Live & Touring

Ticket talk front and center at Pollstar Live! Convention Keynote

Last week in the International Ballroom at the Beverly Hilton, Azoff Company Chairman and CEO Irving Azoff took the stage at the annual Pollstar Live! Conference.

by David Benjamin De Cristofaro 

Irving Azoff led the event’s keynote panel following opening remarks by Oak View Group CEO and former AEG CEO Tim Leiweke to kick off the annual live entertainment industry gathering. The two notably founded OVG together, later acquiring the Pollstar publication and its flagship event.

A leader atop the touring world and music business, Azoff was compelled to guide a conversation on the topic of ticketing after watching recent judiciary hearings by congress and the department of justice on C-SPANN in January. The hearings followed public outcry over the presale for Taylor Swift’s latest tour that saw many fans left on the outside looking-in, as the demand for tickets exceeded their supply. The instance renewed critical outlook toward Live Nation’s ownership of Ticketmaster and its industry influence and leverage. 

“we ought to hear the artist’s point of view

He noted the congressional proceedings were all being conducted by and for people outside the music industry, which brought into focus the absence of and need for artist’s voices and thoughts on the topic.

“I care deeply about artists, and I thought we ought to hear the artist’s point of view on some of these ticketing issues,” said the exec, whose background spans time spent as CEO for Ticketmaster and as an executive chair of Live Nation following years spent as a record label exec for MCA.

Joining him for “Ticketing Real Talk: Reforms, Resolutions and Risks”, a conversation on managing demand and affordability for fans as well as the mercurial and controversial secondary market, by decorated touring and recording artist Garth Brooks, former Assistant Attorney General – Antitrust Division for the US. Department of Justice Makan Delrahim, and co-venture business partner and Madison Square Garden Executive Chairman and CEO James Dolan.

Dolan, who also owns the New York Knicks and Rangers franchises, spoke from his experience being sued by scalpers in NYC who feel entitled to the secondary business they’ve profited from. He especially noted their price gouging tactics, just as Azoff pointed out their “speculative ticket” sales that have also started to develop (sales of tickets or tiers that are not on sale yet or that don’t exist.)

“saying this is a Ticketmaster problem is wrong”

“In my mind, saying this is a Ticketmaster problem is wrong,” said Dolan. “It’s a gouging problem, it’s a scalper problem. Government officials should attack that if they want to protect consumers,” said Dolan.

One of the realities that was clear, was that one of the problems is there are more people than there are tickets who want to see certain artists, it’s ultimately up to the artists how they choose to manage and respond to that demand and whether they follow Brooks methods that have made him one of the most successfully touring acts in history.

Brooks has remained fan centric in keeping ticket prices accessible and adding additional dates in each market when the demand calls for it until that full demand is reached. When pointing out the need to get rid of bots and the people who don’t care about music and whose aim is simply to profit, Brooks spoke through the perspective lens of the artist-to-fan relationship.

“If we make scalping illegal, doesn’t it solve all of this?”

“For me, music is a thing that heals, it’s something that unifies,” he said. “I think you get the artist and the people who allow people to be an artist in the same room, and that’s when music is at its best. I’d just love to find a way to do that.”

Multiple times throughout the panel, Brooks mused his thoughts on the matter with simplicity, saying “If we make scalping illegal, doesn’t it solve all of this?”

And he has a point.

Illegitimate resale on the open market accounts for $5 billion in revenues globally, of which artists and promoters receive none of. Those profits are pocketed by resellers.

Companies have even been built on the practice, like SeatGeek and eBay developed and oft scrutinized Viagogo acquisition StubHub, whose CEO Eric Baker memorably bought a third $40MM Beverly Hills mansion during the pandemic shutdown around the same time his company laid off two thirds of its staff.

“No one asks the CEO of SeatGeek why they have $8000 Taylor Swift re-sale tickets,” Azof mentioned during his talk.

The use of technology and lobbyist influence by these businesses has led to misinformed values and a fundamental lack of understanding of the live industry by policy makers, just as social media platforms and yellow journalism headlines have led to misinformation among fans. In each case, enhancing a growing disconnect between those inside and outside the music and live even industries.

“the secondary market projects to grow to $10 billion by 2027”

“The biggest factors driving exorbitantly priced tickets and lack of face value ticket availability to the general public are scalpers and the secondary ticketing companies that have provided a platform to scalp tickets on a large scale as a business model,” Azoff continued, pointing out that the secondary market projects to grow to $10 billion by 2027 “if we don’t do something about it.”

“These companies have no skin in the game, they have invested nothing, risk nothing, created nothing yet they reap the lion’s share of the profit,” he added. “How does that make sense? What these companies have invested in is technology and lobbyists.”

Artist control of ticket resale

A sentiment that was shared by all the panelists, was that these issues in ticketing could be solved by giving artists control of what happens to a ticket from its point of sale.  

Delrahim expressed that legislators need to view ticketing through a similar lens as property rights for artists, and performance similarly to a songwriting credit.

