Asbury Park Freeze Out: Springsteen fans left cold over ticket prices

It’s hard to imagine now, but back in 1989, when the Rolling Stones were about to embark on their first tour of North America in seven years, many fans and critics balked at ticket prices. The nerve of a bunch of over the hill musicians – mean age at the time being 47 – thinking they could expect concertgoers to shell out not just an average of $28.50 per ticket, but record-breaking surcharges of up to $6.50.

Those looking to attend Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s tour next year are perhaps looking back wistfully at 1989 as the glory days of ticket prices, since some seats on his 2023 trek are displaying a price tag of $5,000 apiece.

You read that right: $5,000 for a single seat to see the Boss. There isn’t an extra zero added in error. It’s not a “verified resale” ticket either – that’s face value. And it’s not front row; we’re talking the middle of the floor or upper levels.

Even the most hardcore fans of New Jersey’s favorite son, who will be 73 when he’s scheduled to stop at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia March 16, are having trouble defending the legendary singer and guitarist who has spent an entire career defined by his working man sensibilities and identification with the middle class and downtrodden. So, what gives?

The furor began a week ago when six dates for the tour went on sale and consumers discovered what’s known as “dynamic pricing” by Ticketmaster. Some have likened the practice, which began over a decade ago, to rideshare surge pricing or airline tickets, where the cost of a seat fluctuates based on demand. Those floor seats for Springsteen may have started around $399, but when the ticketing system registered how many people were trying to obtain them, they swiftly ballooned into the $5K range.

Dynamic pricing was a move developed to stifle scalpers and secondary markets like StubHub and put that excess money people were willing to pay into the pockets of the artist. It turns out, the downright extortion of concertgoers is an unintended byproduct. Outrage over Springsteen ticket costs has reached an intensity so enormous that Ticketmaster took the unique step of releasing statistics meant to play down the matter as much ado about nothing.

“Prices and formats are consistent with industry standards for top performers,” the sales and distribution company said in a statement Sunday, according to the trade publication Variety. Ticketmaster added that a mere 11.2% of all tickets sold were part of the platinum seats under the dynamic pricing umbrella and while 1.3% of those sold for over $1,000, 56% went for under $200, including 18% for under $99.

Throwing out a bunch of numbers and percentages didn’t quell the uproar from those facing record gas prices and mass inflation, which led to Springsteen’s manager, Jon Landau, to release a statement of his own which read in part, “In pricing tickets for this tour, we looked carefully at what our peers have been doing.”

“We chose prices that are lower than some and on par with others,” he continued, echoing Ticketmaster’s stance. “Regardless of the commentary about a modest number of tickets costing $1,000 or more, our true average ticket price has been in the mid-$200 range. I believe that in today’s environment, that is a fair price to see someone universally regarded as among the very greatest artists of his generation.”

What Landau didn’t address is the fact that engaging in dynamic pricing is a choice. Springsteen doesn’t have to do it – no artists do. On the other hand, he looks like a fool among industry colleagues if he doesn’t. Even Pearl Jam, who famously took on Ticketmaster in the mid-90s over the company’s monopoly of the concert landscape, has acquiesced to dynamic pricing under the cutesy, ironic or utterly appalling name – depending on your point of view – of “PJ Premium.”

Tickets on the first level of the grunge outfit’s September Madison Square Garden show can be had for $4,550 each, but must be bought in pairs, so a potential buyer is looking at spending $10,466.80 with all the fees included. And since nearly everything is electronic these days, if you want a hard ticket, you have to pay an extra $10 each on top of that for a commemorative ticket, “printed on custom Pearl Jam ticket stock” – a “whatever that means” if there ever was one. Not only did Pearl Jam lose the war, they surrendered and voluntarily offered to fight for the other side.

When it comes to Philadelphia, the Wells Fargo Center is one of the few arenas in the country selling tickets to Springsteen not via Ticketmaster, but through the venue itself. That didn’t make things necessarily easier for fans this past Tuesday, as there were reportedly more than 90,000 of them on the site attempting to nab seats at one point for a show that at capacity will have less than 20,000 in attendance.

Thousands who waited in a virtual line for hours were met with a message which read, “Thank you for your patience. We are experiencing the largest demand for tickets in Philadelphia music history. The queue is taking longer than expected.” Others were flabbergasted when they finally got a crack at seeing Bruce’s return to town for the first time in seven years coming at a cost of more than $5,000 for a pair of tickets on the lower level. Granted, that’s supposed to be the top price for “platinum seats” with a range of $199.50 – $2,495 and only available to purchase in pairs, but the standard tickets appeared completely unattainable.

Not surprisingly, the Philadelphia date completely sold out the day it went on sale. At press time, StubHub had a seemingly endless supply of seats for the Wells Fargo Center available from $235 a ticket in the mezzanine to $1,075 in the general admission pit. And we’re not even going to address the joker trying to unload a single in a luxury suite behind the stage for $20K.

Springsteen has yet to personally address the ticketing issues his fans are facing. Maybe he’s waiting for it all to blow over. That doesn’t seem likely, as another round of shows go on sale this Friday, including one in his home state of New Jersey and four in or around nearby New York City, with all but one through Ticketmaster. He may have been “born to run,” but let’s see if Bruce can outlast this frustrating demand for an explanation.

A version of this article appears in this week’s print and online editions of my syndicated Rock Music Menu column under the title “Pattison Avenue Freeze Out: Springsteen fans left cold over ticket prices.”

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