In the early 1990s, Ticketmaster emerged as the dominant ticketing service for major concerts and sporting events in the United States. The company utilized exclusive contracts with venues and promoters to gain control over ticket distribution, allowing them to charge high fees on ticket purchases. This monopoly over ticketing drew the ire of many music acts, but none more so than Pearl Jam.
How did Pearl Jam get big?
Pearl Jam was one of the most popular rock bands to emerge from the Seattle grunge scene in the early 1990s. Their debut album “Ten” became a surprise hit in 1991, selling over 13 million copies on the strength of singles like “Alive” and “Jeremy.” Propelled by the success of “Ten,” Pearl Jam quickly graduated from playing small clubs to headlining arenas and stadiums.
Why did Pearl Jam have a problem with Ticketmaster?
As Pearl Jam’s popularity grew, so did their frustration with Ticketmaster. The band took issue with Ticketmaster’s exorbitant service fees, which could add as much as 25% to the base price of a ticket. Pearl Jam felt this limited access to their concerts for many fans. They also disliked Ticketmaster’s exclusive contracts with venues, which eliminated competition in the ticketing industry.
How did Pearl Jam initially respond?
When Pearl Jam began their second album “Vs.” tour in 1993, they initially tried to keep ticket prices affordable by avoiding Ticketmaster. They booked shows at venues that didn’t have exclusive Ticketmaster deals. For larger venues with Ticketmaster contracts, Pearl Jam subsidized the service fees so fans wouldn’t bear the brunt of the costs. However, Pearl Jam found avoiding Ticketmaster’s reach entirely was impossible.
What was Pearl Jam’s next move?
In 1994, Pearl Jam took more drastic action. They filed a memorandum with the U.S. Department of Justice, requesting an investigation into Ticketmaster’s monopolistic practices. When this yielded no results, Pearl Jam decided to tour that summer without using Ticketmaster at all. They booked shows only at venues with no Ticketmaster deals.
This proved extremely difficult. Ticketmaster had exclusive contracts with most major venues in the U.S. Pearl Jam had to book shows at obscure venues like county fairs, which reduced attendance. Many fans had no way to purchase tickets without going through Ticketmaster.
How did Ticketmaster respond?
Ticketmaster retaliated aggressively. They threatened to sue promoters and venues that hosted Pearl Jam concerts without their involvement. In some cases, they blocked venue owners from staging any concerts for up to a year if they worked with Pearl Jam. According to the band, Ticketmaster’s CEO Fred Rosen told them “we’re going to teach you a lesson.”
What was the outcome?
Pearl Jam’s anti-Ticketmaster tour struggled with logistics and faced weak attendance. After just a few months, the band was forced to cancel the remainder of their summer tour dates. Their manager said Ticketmaster had made concert promotion “virtually impossible.” Pearl Jam’s crusade showed that a band of their stature was still powerless against Ticketmaster’s industry dominance.
The aftermath left a lasting impact on Pearl Jam’s career. They continued to boycott Ticketmaster for the next several years. They booked shows at venues like New Orleans’ Fair Grounds Race Course. Without access to major ticket distributors, Pearl Jam ceded their position as rock’s top draw to bands like Hootie & The Blowfish.
Did this lead to any changes?
In the short term, Pearl Jam’s public battle with Ticketmaster led to little change. The company maintained its firm grip over event ticketing. Pearl Jam’s momentum stalled as they played to smaller crowds during their boycott. Some praised the band’s efforts to keep prices affordable for fans, while others felt their stance was naive and self-sabotaging.
However, Pearl Jam’s stand against Ticketmaster helped lay the groundwork for more scrutiny of the company’s monopoly years later. In 2010, Ticketmaster and concert promoter Live Nation merged to create Live Nation Entertainment. The U.S. Department of Justice approved the merger but under strict conditions to prevent anticompetitive practices. Though late, it was a sign that the tides were slowly turning against Ticketmaster’s total control over event ticketing.
How does Pearl Jam sell tickets today?
Pearl Jam ended their boycott of Ticketmaster in 1998. They returned to using the service, feeling they had made their point and could better serve fans by reaching larger audiences again. However, Pearl Jam still tries to mitigate Ticketmaster’s fees when possible. For select shows, they utilize tickets.com as an alternative vendor or sell directly through fan clubs and lotteries.
After their volatile history, Pearl Jam no longer stages full tours completely independent of Ticketmaster. But their fiery crusade in the mid-90s called public attention to the company’s unrivaled dominance in a way that resonated for years. Though unsuccessful at the time, Pearl Jam’s stance represented an important first step toward exposing the need for greater competition in event ticketing.
|Pearl Jam’s debut album “Ten” released, sells 13 million copies
|Pearl Jam begins “Vs.” tour, attempts to avoid Ticketmaster
|Pearl Jam files complaint against Ticketmaster, tours without using service
|Ticketmaster retaliates, Pearl Jam cancels remainder of summer tour
|Pearl Jam ends Ticketmaster boycott
|Ticketmaster and Live Nation merge, DOJ oversees conditions to limit anticompetitive practices
Key Events Timeline
- 1991: Pearl Jam’s debut album “Ten” released, sells 13 million copies
- 1993: Pearl Jam begins “Vs.” tour, attempts to avoid Ticketmaster
- 1994: Pearl Jam files complaint against Ticketmaster, tours without using service
- 1994: Ticketmaster retaliates, Pearl Jam cancels remainder of summer tour
- 1998: Pearl Jam ends Ticketmaster boycott
- 2010: Ticketmaster and Live Nation merge, DOJ oversees conditions to limit anticompetitive practices
Pearl Jam’s debut album “Ten” released, sells 13 million copies
Pearl Jam begins “Vs.” tour, attempts to avoid Ticketmaster
Pearl Jam files complaint against Ticketmaster, tours without using service
Ticketmaster retaliates, Pearl Jam cancels remainder of summer tour
Pearl Jam ends Ticketmaster boycott
Ticketmaster and Live Nation merge, DOJ oversees conditions to limit anticompetitive practices
Pearl Jam’s bitter feud with Ticketmaster in the mid-1990s was an important moment in the history of event ticketing. Though their boycott failed at the time, it brought significant public awareness to Ticketmaster’s monopolistic practices. In later years, Pearl Jam’s stance would be vindicated as greater regulation came to the ticketing industry. The band’s courageous efforts to keep ticket prices fair for fans remains a pivotal part of their legacy.