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This past week, tickets for the 10-date, East Coast tour went on pre-sale for Tenclub members. It comes as no surprise to those who tried and failed to get tickets to Ed’s “April Fool’s Tour” or the Lollapalooza warm-up show at the Vic Theater in August of ’07 that the Tenclub online ticket system was unable to handle the volume of requests and subsequently left some members out in the cold. Unlucky fans on Synergy were rancorous, calling for the Tenclub to upgrade their servers to better meet the needs of – what was defined in threads as – “paying members”. Some even called for a boycott of the Tenclub. How does the old adage go? If you’re treated well in service you’ll tell 5 people, but if you’re treated poorly you’ll tell 50.
Perhaps the best place to begin is by honing in on the word “fair” in the context Pearl Jam ticket privileges. Certainly fair does not mean that every member is going to be able to get their hands on tickets; particularly highly sought after shows. After all, membership to the Tenclub only provides the chance to obtain fan-grade seating. Generally for the most highly sought after tickets (shows in the Northeast, Seattle, California), it’s not uncommon for pre-sales to sell out in under 10 minutes – not including tickets that pop up later on due to technical glitches. Aside from the high demand/low supply factor, there are other hands at work however. Consider this, according to a poll posted on Synergy, out of 404 respondents, 173 managed to get tickets to both nights of the MSG shows. 132 others were able to obtain tickets for one of the MSG shows. 99 tried to get tickets to either one or both nights but were unable. Clearly, the poll doesn’t cover the entire spectrum of those who attempted to obtain tickets as participation was voluntary, but let’s assume it’s an appropriate sampling. So, what does it tell us?
Well for starters, about 75% of members in this sample got tickets to at least one show. Now this gremmie is no statistical wizard, but that 3 out of every 4 member seems like good odds. Good odds are better than fair odds right? But things have changed in past 5 years.
Though precise figures are unavailable, a change in Ticketmaster’s own policies have reduced Tenclub’s ticket allotment for fans to around 10%. Check out this article and this one for more detail. Info on the secondary market for tickets is here. Prior to this change in policy, the demand for tickets through the Tenclub was met evenly by the supply. Testament to this are the MSG shows in 2003 where – in night two – Ed announced that the first night had 7,000+ Tenclub members in attendance and that the second night 8,000+ Tenclub members. MSG’s capacity according to their site is between 18,000 and about 20,000 depending on the event. Back in 2003 at MSG II, Tenclub was allotted about 40% of the Garden’s available tickets. In 2008, that percentage is 10%; that leaves about 2,000 tickets to the Tenclub. 2,000 tickets, 1,000 pairs (Tenclub seats only sold in pairs). 1,000 pairs, 1,000 Tenclub numbers per show receiving fan-grade seats. This is easily the factor that has had the most impact on Tenclub ticketing.
Partly, the concept of “fair” ticketing has been sandbagged from the old method of obtaining Tenclub tickets: scribble your name, address, and member number on an index card and mail it to the Tenclub, wait a few weeks, receive tickets. This method nearly guaranteed fan-grade seats (preferential treatment was given to local Tenclub members in the event of short supply). Remember though, the index card method pre-dated Ticketmaster’s revised policy; so long as you sent in the index card on time during the pre-sale window, the supply of tickets was virtually limitless. With the advent of Pearl Jam’s redesigned website, pre-sale ticketing has since been moved exclusively to the web. Ticket availability notwithstanding, the game is now who can hit the “buy” button the quickest and get through all 3 steps and earn a confirm number without the site crashing.
It has been suggested several times during the past few years that the Tenclub should outsource their ticket sales to an external vendor who has more experience in executing high volume online sales. But this option possesses its fair share of pitfalls. First, by keeping ticket sales in house, Pearl Jam is able to control all aspects of the sale. The benefits to this are the quick turnaround between management confirming a tour and subsequently announcing it, keeping “service” fees low, and more importantly the Tenclub – who has its members’ interests at heart – handling customer service. Imagine, if you will, Ticket Broker XYZ was put in charge of the MSG pre-sales for the ’08 tour. And let’s assume that they are able to handle the volume of requests put upon the server once tickets go on sale. Let us also assume there are 5,000 people trying to get tickets, ready and waiting for the window to open. The minute the proverbial gun goes off there are 5,000 people rushing to get through the process of clicking “buy”, filling out credit card info, and submitting their order. With the exception of server capacity, how is externalizing ticket sales any different than keeping it in-house? It’s not. The only difference- again excepting server capacity – is that tickets would likely be more expensive due to various service and handling fees associated with farming out the ticketing process to a third party.
So it comes down to server capacity. This is the factor most discussed amongst disgruntled fans. The prime drawback of keeping ticket sales in house is directly related to Pearl Jam’s business; making music. Pearl Jam is in the business of making music and is only contingently in the business of ticket sales. Tenclub ticket sales are not as important as other aspects of the band and their management. This is a tough pill to swallow for most Tenclub members because of how well Pearl Jam treats its fanclub members; the prevailing thought being “well if they send me a vinyl once a year for the holidays and have undercut the bootleg market by releasing their own low priced ‘bootlegs’ then their ticketing should be right”. Point being, Pearl Jam has consistently done right by Tenclub members. Their track record is sterling with a keen shine. They don’t just give Tenclub members a pat on the back, they give them a hug and a reach-around too. Why then not upgrade their servers to handle the volume during pre-sales? There’s at least one solid answer: it doesn’t make a difference.
Those same 5,000 people are going to be bum-rushing the server whether it’s at tenclub.net or ticketbrokerxyz.com. So long as members are able to get tickets eventually through the Tenclub’s proprietary system then they’ve held up their end of the bargain: providing a chance for members to get fan-grade seats. That the site frequently crashes during these firedrills is unfortunate, but it’s probably not worth the expense incurred to upgrade the servers for the very small amount of time when the extra capacity is needed. Think about it for a sec, how much time does the Tenclub need to have the extra capacity on a pre-sale day? Let’s say there’s three pre-sales during one day and that each show eventually sells out in an hour (more like 15 minutes). That makes three hours that day multiplied by – for a full tour – two weeks of pre-sale times. That’s forty two hours of time where the Tenclub could have used some extra bite on their servers. Considering that pre-sales happen once a year (often less), it just doesn’t justify the expense. This argument is admittedly hamstrung by a lack of transparency because we don’t know exactly how much a server upgrade would be but the reasoning here is sound. Once you start adding conveniences to the cost per ticket (outsourcing traffic to a third party IS a convenience), ticket prices will go up, and haven’t they gone up enough already? The convenience pitch is at odds with the band’s philosophy that tickets prices should be made as afforable as is reasonable.
I know I’m not going to make any friends by saying this but fanclub members just need to adjust to the new environment. Days of the index cards are gone. The ticket supply allotted to the Tenclub and indeed fanclubs on the whole has dwindled. And doesn’t 3 out 4 seem pretty fair when all is said and told?