Bruce Springsteen has waded into a Badlands more menacing than any of the shadowy worlds he has conjured in his 35-year songwriting career: Earlier this week, he pleaded for fans to seek tougher government antitrust scrutiny of the proposed merger between concert promoter Live Nation and Ticketmaster — the big entertainment firm that has successfully skirted probes for years and now has footholds in the new Obama administration.
The clash broke out as early as 10:04 a.m. on Monday — four minutes after tickets went on sale for Springsteen’s latest tour. Ticketmaster, which handled sales for a large number of the shows, was already showing that no tickets were available on its website. However, on the same screen, the company urged fans to “expand” their search to TicketsNow — the ticket reseller site (or “scalper” site) — that Ticketmaster bought last February for a reported $265 million. There, some tickets for the Springsteen shows — with face values as low as $99 — were selling for hundreds or thousands of dollars. Ticketmaster takes a cut of each TicketsNow sale.
Springsteen posted at his official website that he was “furious” with what he called an “abuse of our fans.” He urged not only that fans send letters to Ticketmaster, but that they speak up about the pending merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation, the world’s largest concert promoter. The Springsteen site urges, “If you, like us, oppose that idea, you should make it known to your representatives.”
If fans take up the challenge, they will be up against one of the most politically connected firms in the entertainment business. Sure, Springsteen is himself connected, having played get-out-the-vote events for Obama and headlined the pre-inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial. But one of Ticketmaster’s board members is venture capitalist Julius Genachowski, a Harvard Law School classmate of Obama’s and the president’s pick to head the Federal Communications Commission.
Until it was spun off last August, Ticketmaster was a subsidiary of media mogul Barry Diller’s giant IAC Interactive empire (where Genachowski previously worked). Diller remains on Ticketmaster’s board. Together, IAC and Ticketmaster spent close to $1 million to lobby Capitol Hill in 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ Opensecrets.org. Also, the two companies’ executives gave more than $200,000 in contributions to the company’s political action committee and candidates in the 2008 election cycle, with the majority going to Democrats, including Obama and Hillary Clinton, according to Opensecrets.
What happens now with Ticketmaster, and its pending deal with Live Nation, will be an early test of business regulation for Obama, who pledged to reinvigorate antitrust scrutiny at a legal conference last year, according The National Law Journal.
Thanks to Springsteen, at least one state’s politicians are taking notice. One guess as to which one… New Jersey’s Democratic Congressman Bill Pascrell has fired off a letter to the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department on the Ticketmaster and TicketsNow relationship. And New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram is investigating whether the Garden State’s consumer fraud laws have been violated.
Ticketmaster, for its part, has removed the direct link to TicketsNow on its website for would-be Springsteen ticket purchasers and wrote an open letter to Springsteen and his fans (on the musician’s website) saying, “We recognize that we need to change our course.”