Three Chicago shows were moved and resold last week, leaving some ticketholders confused and angry
January 5, 2010
By MARK GUARINO | Chicago Sun-Times
“I’m ticked off. I’m very ticked off.”
That’s one of Lady Gaga’s Chicago fans, Gregory Scott Halpern, voicing the frustration of many trying to figure out where they’re going to be sitting at three sold-out concerts by the pop singer Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The ticketing snafu also is shedding light on how market dynamics in the concert industry may be damaging the trust of fans and, in some cases, distorting access to the best seats in the house.
Concert promotion giant Live Nation originally booked Lady Gaga this weekend at the Chicago Theatre; two additional dates were added due to demand following a high-profile appearance by the pop star at the American Music Awards, news that she received five Grammy nominations and the chart success of her new album, “The Fame Monster” (Interscope).
However, on Dec. 28 the company announced it was moving the shows to the Rosemont Theatre due to unspecified “production issues.” The shift to the suburban venue suddenly meant ticketholders had five days to receive full refunds and the option to participate in a second presale — which guaranteed them seats at the Rosemont Theatre, but not necessarily with the same proximity to the stage as the tickets they originally purchased at the Chicago Theatre. And that’s assuming all Chicago Theatre ticketholders read the announcement in the media or via e-mail during a holiday week.
Some fans found it insulting having to go through a second round of fighting for tickets they had already purchased. Halpern, as mentioned, was peeved.
“From what I understand, the Rosemont Theatre is a larger venue,” said Halpern, 28, who said his original tickets put him in the front row of the balcony but the second sale moved him 13 rows back. “So if that is the case and was the reason they switched, how did they not know at the onset? How did they figure that out two weeks before the event?”
Lady Gaga was originally booked at the Chicago Theatre because she wanted to play “intimate venues,” said Jason Wright, vice president of booking for Live Nation Chicago. “The show has continued to evolve and grow, and as soon as it became evident it would no longer fit the Chicago Theatre, they got it into a bigger venue. They did everything possible to do it in the Chicago Theatre,” he said.
He could not specify what staging changes were being made to constitute the move. A spokesperson for Lady Gaga did not return phone calls.
Ticketmaster spokesperson Hannah Kampf said the full refund offered to ticketholders included shipping fees, even if users choose UPS delivery. She said as of Monday the customer service phone line had not received a single complaint regarding the Chicago shows.
Lady Gaga’s “Monster Ball Tour” dates in Detroit and Orlando also were moved to larger capacity venues for similar reasons, Wright said. In Detroit, the show shifted from the Fox Theatre to the Joe Lewis Arena, a difference of over 10,000 seats.
The Rosemont Theatre has 900 seats more than the Chicago Theatre, but Wright said due to the new staging they added only “a couple of hundred tickets … nothing significant.” Tickets for those seats went on sale Monday and quickly sold out.
Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar, a concert industry trade magazine, says he thinks Live Nation was “conservative when they booked that tour” considering the demand. “Lady Gaga hadn’t done a major headline tour, so when that tour was first routed, they went more conservative. Obviously the demand to see her was greater than anticipated,” he said.
And this isn’t the first time Lady Gaga’s travel plans have changed. The 34-date “Fame Kills” tour, which double-billed her with Chicago rapper Kanye West, was announced and then quickly canceled last fall. The Chicago stop was originally scheduled Jan. 16 at the United Center. When West abruptly pulled out in late September, two weeks after it was announced, Lady Gaga had just a short time to organize and design her own solo tour.
Bongiovanni added it is not unusual for a tour “to still be in a design phase” when tickets are sold, especially when it is being planned at the last minute. “Lady Gaga is such a theatrical act that it wouldn’t surprise me that she was trying to incorporate larger [production] effects that require a bigger facility, that certainly is a possibility,” he said.
The venue shift also revealed the harsh realities of the secondary ticketing market, which is often criticized for controlling too much of ticket market and forcing primary ticket sellers to charge more to compete.
Some fans, like John G. Geiger, 22, purchased tickets from online sites like StubHub, only to learn their tickets were worthless once the shows were moved to Rosemont. He purchased three tickets totaling $572.
“I was pretty upset — me and my two roommates all treated ourselves for Christmas and New Year’s and we made sure we had really good seats,” said Geiger, a DePaul student living in Uptown. Although StubHub returned their money including shipping and handling charges, Geiger was like many ticketholders who said he now had to face a marketplace of higher price points and non-premium seats — a far cry from the mezzanine box seats they splurged for at the Chicago Theatre.
“We had a box and they were good seats with a great view because we wanted to be able to see the show,” said Geiger. “I knew she was changing tours for 2010 and wanted to make it bigger but I kind of think she should have kept it the same and made the next tour bigger. It just seems like it all comes down to making more money and not about pleasing her fans. I hope that’s not the case.”
Spokesperson Joellen Ferrer said StubHub is not a broker but operates as a third party platform connecting sellers to buyers, a process which awards the company 25 percent of every transaction made on its site. The price hikes are solely the result of the marketplace, she said. “Fans can list tickets for whatever price they choose, but because we’re an online marketplace, a ticket only sells due to the market demand,” she said.
Ferrer said the Lady Gaga tour is currently the best-selling tour on the site based on gross sales. Of the three Chicago shows, Sunday is commanding the highest average price of $314, 330 percent higher than the $73 face value for a main floor ticket. The highest average price for Friday is $256 and for Saturday is $247.