Ticketb*stard and Streisand

babs.jpgThere’s an old expression – “I wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire” – that sums up my feelings for Ticketmaster, the king of the concert cartel and the ruiner of live music worldwide. There’s no rash too painful, no complication too unbearable, no situation too hopeless, that I don’t wish on them. When it comes to rock shows and ballgames, the only ones worse are the vermin that run StubHub, RazorGator and the myriad of “agencies” with chain link doors and greasy guards who smell of yesterday’s lunch.

And EBay scalpers – hey, it’s a long list.

Guess it’s kismet that they’re at war with each other. Ticketmaster is now in the innocuously named “secondary,” or auction market. Meaning that they’ve started carving off their best seats and marking the price up themselves, ahead of the reigning ticket Mafia. They’ve even co-opted an old sports biz trick, pioneered by the San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners – they sell their tickets twice. Customers can use the Ticketmaster web site to move a marked-up ticket without even having to set foot at the actual event.

Now, instead of fans waiting on line for a chance to see their favorite performers, or cheer on their home team, speculators compete for a chance to hit the lottery. The mother company keeps a percentage. What Tony Soprano might call a “vigorish” if he were less cultured.

I bet there are days Tony wishes he wasn’t in the trash business. Could it be that’s HBO’s big surprise series ending for “The Sopranos” – Tony follows his Seger/Deep Purple muse, and whacks his way to the top of the New Jersey concert market?

But apart from big dogs like Streisand, Madonna, Clapton and their ilk, the concert market is actually tanking. Oh, there’s always one or two Dane Cooks every year, but no one lasts for too long – ask John Mayer.

You wouldn’t know it from Ticketmaster’s bottom line, but most musicians are learning a hard truth:

Ticket sales are falling while total revenue is climbing. There are big shows, but fewer of them. Going to see live music has turned into a trip to Disney World for most people, at around the same price and with the same amount of product placement. Sadly, that experience now has about as much to with music as Jack Sparrow does with naval history.

Tom Petty was right. Thank god for the clubs, where real music, not money, is still king.

Barbra Streisand is Tesla to the Eagles’ Edison when it comes to price gouging. The first 100 dollar concert ticket was her 1995 New Year’s show at the Las Vegas MGM Grand. Yeah, it seems like Wiggles shows have been north of that forever, but this was 1994, and Babs opened the floodgates.

Conservatives hate Streisand for her politics, I despise her for that.

Now she’s out on tour. One last cash grab before the pipes sag along with everything else. You couldn’t pay me to see her, but she still has fans willing to overlook the fact that, apart from playing Rosalind Focker, her last movie was over a decade ago. Her die-hard fans are, to put it as gently as possible, dying. Her recent duet with Barry “The Survivor” Gibb didn’t tear up the charts, either.

So here’s a bit of news about her tour, and the requisite scalping component, in today’s Wall Street Journal:

…top tier seats carrying face values of $750. Sales have been slow, with excellent seats going unsold in Atlanta, Columbus, Ohio and other cities. This, in turn, has undercut Ticketmaster and Ms. Streisand’s efforts to sell some of those seats at auctions for even higher prices.

Streisand and Ticketmaster passed the $100 threshold by rationalizing that if the scalpers were getting the money, so should they. Now they’re not happy with even that. Total tickets go down, money goes up, but that can’t last.

Something’s gonna give, most likely when the dinosaurs start dying off.