Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Every ticket must go! No reasonable offer refused!

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There was an amusing story this week in the American music industry bible, Billboard magazine.

North America's major concert promoter, Live Nation, has announced a discount promotion, "No Service Fee June."

This will eliminate those obnoxious convenience fees on nearly 700 shows by 110 acts for a potential total of eight million tickets.

The Beverly Hills-based behemoth can do this because it bought the ticketing monopoly Ticketmaster earlier this year. Mind you, it puts the lie to the fiction that service fees are charged to cover Ticketmaster's expenses rather than to hide the true cost of admission.

The real catch, though, is that the promotion applies only to concerts held in venues Live Nation owns. That's 120 in the U.S. but only two in Canada, the Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto and Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver.

Yet Winnipeg is very much affected by the continuing tumult in the live-concert business. Everything from market saturation and recession woes to online scalping and plummeting CD sales has thrown monkey wrenches into the works.

"Nobody's immune," says Kevin Donnelly, senior vice-president and general manager of the MTS Centre.

"I wonder if the people with the master plan even know what the master plan is."

Lady Gaga, arguably the hottest pop star on the planet, offered last-minute half-price tickets to her show in Manchester, England, Thursday night.

Something called the Virgin Festival cancelled its planned summer Canadian tour Thursday. Sarah McLachlan has complained that the rebirth of her Lilith Fair tour is fumbling towards bankruptcy.

In Winnipeg, not a single one of the summer's major concerts, at either the MTS Centre or Canad Inns Stadium, is sold out.

There are still tickets to Iron Maiden, Tom Petty, the Eagles and Dixie Chicks, ZZ Top, Simon and Garfunkel, Bon Jovi, Carrie Underwood, Black-Eyed Peas, Michael Bublé and Cirque du Soleil, among many, many others.

In some cases, the acts are back in town too soon. In other cases, they're tripping over each other with the same classic-rock shtickola.

Why, one asks Donnelly, must our concert activity peak in the summer, when the monied classes go to the cottage and others patronize our jazz, folk, fringe and Folkloroma festivals?

Live Nation, he explains, mounts its tours to occupy the 40 or so huge outdoor amphitheatres it owns in the U.S. Weatherwise, they're safe only May through September.

Also, the world's second-largest promoter is making its presence felt in Winnipeg. The Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), owners of the L.A. Lakers and Kings sports franchises, is behind Underwood, Bon Jovi, Tool, the Peas and young superstar Justin Beiber.

The L.A.-based outfit owns but two venues, the Staples Center in L.A. and London's O2 Arena. When they put together a rock tour, they need to rent venues, so cities like Winnipeg have better odds than with Live Nation.

Hmm. Maybe we could still grab Neil Young's solo acoustic tour, an AEG production.

As for high ticket prices, Donnelly says, that's not the biggest problem.

"My shows with the most expensive tickets," he says, "tend to be the ones doing the best."

All told, he admits, total MTS Centre concert attendance in the fiscal year that ends June 30 will be down slightly from 2009. But he blames that on a dearth of triple-A events like Céline Dion.

The possible return of the NHL could suck an extra $40 million-$50 million in ticket sales out of the entertainment economy.

"That's the big unknown," he says. "Everyone could be affected."

The Live Nation discount, he says, is just the concert industry's latest experiment to move "unsold inventory," which averages about 40 per cent across the board.

"Everything is on the table," Donnelly says. "Any creative idea is being tried."

There's VIP pricing to discourage scalpers. Two-for-one deals to attract last-minute bargain shoppers. The Philadelphia Flyers last season offered unlimited beer and food for $25.

The future, Donnelly says, is not reduced ticket prices so much as a wider range of prices. In Sacramento, Calif., in April, Live Nation advertised 10 separate prices for the Eagles.

"The committed fan can pay top dollar," he says. "But if you just want to party with your friends in the back, you can do that for $25."

More choice. More decisions. More aggravation. But maybe, if we're lucky, no bloody services charges.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 5, 2010 C1

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