Words & Deeds

Michael Deeds: Fees, please — Ticketmaster rolls out at Boise State

Michael Deeds
Michael Deeds

There was a time when the word “Ticketmaster” elicited horror from any concert fan. The ticketing behemoth was notorious for a brutal, wallet-flogging quality: Fees that would drop you to your knees.

In the 1990s, grunge band Pearl Jam launched a David and Goliath battle that wound up on Capitol Hill: “Everything Ticketmaster stands for is what we’re fighting against,” bassist Jeff Ament said.

But along with our flannel shirts, our fear of Ticketmaster has faded. Maybe we’ve become accustomed to being hosed by event prices in general: tickets, fees, beer, T-shirts. Whatever the case, now that Ticketmaster has entered the Treasure Valley and enrolled at Boise State University, I’m strangely cool with it.

Boise State started rolling out Ticketmaster in April. It’s part of a minimum three-year deal. If you want to see a musical at the Velma V. Morrison Center, hear a band at Taco Bell Arena or cheer on the Broncos at Albertsons Stadium, you will purchase through Ticketmaster. The BoiseStateTickets.com website is being phased out.

Here’s the shocker: Ticketmaster’s presence hasn’t affected fees much at all.

There’s an $8.25 fee tacked onto the $47.50 ticket for a mezzanine seat to Eddie Izzard at the Morrison Center, for example.

But service fees for Morrison Center events have been unaltered by Ticketmaster, except for a $2.50 phone-order charge (up from a buck) and a $2.50 mail-order fee (per order not ticket). Don’t want to pay the $2.50? Buy online and print out your ticket. One of the new advantages is that you can print your tickets at home for free.

Albertsons Stadium ticket fees are being affected similarly.

The transition to Ticketmaster is not impacting service charges for non-athletic events at Taco Bell Arena, executive director Lisa Cochran said.

Debbie Eidson, the Morrison Center’s director of ticketing relations, is candid about the Ticketmaster era. Yes, she’s supposed to say something nice about it. But, I pestered — how do you truly feel? As a fan? Come on, Debbie!

“I’m OK about it! The ‘evil giant’ Ticketmaster of old seems to have softened a bit, at least in our market,” she said with a laugh. “So I don’t see it as a bad thing for fans. I see it actually as a good thing, because we’ve got more features to offer them. They have this incredible Web presence, and they’ve poured a lot of money and resources into developing their online presence so much.”

It’s true. Ticketmaster.com is slick. It’s been influenced by its parent company, Live Nation Entertainment, which also owns Live Nation, the world’s biggest concert promoter. One of the first things you’ll notice is the option to “ choose your own seats.” It’s a surprisingly transparent perk in an entertainment universe inhabited by secretive, often paranoid promoters.

Ever buy an airline seat online? This works the same way. You click the section, ponder all the available seats in the house, and choose the precise one you want.

Not that this option always is available. Occasionally, promoters don’t want us to see how many seats are left, or exactly what quality they are. (The Shania Twain concert Sept. 15 at Taco Bell Arena is an example.) And at the start of an extremely busy sale, it makes sense to force consumers to use a “best available seat” option. Otherwise, they stall around making up their minds and their seats get snapped up, resulting in frustration.

But the interactive, choose-your-seat feature is available for most events. It’s just one of the advantages of Ticketmaster.com, which also allows fans to customize email notifications about upcoming concerts, reminds buyers when they’ve left tickets in their shopping cart — and almost always operates smoothly.

“They’re pretty battle tested,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of tour industry magazine Pollstar.

You’ll also find Ticketmaster kiosks at many Wal-Marts, where you can buy and print tickets.

Ultimately, nobody buying tickets enjoys service fees. Bongiovanni says that if you want to understand who benefits from these tacked-on charges, read the book “Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped.”

“They did a great job of chronicling the whole rise of the ticketing business and why those fees are as high as they are and who are the hogs of the trough, because it’s not just Ticketmaster,” he said. “That money is going a lot of different places, including the artists and the promoter and the venue.”

Sounds fascinating. Just give me a minute with that choose-your-seat feature to snoop on how many tickets are left for the Eddie Izzard show, and I’ll head straight for the library.

Michael Deeds’ column runs Fridays in Scene and every other Sunday in Explore.