The Ticketmaster controversy

It should come as no surprise that the String Cheese Incident’s stalwart independent spirit would eventually lead to a direct confrontation, as it did in August 2003 when the band sued Ticketmaster.

Ticket pricing and concert promotion are complex issues, and as the resident 800-pound gorilla, Ticketmaster is inevitably in the thick of the conflict. According to Mother Jones magazine, the company holds exclusive rights to 90 percent of the nation’s arenas and outdoor shells and 70 percent of all U.S. clubs and theaters, as well as exclusive contracts with promoters like Clear Channel — who’ve also been accused of monopolizing their markets. Critics have complained about everything from excessive service charges to not being able to get a live operator on the phone and having to wait on hold for long periods even to get prerecorded info. Ticketmaster has maintained that its charges reflect the cost of doing business.

But SCI and Ticketmaster eventually collided head-on over the band’s practice of making tickets available to fans via its own ticketing company, then called SCI Ticketing (now Baseline), to whom promoters provided tickets for the band to re-sell as they saw fit.

Kyle Hollingsworth explains: “We said, ‘Here’s the deal: We can sell tickets just as well as you can, probably with better customer care and with smaller fees.’ They told us we cannot.”

In a statement last year, the Los Angeles-based company called the lawsuit “frivolous” and acused SCI Ticketing of “trying to step in for a ‘free ride’ on the many benefits and services Ticketmaster provides,” according to a report on the Rolling Stone Web site.

The lawsuit was settled earlier this year, and, though the terms of the agreement are confidential, Keith Moseley says the band “couldn’t be happier” with the outcome — a stark contrast to Pearl Jam’s unsuccessful 1994-95 fight against Ticketmaster. One reason, again, lies in SCI’s ethic of self-sufficiency.

Pearl Jam, says Hollingsworth, “had a very valid point, but they couldn’t say, ‘We have a valid second solution,’ [whereas] we already had a ticket company up and rolling.”

And while Hollingsworth says the band expected the lawsuit to drag on for three years, it settled in under a year. But what if things had turned out differently? How much did the band fear a backlash?

“Whether we regained the ability to sell tickets or not,” says Moseley, “it was probably something admirable in the eyes of most of the fans.”

— Saby Reyes-Kulkarni

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