Life Before Ticketmaster?

Ticketron fossil
Above: a fossilized logo of what is believed to have sold tickets in the 1970s

Yesterday my esteemed counterpart Alfredo published a post about the state of vinyl’s curious resurgence. This, like almost everything Alfredo does, got me thinking: what other supposed advances in technology replaced a perfectly decent system, and made us feel nostalgic for what we gave up in the process?

Ticketmaster launched in 1976 and sold its first tickets to an Electric Light Orchestra show at the University of New Mexico. At that time, when Ticketmaster was but a precious, gurgling ticketling, the dominant force behind sales was something called Ticketron.

From the 1960s through 1991, Ticketron was where you would go to buy tickets for many major concerts and shows. For a society that hadn’t yet heard of Steve Jobs, and where the sperm and egg that would become Mark Zuckerberg were mere pen pals, Ticketron, like vinyl, was great. It represented the peak of what could be done in its particular industry with the technology available: customers would go find an “electronic box office” at somewhere like a department store or bank, buy their tickets, run a few other errands, and go home intensely satisfied.

And why so satisfied? Well, because 1) You might be going to see the Rolling Stones for $5:

Rolling Stone $5 ticket

and 2) because you just paid a 50¢ service charge, which, although not negligible, you accepted, understanding that the hardworking staff at Ticketron had to produce the machines where you bought your ticket, install them around your town and service them once in a while. It was a 10% ticket fee, and times were good. That is to say, not all times, because, you know, Vietnam.

But starting in the late 70s and progressively more through the 80s, the compact disc of the ticketing industry, Ticketmaster, began to gain ground, deploying a model that saw the company sealing exclusive contracts with venues who would receive a cut of the service fees. And so it was that the ticketing industry underwent a transformation from a state of relative placidity, represented by this GIF, to when Ticketmaster finally in 1991 acquired Ticketron, which is best represented visually by this GIF.

Bruce Springsteen finds out about Ticketmaster
Above: Bruce Springsteen in a violent bout of empathy with his fans over the Ticketmaster controversy

Since then, we’ve been with Ticketmaster through thick and thin—the thick being potential violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust law and the fury of Bruce Springsteen, and the thin being our wallets after we’ve purchased a ticket for a Ticketmaster show. Today Ticketmaster owns many of the venues they sell tickets for, and about five years ago merged with Live Nation, the largest concert promoter in the U.S., cementing their reign over the large events market.

In 2010, Wired magazine finally declared “Everyone hates Ticketmaster”. In the ensuing years little has changed, and just last week the company agreed to a $400 million settlement in yet another class action suit. And so it seems clear that while music fans have rediscovered the warmth and comfort of vinyl, the warmth and comfort of ticketing with the consumer in mind instead of the venue remains an elusive renaissance.