Gaming the "fan club" system

According to an article in today's Wall Street Journal, fans are gaming the "fan club" system used for buying many tickets. With any luck, this will spur promoters and musicians to abandon this latest extra charge.

I hate the whole experience of arena rock shows today: the security staff who assume you're a criminal, the overpriced food and drink, the "down in front" screamers who always seem to be seated behind me (it's a $100 rock concert, not your daughter's piano recital). Consequently, I don't go to many big shows--one or two a year.

So I was a little surprised when I first encountered the "fan club" charge when the Stones rolled through Seattle's Key Arena in October 2005. The ticket prices were painful enough--$200+ for floor seats--but that's what scalpers were getting (more, actually), and Mick was a student at the London School of Economics at one time, so he surely understands supply and demand.

But the $100 fan club membership felt like an added insult. I understand that longtime Rolling Stones fans who joined the club eons ago might have a right to better tickets than the unwashed masses. And the ticket-buying process honored these fans by giving early access to anybody who'd joined before the tour was announced. But then there was second tier of sales--anybody could become a one-year member of the club for "only" $100, and they'd get second crack. Public ticket sales were saved for last. In other words, if you wanted any chance at halfway decent seats, you have to pay the extra $100--it was like a ticket to buy a ticket. (They threw in some other stuff like access to online video of past shows, but I doubt anybody would have paid more than a couple bucks for these privileges.)

The Police also used the fan club charge for their reunion tour this year. They haven't been an active band in 23 years, so there's really no "fairness" involved, although members of the individual members' fan clubs did get an early shot. (And they actually gave first crack to people who'd previously joined a Best Buy frequent buyers' club--so much for the fans.) At least with the Police, in addition to assuring me seats (bad seats--the good ones were all gone by the time the "new fan" tickets went on sale), I got a $5 poster and the right to peruse online message boards where I could read decidedly mixed reviews of the show.

Today's Wall Street Journal has an article about fans scamming these fan clubs by selling the codes used for purchases on Craigslist and eBay. I'm not sorry. This kind of trading exposes fan club memberships for what they really are--a sleazy way to hide the true cost of tickets. Perhaps once the "fairness" argument's been debunked, artists and promoters will have to display the true ticket price. (Yeah, right. And maybe they'll get rid of all those "service fees" as well.)

For the record, the Stones were way better than I expected them to be--both loose and tight, and Mick Jagger's amazing even at his advanced age, although they played better setlists on other nights. The Police were surprisingly underrehearsed, but I appreciated the risks they were willing to take with their new arrangements of the hits we've all heard a million times, and their unwillingness to use backing tracks or extra musicians. Neither show gave me as much musicial fun as my iPod, which cost less than two tickets.

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About the author

    Matt Rosoff is an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, where he covers Microsoft's consumer products and corporate news. He's written about the technology industry since 1995, and reviewed the first Rio MP3 player for CNET.com in 1998. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network. Disclosure. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattrosoff.

     

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