“If we treated those few hours – if he wants to connect with his fans and sell the tickets for $50, $100, or whatever it is, and that’s how he wants to treat those tickets. He should have the right to treat the resale – he and his partners, whoever they may be —he should be able to do that,” he shared. “If he wants to price it to true demand, and let’s say Beyonce tickets could be $6,000, fine. But who should benefit from that?”

He also pointed out that, while some blamed the merger of Ticketmaster and Live Nation for the ticketing issues being discussed at the judiciary hearing, most of the problems brought up had little or nothing to do with the merger and, rather, were about what the primary ticketholder has the right to do with a purchased ticket.

“Right now, it seemed like, from the hearing, that many (in Congress) were hearing from the technology companies and the middle-men, saying that they should have the right to buy from the primary ticket holder anytime they want with these bots, and that’s what’s causing a lot of the problems,” the former DOJ assistant attorney added.  “If the artist was able to control that, many of these problems would go away, and it seems to be the right way to deal with the property rights here.”

Tech-based secondaries like StubHub and Vivid have been reaping a profit off the back of artists, while acquiring lobbyists to support and are now even lobbying for bills to support their illegitimate sale and revenue marketplace.

While Live Nation, Ticketmaster, and the judiciary review are what have made it onto the public’s radar, some of the most inciteful details of how the war over ticketing is being fought was provided by way of Delrahim’s expertise, as he pointed out that policy makers are often “well-intentioned but ill-informed.”

What’s more, he and Azoff both shed a light on the efforts of secondary businesses to leverage legal war at the state level, which is something the public may not be aware of as much as the congressional hearings at a federal level as they’re had more visibility.

I helped kick off the Q&A segment with a follow up question on the topic of this state-level legislation lobbying, to which Dolan responded first saying “We have one in New York every year – EVERY year, there’s legislation that’s drummed up by the scalpers to try and force more tickets into their hands.” 

Delrahim noted that “There’s at least a couple dozen around the states that are there, to try to protect the secondary marketplace more than anything,” while Azoff highlighted how “There’s an onerous bill in California that’s going through subcommittees right now, you know they call themselves the National Association of Ticket Brokers, they have a lobbying arm.”

A need to educate and mobilize artists

The exec also shared about the need to educate and mobilize artists. “You know artists aren’t very well organized, it’s just by nature, you know they’re creative people,” he said. “They don’t band together to fight business things which is why people like us have to do it. We started the Music Artists Coalition about three years ago, for issues like this.”

A smile came across Dolan’s face as he pointed out, that “They don’t do that well- But they write songs REALLY well, can we write a song about this?” Brooks mused “They sure can, it’s just going to be something on ‘shouldn’t we just make scalping illegal” which brought laughter to the room. “I’m the first guy buying and downloading that record” Azoff added with a smile.

The topics invoke passion among the music community, even leading to a town-hall-like verbal spar between some audience members over the accuracy of details surrounding Bruce Springsteen’s ticket sales in certain markets. The heated response was sparked by comments as to whether superstar artists should play additional dates to increase supply in top selling markets where the demand drives a dynamic price up, and the suggestion that secondary market prices would self-correct when top artist tickets go below face value in other markets.

In the end, Azoff capped the keynote discussion by categorizing it as a “wake-up call” for Washington and its disconnection with live entertainment industries and businesses. “You all have work to do,” he added. “We’re in strange times as you know, but there are some weird bills being proposed now.  You have the chance to go out and let fans be heard and prevent some of this.  I hope you accept the challenge. I’d like to say all four of us will be here next year with a progress report.”

Not a day later after the conclusion of the conference, Live Nation went public with its support for a “FAIR Ticketing Act” proposal aimed at those scalpers and resale sites. The acronym for Fans & Artists Insisting on Reforms in Ticketing is being presented to mandate artist control for how resale is handled with “real consequences” for “sites that turn a blind eye to illegally acquired tickets, allow ticket speculation, and ignore artists’ rules.” 

Needless to say, Pollstar’s keynote panel did effectively serve as a call to action, and many will wait to see how the progress report Azoff alluded to looks a year from now. In the meantime, the topic came up over multiple panels that highlighted a need for a federal blanket law that addresses or outright eliminates the secondary platform and scalpers businesses may be needed.

David Benjamin De Cristofaro is a recent grad ‘available-for-hire’ who achieved National success as an award-winning student of Music Business, Tech, Marketing and Economics with The University of The Arts and Berklee College of Music. While in school, he met with members of Congress in advocacy with The Recording Academy, worked with some of the largest artists, tours, and festivals in Music, and on creative experience projects and solutions for NARAS, the Capitol Records Innovation Center, Fender, Bose, MusiCares, Spotify, and Republic Records. He has served as an international speaker at universities and conferences. He spent the pandemic writing journalism pieces on immersive and fan experience ecosystems, while also contributing to USA Today SMG.

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