Ticketmaster recently settled a class-action lawsuit regarding its "excessive and deceptive" convenience fees, requiring the ticketing behemoth to provide customers who purchased tickets between 1999 and 2013 with discount codes and vouchers for free tickets to concerts.
Great news, right? Who doesn't love free tickets?
But speculation about the level of quality for those select concerts naturally flooded Twitter, since anyone who has a history with Ticketmaster knows that the company's not exactly revered for giving consumers what they want. (Here, in fact, is an in-depth run-down by the former CEO of Ticketmaster explaining how the system is completely rigged against the average person trying to buy tickets.)
On Wednesday, Ticketmaster released the list of concerts eligible for the free-voucher redemption, and you could hear a collective groan across the internet. Alyssa Pereira over at SFGate tirelessly compiled the shows in the Bay Area eligible for the free vouchers, including Bryan Adams, Darius Rucker, Counting Crows, Hall & Oates, Pitbull, Sublime With Rome and many, many others.
Counting Crows may be your thing, and that's cool, no judgment here. But here's a fact: Barring the miraculous resurrection of John Coltrane who announces a one-night only guest appearance with Adam Duritz, Counting Crows is never, ever going to be able to sell out the 22,500-capacity Shoreline Amphitheater in the year 2016. What Ticketmaster is offering, mostly, is scraps, leftovers, unwanted surplus, #TaxWriteOff.
In the Bay Area, you'll notice another trend: The concerts on Ticketmaster's voucher list are limited entirely to shows at the Shoreline Amphitheater and the Concord Pavilion, a.k.a. objectively the two worst places to see live music in the entire Bay Area.
Ticketmaster sells tickets for plenty of other, better venues in the Bay Area, from dozens of different promoters. And yet! Ticketmaster is also owned by Live Nation, the result of a $2.5 billion merger in 2009 that many believe should have been blocked by U.S. antitrust regulators. Live Nation, as fate would have it, is the promoter and primary talent buyer for the Shoreline Amphitheater and the Concord Pavilion.
You see where this is going: Ticketmaster's parent company is using the terms of the class-action settlement as a convenient way to get some of its underperforming shows looking a little bit more successful. (What's more, the tickets offered are lawn tickets only -- far, far from the stage.) Live Nation isn't even giving customers the option of shows at the Fillmore or the Masonic, both of which it also operates, and one of which was recently named the country's best venue for live music.
Another problem? The voucher codes seem to be entirely fallible. "You may attempt to use the codes for redemption on this website," Ticketmaster's site says (bolding mine). "The ticket codes are available on a first come, first serve basis." Not "tickets," mind you; "ticket codes."
According to the New York Times:
Ticketmaster sent an estimated $386 million worth of discount codes to nearly 57 million people, according to Steven Blonder, a leading attorney on the lawsuit and a principal at the law firm Much Shelist.
Recall that the company is obligated to pay out only $42 million, and it becomes apparent that most of the vouchers will never be redeemed.
I mean, Dolly Parton, sure. I'll probably try to cash in one of my 17 vouchers, and I'll see you in the long horrible line of cars waiting two hours to get into the Shoreline Amphitheater parking lot while the distant strains of Dolly singing "9 to 5" waft over the scaffolding, just out of reach. And if you're willing, there are also acts on the list like Snoop Dogg, Prophets of Rage and Gwen Stefani. (Again, the whole list is here.)
But don't believe for a second that Ticketmaster is doing anything here but unloading the live-music equivalent of junk bonds onto its customers. As goes the familiar refrain about the company's "convenience" fees: Convenient for whom? Convenient for Ticketmaster.