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John Oliver On Ticketmaster

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What kind of crazy, fucked-up world do we live in where John Oliver gets the Ticketmaster story exactly right?

One in which customers and legislators are too stupid to understand how the game works.

He labels Irving Azoff as uncharismatic, which I don’t agree with, you don’t become that successful without charisma, trust me, but Irving lays it out straight to the government and people still don’t get the story straight. TICKETMASTER IS A FRONT FOR THE ACTS! That’s right, your favorite act is most probably a greedy capitalist whilst telling you they are not. Sure, there are exceptions. But in a world where credibility and entertainment rarely ever meet, where the buck is king, where the Kardashians become richer than any singer sans any visible talent, it’s a rare performer who can say no. Especially when no one finds out the truth! That’s right, they keep saying the fan is first (after God, of course), but in truth the fan is at the absolute bottom of the pyramid. Because they can get much more money from corporations, Fitty made much more money from flavored water than he did from music. So, the acts say one thing but do another.

Like Metallica.

Yes, Metallica was an AEG act. And then became a Live Nation act.

Now I’m going to tell you something you may not have heard, it’ll be a revelation, THERE ARE ONLY A HUNDRED CENTS IN A DOLLAR! That’s right, there’s only so much money that can be generated by a concert.

Now Jimmy Buffett’s ticket sales were so consistent, sellouts were guaranteed, therefore he was paid in excess of a hundred percent of the gross. You ask me, Bob, how can that be?

Well, there’s parking, and food and drink, and merch and…ticket fees.

You see the money has to come from somewhere. And if you want more money, be prepared for the shenanigans to rear their ugly head.


Let’s start with Michael Cohl, the Canadian concert promoter who invented this paradigm, most notably with the Rolling Stones. I’ll pay you an incredible sum, BUT DON’T ASK ME HOW I MAKE MY MONEY BACK!

The promoter isn’t going to lose, not on a guaranteed sellout. Maybe the promoter scalps his own tickets. He knows the show is gonna sell out, so he’s already come up with ways to make a profit, and the act makes the sign of the cross and pleads ignorance, it’s not their business. But of course it is, because they took the huge guarantee.

So, AEG was already paying Metallica as much as possible. To go to Live Nation…they had to get more. And one was a giveback, the ability to scalp tickets given to the band.

Now let’s be clear. This happens all day long. Oliver even referenced this. But by doing this one tour with Live Nation and getting caught out, the story will not die, because everything lives forever on the internet.

But I’m going to tell you a dirty little secret, THE BAND’S FANS DON’T CARE!

I know that sounds insane, but it’s only the non-Metallica fans who are bothered by this.

A perfect example being Motley Crue, who signed in blood that they were retiring, AND THEN CAME BACK!

Yes, you say you’re retiring so fans will come to the final show. But it isn’t. I remember one band on a farewell tour that had its new album scheduled for a few months later. This was years ago, AND THEY’RE STILL ON THE ROAD!

Which is why the Eagles called one of their recent tours “Farewell 1.” It was a joke, maybe a bit inside, and in truth subsequent tours have had different monikers, but the Eagles are a rare exception, BECAUSE THEY CHARGE WHAT THE TICKETS ARE WORTH!


They’re not the only ones. The Rolling Stones are famous for this, and they flex the prices, like airline seats, yes, the person sitting next to you could have paid less, too bad, you’re there, you’re happy, I mean it’s the Stones, RIGHT?

And my inbox is filling up with people complaining about $500 Paul McCartney tickets, and those aren’t even the best ones. But history tells us people will pay the price, it’s raw economics.

But these three acts are legends. They’ve nearly transcended the business. Everybody knows who they are, their songs are part of the classic rock canon, so they don’t bother to play the game all the rest of the acts do.

Now insiders have known all of the above from day one.

And it’s this way BECAUSE THIS IS HOW THE BUSINESS WANTS IT! Entirely opaque, with Ticketmaster taking the heat instead of the acts.

And needless to say, all those fees don’t go to Ticketmaster, but fans believe this. People run on emotion, not fact. And if you do this, you’ll never be a titan like Irving. This is business. And there are immutable laws. Like I said above, there’s only a hundred cents in the dollar. If the act is getting all of the ticket revenue, which is de rigueur these days, everybody else in the food chain must have some way to make a profit, and one of those ways is via the fees….to the promoter, the building and even the act.

Everything I’ve written above I’ve said before, but it just doesn’t penetrate. You’re telling me it’s a business and everybody knows the economics and the main drivers of the problems are the acts? That’s like killing Bambi, or saying there’s no Santa Claus, it can’t possibly be true!

And there was a definitive book about all this a few years back, but the writers broke the number one rule of writing….SOMETIMES YOU’VE GOT TO LEAVE THE BEST STUFF OUT, because it detracts from the story. It’s all in “Ticket Masters,” it’s just the end result is unreadable.

As for the government… These wankers can’t understand seemingly anything, they just grandstand so they can get re-elected.


But the news media is even worse. Parroting all the falsehoods the industry keeps feeding them. They never stop and ask themselves…IS THIS TRUE?

