includes the artists. Remember that it’s the artist who has the final say in all of this, especially when it comes to who reps them. After all, as mentioned in that earlier U2 piece, there are issues when “the same corporate entity is promoting the U2 tour, managing the band, flogging the tickets and operating two of the biggest secondary ticketing markets“. 

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