Bruce Morrison vividly remembers the Eagles’ ticket fiasco. It was their comeback “Hell Freezes Over” 1995 tour and for their CNE date in Toronto, Concert Productions International announced that the band was asking a top ticket price of $100!
All hell broke loose. The media jumped all over the band, screaming it was unethical to demand such a high price for a concert ticket. Such was the ferocity of the public’s outrage that The Eagles backed off…and charged $99.99 cents. Tag on the Ticketmaster surcharges and punters still paid over $100 for their ticket.
“I well remember that controversy,” reflected Morrison, the General Manager of Ticketfly, a new ticketing operation which has just launched in Canada. “I was on the receiving end of it. “I had never seen the Eagles live and I remember people being appalled at the price.”
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These days $100 might get you a decent seat in the nosebleed section at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. Want the Diamond VIP experience at Bon Jovi’s February 17th and 18th dates at the ACC, be prepared to fork out $1,672.25 PER TICKET! If you miss Justin Bieber’s two fall dates and want to catch him July 25th at the ACC, be ready to shell out a top price of $902.00 for a floor seat.
“Used to be that people could see a band at the Maple Leaf Gardens for 15 bucks but those were the days when artists toured to sell records and it was the record companies that paid tour support” Morrison explained. “But now the artists have to do it themselves. That’s why it cost so much more to see them”.
Acknowledging that it now costs hundreds of dollars to see major arena artists, Morrison confirmed that the ticket buyer has to be more selective in which shows they can afford to see. “Used to be at one point that most people could see five or six shows a year, now maybe they can only afford one or two which obviously has a pass along effect to touring bands, some shows are not going to draw.”
The San Francisco-based Ticketfly organization is set to represent smaller club venues and promoters but eventually has its sights on taking on the more established Ticketmaster operation. They have purchased Calgary regional ticket company, Prime Box Office and established contracts with Calgary’s Union Concerts and Toronto-based Collective Concerts.
A native of Montreal who attended University of Ottawa and Carleton Univesity and earned his chops with Ticketmaster and Concert Productions International, Morrison boasts a well-rounded knowledge of the concert ticket business.
Responding to the criticism that operations like Ticketmaster are blamed by the public for inflated ticket prices with their add-on service charges, Morrison notes that you have to look at the evolution of how tickets are purchased. “Years ago people had to buy tickets directly at the box office on a first come, first served. Then tickets were obtained at outside retailers, then people ordered by phone and now they can go online. All this needs agencies like Ticketmaster and Ticketfly to organize those ticket sales, it is big business. ”
Morrison acknowledges that Ticketfly initially will be representing smaller promoters and club venues like The Horseshoe and Lee`s Palace. “Our goal is to implement an easy purchase process so the general public doesn`t have to jump through hoops to buy their tickets. Our average ticket charge is lower than other providers, 25-35% less than another promoter would charge. Initially we are looking at working with smaller venues which have a need for an attentive ticket provider but eventually we are looking at going head to head with Ticketmaster.
“If you look at the Canadian live entertainment market, 35 million tickets are purchased every year and that tells me there is still plenty of room for a company like ours. We are a socially media integrated, this allows the customer to purchase tickets off Facebook and other social media platforms.”
“Yes Ticketmaster is established with Live Nation but not all Live Nation concert dates play at Ticketmaster venues. Montreal’s Bell Centre and Ottawa’s Scotia Bank Place are not Ticketmaster outlets so there is no reason why we can’t bid on those venues. And as other contracts end, we intend on being competitive,” explained Morrison.
He notes that his previous experience with Ticketmaster gave him an understanding of the ticketing market and provided valuable contacts with venue promoters and buyers while Morrison’s experience at CPI gave him a look at the promoter`s side of the business and an insight into the difficulties of being an independent promoter and venue operator. “I try to figure out what they need and how to make it happen,” he says.
At the time of our conversation, Morrison was en route to the International Ticketing Association conference at Orlando, Florida, an annual gathering of some 600 international ticketing people who run the global ticketing business. “Understanding that artists have to tour to make money, there are more artists than ever on the road” noted Morrison. “So promoters are looking at three or four big shows a week to justify the economics, understanding that some shows will make money and some won’t.”
Still Morrison is confident that the live experience of a concert still has tangible value. “My favourite expression is ‘Live Is Very Much Alive’. Nothing beats that live concert experience or sports experience. Our job is to make it accessible for you to buy that ticket, text your friends, let them know you are going and that they should attend too. For all three of these factors, Ticketfly is well positioned to meet those challenges.”