That’s right, they’re in the news business. But they just go on camera, even write exactly what the players tell them, it makes good headlines, and they like the access and the tickets themselves!

And then an English comedian, who has little kids and probably never even goes to a show, or if he does gets tickets directly from the act or promoter (there are always tickets for VIPs, however I must tell you they are not free, those days are long gone), goes on camera and in twenty minutes nails the story, gets it exactly right. Oh, you can complain he emphasized this instead of that, but let’s not nitpick, his presentation is the most accurate in the history of Ticketmaster.

So now what happens?

NOTHING! That’s right absolutely NOTHING! Because this is the way EVERYBODY LIKES IT!

Yes, the acts, the promoters, the buildings and Ticketmaster, they’re all making money, Live Nation’s stock keeps going up.

As for the fans… THEY LOVE SCALPERS! It’s the only way they can get a good seat to a show.

People are delusional. And the biggest complainers are those not really in the game, like the marginal acts complaining about Spotify payouts. The truth is the fan wants the seat, and you’d be surprised how they’ll pay the freight. Yes, someone working a service job will pay $500 to sit in the first ten rows for their favorite act. And the only way they have access is through a broker.

I’ll go one step further. In a lot of live events, those on the selling side LOVE the brokers. Baseball… You’ve got 162 games a year and there are people who will come along and buy every home game, hoping to make their money back when the Yankees come to town, if the team hits the playoffs. Who knows, your team could suck this year, but you’ve already made bank from the scalpers.

That’s right, the people bitching loudly are the ones who believe they’re entitles to a front row seat for superstars, Bruno Mars and Adele, for under a hundred dollars. First and foremost, demand for these acts far outstrips the supply. Only one act has superseded this paradigm. Garth Brooks. He goes to a market, charges little compared to other acts, and plays until demand runs out. Multiple shows. So there is no scalping. There’s no money to be made, the fans know they can get in for a reasonable price, face value.

And then there’s paperless. Which the fans HATE! Because the fans are scalpers too. They buy as many tickets as they can and then put the extra up on secondary sites and…

There’s no hope.

The only real hope is to have the acts charge what the tickets are worth.

And in truth, for many acts they’re worth a fortune. They can sell out the entire floor at $500 a ducat. But they’re afraid they’ll look bad. Which of course makes no sense, because they’re all bragging about how much money they’re making. They should be proud of their high ticket prices. One thing is for sure, THE FANS ARE GOING TO PAY THEM!

Unfortunately, the markup goes to the scalpers, third parties, which is why acts scalp their own tickets, to get in on the action.

Now while I’ve been writing this, they’ve finally put this Oliver episode on YouTube. That’s right, despite HBO being a pay service, they give it away for free, because it’s good marketing. How can it be that HBO is more savvy than musicians? The number one way you make a fan is expose them to your art, you make the barrier low. You want to eliminate the free tier on Spotify, which is supported by advertising, and therefore pays less…but be prepared for people to miss your act. And Spotify will tell you that the free tier converts listeners to the pay tier. But you don’t want to believe that, because it doesn’t FEEL RIGHT!

Which brings us back to the very beginning. John Oliver nailed the live entertainment business. I don’t know how many people watch his show on HBO, but seven figures watch the videos on YouTube every week. But what does this really mean? It’s like the acts complaining their songs are being streamed a million times and they’re not millionaires. In context, IT’S JUST NOT THAT MUCH!

But John Oliver has credibility. And in the news business, he’s got pretty good numbers. And he’s entertaining. So his show will edify a number of people.

But the ones complaining most won’t watch, they’d rather hate on Ticketmaster.

Which brings us back to the fact that despite Oliver nailing it, I doubt there will be any change, everybody in the food chain likes it this way.

Oh, let me just add one thing. The hysteria. You remember that Hannah Montana tour, with all the parents bitching they couldn’t get tickets for their kids, or they were prohibitively expensive? Well, the next time around Miley went out totally paperless. AND THE SHOWS DIDN’T SELL OUT! It was the mania, the perceived scarcity that drove people to buy tickets.

After all, it’s show business.

Can you trust the man behind the curtain?

No, but you can’t trust those on stage either!

P.S. Don’t expect any of the above to be reported in trade papers. They’re in on the game, they don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them. Even worse, “Billboard” is now consumer-facing, ever since trade advertising tanked, they don’t want to upset the fans who don’t want the truth anyway.

P.P.S. As for the straight media, they’ve missed this story for decades. They just can’t understand it. Which makes Oliver’s program so revelatory. I mean shouldn’t this be in the “New York Times”? Then again, video reaches more people and you can’t write an entertaining story in the “Times,” it’s got to be dry, leaving all personality out, which is why John Oliver has more reach. But no one reaches everybody these days. And if people can’t get it right when it comes to entertainment, don’t expect them to get it right on politics, which is the same game, I hate to tell you. Only in this case it’s all about fundraising and guarantees and payoffs…but the end result is the same, IT’S OPAQUE! The word Oliver used. No one else has been able to delineate the facts clearly outside of the music business. KUDOS!

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