Bruce Springsteen ticket prices give fans a crisis of faith
In late July, tickets went on sale for Springsteen’s first series of US shows with the band E Street in six years. Like tens of thousands of others, Avery went online to try and buy tickets. By the time she walked out of Ticketmaster’s virtual queue, the only nominally priced tickets to the show she wanted at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun casino were in the nosebleed sections. As Avery went to buy a slightly better seat, she saw the price of the ticket in her basket skyrocket. She ended up paying $800, several hundred dollars more than face value.
Avery wasn’t the only Springsteen fan to suffer sticker shock, thanks to Ticketmaster’s dynamic pricing policy, which uses an algorithm to adjust prices in real time based on supply and demand. Instead of selling tickets at face value through Ticketmaster and then being resold by scalpers at large – sometimes exorbitant – margins, dynamic pricing allows performers to efficiently scalp their own tickets before they even arrive. in the secondary market. Ticketmaster compares it to airline and hotel prices, which can change without notice, although Ticketmaster, unlike these companies, has almost total market dominance in its field.
Artists such as Taylor Swift and Paul McCartney have used dynamic pricing for years, but this was the first time music’s most controversial ticketing practice had come headlong into its fiercest fanbase. The ensuing dust has laid bare the growing divisions between many artists and their audiences, between the 1 percent who can afford tickets and the die-hard, less fortunate fans who increasingly cannot.
For Springsteen’s biggest faithful, it’s an unfortunate shock of circumstance: pent-up demand after years of lockdown, the six years since an E Street Band tour, lack of understanding of a changing market, afraid that the 72 year old Springsteen will never do a full band tour again.
Because Springsteen has sworn never to do an official farewell tour, any tour could theoretically be his last. And not just for Bruce. “I look at pictures from 2016 of myself and a few friends at shows, and some people have since died, you know,” says Stan Goldstein, a lifelong fan who does Bruce-themed tours in his house. Jersey shore home since 1999. “You look at the picture and you’re like, ‘Oh, he’s gone. She’s gone.’ We never know.”
Fans say they are unhappy not only with ticket prices, but also with the lack of transparency. The outrage has been abundant on Twitter and other places where people like to be upset all the time, but also, more surprisingly, on Springsteen’s own Instagram and Facebook groups. “So this is what a crisis of faith looks like,” tweeted Backstreets magazine, an almost unthinkable beloved fan resource. Words like “betrayed” and “punch” were used frequently. “I would expect that kind of stuff from the Eagles,” one fan tweeted, withering.
So this is what a crisis of faith looks like.
— Backstreets Magazine (@backstreetsmag) July 23, 2022
Many have described an unspoken contract between the singer and his fans, which has now been broken. It’s been difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile superstar Bruce, who sold his music catalog last year to Sony for $550 million, and has been a legend longer than many fans are alive, with Man of the People Bruce, a New Jersey-clad Carhartt-grandfather. Until Springsteen openly imbibed his fan base, it was easy for everyone to look the other way, to pretend that those class divides didn’t exist, to avoid headlines like this on NJ.com: “Bruce Springsteen didn’t worry about you.”
“I don’t feel disappointed,” says Flynn McLean, who co-hosts the fan-favorite Springsteen podcast “None But the Brave.” “You know, I haven’t bought into the working-class hero thing for a long time.” McLean is going to a show anyway.
The fact that Springsteen has always treated his fan base like family and has historically kept ticket prices low only adds to the sense of outrage, says fan Amy Demma. She hasn’t missed a Bruce tour since 1980, but she turned down a pair of not-so-good tickets to Boston that would have cost a staggering $18,000. Demma goes to three shows on the European leg of the tour; flying to Dublin, staying for three gigs and flying back is always cheaper than dynamic pricing in the US. Many fans do the same, even though they fear that dropping Springsteen’s gigs to the 1% Wall Street brothers will change the dynamic of the show and irreparably damage the frayed bonds between Bruce and his audience. “These are the people who feel so, very betrayed,” she says. “We were invited and embraced and told that we were an important part of what he was trying to do with his music. And now we feel left out.
The quirks of the dynamic pricing system also frustrated potential buyers who said they could no longer see the original ticket prices and didn’t know how much they were overpaying, or didn’t realize their tickets were $300 had turned into $3,000 bills until their finger hovered over the “place order” button.
Many bought those tickets anyway and offered similar reasons. I was afraid of missing out. I didn’t want to spend the next six months watching if the algorithm was driving prices down. Bruce is 72 years old. We never know.
Fans blame the promoters, Ticketmaster and Springsteen’s longtime manager Jon Landau. (According to a statement from Ticketmaster, “promoters and artist reps” are responsible for setting pricing parameters.) Many will tell you that Bruce has nothing to do with pricing, which he probably works in. behind the scenes right now to issue refunds, that he might not even be aware of all the kerfuffle.
He knows, says Bob Lefsetz, author of industry publication The Lefsetz Letter. He thinks that at best, Springsteen and his team vaguely knew the practice and thought ticket prices would go up a few hundred dollars at most, and didn’t think to set an upper limit on the prices. “Bruce, his only goal was to make sure that whatever the price of the tickets sold, he got the money rather than the scalpers,” Lefsetz said. ” It’s as simple as that. Is he [mess] without capping it? Yeah OK.”
Although the $5,000 bills sparked most of the outrage, it’s hard to find people who actually shelled out the money. These towering numbers may be the product of an overly punchy algorithm; ticket prices for many shows have stabilized in the four digits, and tickets for shows in smaller cities (like Tulsa, for example) can still be found near face value. According to a statement from Ticketmaster, whose calculations could be described as opaque, the average price of a ticket, at least when it first goes on sale, is $262.
It’s been a long time since Springsteen faced this kind of widespread public condemnation, and he seems to have been caught off guard. He has yet to address the issue publicly, which is another sticking point with fans who are in an unusually ruthless mood. “I think whatever mistake or oversight they made in allowing these tickets to go out at $3,000, $4,000, $5,000 last week, they deserve it,” the podcaster says McLean. “Not many Bruce apologists at this point.”
With many West Coast dates, including Los Angeles, yet to be announced, and a stadium tour likely to come after that, the drama could go on for a long time. Landau released a statement to The New York Times that seemed to make matters worse, pointing out that ticket prices were in line with Springsteen’s peers, of which there weren’t many, anyway. “I believe in today’s environment, it’s a fair price to see someone universally regarded as one of the greatest artists of their generation,” he said.
The backlash likely won’t survive the opening minutes of the tour’s first show in Tampa next February, but until then, there are indications that Springsteen is beginning to come to terms with his predicament. Goldstein met the singer in Asbury Park on Sunday, at his longtime haunt, Wonder Bar. Springsteen hung out with the dogs outside (Wonder Bar hosts a Canine Yappy Hour), mostly unnoticed. A video of the singer with the owner commemorating the bar’s 20th anniversary, a timely reminder that the singer hasn’t forgotten his roots, has since gone viral.
Goldstein, understandably, didn’t mention the box office situation when meeting with Springsteen. But if Susan Avery were to run into Bruce, she says she would talk. “I would say, you know, ‘I still love your music. I think you’re amazing. You’ve changed my life. And thank you for being in my life. But I have to tell you, I’m really disappointed with what happened. happened with Ticketmaster. And I’d love to hear what he has to say about it.