The best things in life are free — and on Ticketmaster, tricky to get.
Last month, the ticketing giant sent out a total of 329 million vouchers to 57 million people, as part of a settlement of a long-gestating class-action lawsuit, which alleged that Ticketmaster wasn't forthright in conveying how it profits off UPS and order processing fees. Although the company is only required to give away at least $10.5 million-worth of coupons annually for the next four years, it has already issued $15 million-worth this summer, meaning that it's possible it will reach its $42 million-quota before the settlement's 2020 deadline.
So what does that mean for millions of voucher-holders? (Some of whom received as many as 17 free ticket coupons, depending on how many online ticket purchases they made between 1999 and 2013.) With the sheer number of discounts issued, and the rapidity with which eligible shows have already sold out, odds are that many people will never get to redeem their free concert tickets.
A Live Nation Entertainment representative with knowledge of the settlement, but unable to speak publicly about it, could not confirm to USA TODAY when the next batch of voucher-eligible shows will be made available. But when free tickets were released last month, customer complaints about concert choices, website errors and sold-out events were rampant on social media.
"The good news is we all have free Ticketmaster vouchers," one Twitter user wrote. "The bad news is they're only valid for concerts you wouldn't even go to for free." Another tweeted: "What's the point of the vouchers if all events are sold out? Every time I tried before today, the voucher page had an error."
Even Late Show host Stephen Colbert pushed back, mocking the giveaway's paltry selection of shows (comprised primarily of B-level and veteran artists, with a smattering of cover bands in the mix).
In many ways, the giveback "has seemed to work against the company, rather than giving fans something that they want," says Gary Bongiovanni, president and editor-in-chief of Pollstar. "It's more underlining the fact that they can't get what they want, which is free tickets to Beyoncé and those kinds of things. It was just the way the whole thing was presented to the public. The expectation was, 'Oh, cool, I get a discount on my next purchase to a really hot show,' and they're not doing that."
What wasn't clear to most consumers is that, as required by the settlement, free tickets are only available at venues owned and operated by Live Nation Entertainment (the byproduct of a Ticketmaster and Live Nation merger in 2010). The company does not own any stadiums or arenas in the USA, meaning that its selection of voucher-eligible shows has been limited to its 42 amphitheaters and a handful of clubs and theaters, most of which are located in small towns and suburbs of major cities.
So rather than see top-shelf artists such as Adele, Kanye West and Drake (all of whom have already sold out many upcoming shows), fans have been relegated to less-popular acts such as G-Eazy, Counting Crows, Rascal Flatts and Slipknot.
"I don't know that (the giveaway) affects artists at all," although "the Goo Goo Dolls may have a few more people at their shows," says Billboard senior editor Jem Aswad. But with some states housing few or no Live Nation venues at all, "a lot of people's frustrations were, 'For God's sake, I live in Brooklyn and the nearest show that I'm getting offered a ticket for is in Darien Lake (N.Y.) outside Buffalo.' "
Despite many concertgoers' frustrations, Ticketmaster has so far "completely complied with what the class-action suit required of them, and then some," Aswad says. And although less appealing than free concerts, most ticket voucher-holders have coupons for $5 off UPS shipping fees and $2.25 off order processing fees, which can be used for any purchase.
The overall execution "hasn't been ideal for anybody," Bongiovanni says. "Here's Ticketmaster giving away free stuff and people are complaining. It's not good public relations no matter how you look at it."
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