Net music clubs booming, draw ire
‘A perfect marketing tool,’ but some fans feel scammed
The Dixie Chicks sold 150,000 tickets for their summer tour through their online fan club.
By Jane Weaver
April 15 — Online music clubs are a gold mine for the concert business, contributing 20 percent or more of first day ticket sales for acts like the Dixie Chicks and Dave Matthews. Yet some fans who have paid almost $100 to join the Web clubs claim they can be a haven for scalpers and ticket scammers.
BETH MARTIN, A North Carolina mother, didn’t mind paying nearly $60 to join the Fleetwood Mac fan club on the Web. The soft-rock legends were set to release new album in April and were planning a worldwide tour in May. In exchange for the steep subscription fee, the club’s managers promised members they would get first crack at some of the summer tour’s best seats in venues around the country, the “best 20 percent of the floor,’ the Web site said.
But when the club tickets went on sale in March — several days before they were available to the general public — Martin realized that if she was going to see Fleetwood Mac up close in concert, she was going to have to go her own way.
She tried to order tickets through the online clubs to several Fleetwood Mac shows, “only to be offered really bad seats.”
Other members of the Fleetwood Mac club complained to MSNBC.com that presale times were incorrectly listed through Ticketmaster, the club’s ticketing venue, and that many of the seats offered were far from the stage.
“I tried to purchase tickets [through the club] a few seconds after they became available and I kept trying for about three hours afterward,” said Louise Barry, a club member and longtime fan of the band. “I was offered the same few pairs of bad seats in the back of the floor each time I tried to purchase tickets.”
Internet music clubs have been around for years, but as the 2003 summer tour season approaches, they’ve become one of the hottest ways to sell concert tickets, delivering huge presale revenues for some artists, record labels and concert promoters. At a time of sliding CD sales and worries about Internet music piracy, and with the summer tour market off about 30 percent from last year, according to industry watchers, artist clubs are proving that the Internet can make money for the music business.
KA-CHING FOR THE CHICKS
When tickets for the Dixie Chicks summer tour went on sale, members of the band club hosted by Yahoo! bought over 150,000 tickets, or 20 percent of the 800,000 seats sold on the first day, contributing to the biggest one-day sale in the concert business history, said David Goldberg, vice president and general manager of music at Yahoo!.
Firms such as Musictoday, a venture founded by Dave Matthews band manager Coran Capshaw, Fan Asylum, a San Francisco fan club service and Ultrastar, the David Bowie-backed Internet company, develop and manage fan sites for scores of popular artists.
For an annual fee — ranging anywhere from $25 to more than $90 — they lure members with the promise of the best tour tickets before they’re available to the general public. They also give fans access to special merchandise, exclusive photos and video and the chance to meet-and-greet the artists.
“The idea is to bring fans closer to the artists,” said Jim Stabile, director of fan club services at Musictoday, a company owned by the singer Dave Matthews’ manager Coran Capshaw. “It’s the perfect marketing tool.” Musictoday develops fan clubs and handles ticketing services for artists like John Mayer, Shania Twain and Dave Matthews.
Maybe hardcore fans don’t have to camp out overnight for tickets anymore, but with the soaring popularity of online clubs come complaints that they’re not living up to the hype. What’s worse, scalpers have infiltrated the Web communities and are buying up the best tickets.
Concert promoters said scalpers recently crashed the Tom Petty online club and attempted to resell the tickets for several Chicago area shows at inflated prices on eBay. As a result Petty and his management adopted stricter policies for ticket sales.
“Scalpers are always a problem,” said Musictoday’s Stabile. “We can change tickets to ‘will call’ so they can’t have name changes.”
Even with scalper patrol, some disgruntled fans charge they’re getting little in return for the high member fees.
In a recently filed lawsuit, angry members of the Dixie Chicks fan club reportedly accused the band, Yahoo!, Ticketmaster and Sony Music with conspiring to charge members $30 to join and receive first access to the “best seats.” The suit charged that members got the “worst seats” instead.
Yahoo!’s Goldberg couldn’t comment on the lawsuit, but acknowledged that the Dixie Chicks club ticket sales soared “beyond anyone’s expectations.”
“Fan club members bought so many tickets, there were some people that weren’t as happy with their seats,” said Goldberg. “When we’re selling that many tickets in so many markets, not everybody can have front row seats.”
Jonathan Todd, the director of the Fleetwood Mac club, points to the site’s disclaimer that no one is guaranteed a good seat.
“We can guarantee that we reserve the seats and that we get seats before the general public, but we can’t guarantee that you’re going to get one,” said Todd, president of a marketing firm Sabremark. “We can’t guarantee that you can work the system.”
Todd wouldn’t disclose how many members joined the Fleetwood Mac club or specifically how many refunds had been requested.
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• Housing starts rebound “Every fan club faces the subjective valuation of what a good seat is,” he said. “The intent is that our members should get a chance at a significant block of floor seating. The chances of getting a floor seat as a non-member are far less than if you’re a member.”
A Fleetwood Mac club member named Lisa disagreed. “I feel I paid $59.95 and have received absolutely nothing for it,” she says.
The club’s price typically depends on the caliber of the artist, but can also reflect the age of the group’s fan base. Younger musicians like John Mayer or Dave Matthews keep the fees below $30. Groups favored by baby boomers like the Eagles charge $60. The Rolling Stones not only get top dollar —$350— for concert tickets, they run the most expensive Web club, charging members $95 a year for the chance to buy 4 tickets before the masses. The Fleetwood Mac membership fee has increased to $79.95.
To avoid a consumer backlash, Ticketmaster spokesman Larry Solters says the clubs should be up front about the quality of seats they have to offer.
“If the clubs are not getting good seats, they should let people know,” he said. “Once the good seats are gone, they should close the fan club.”