A look at the Foo Fighters’ recent attempt to change how concert tickets are sold through a personal story and reflection.
On Saturday November 22nd, I sluggishly crawled out of bed to participate in the Foo Fighters “Beats the Bots” ticket sales for their 2015 world tour.
Being the end of November, I bundled up, grabbed a book and prepared to stand in line. For how long? I had no idea.
Still hung-over from the night before, I grabbed a cup of coffee, then proceeded to the subway and head into deep Queens to purchase tickets for The Foo’s Citi Field show. It was around 10am by the time I stepped foot on the subway to participate in their rail against the technologically-advantaged ticket aggregators who buy them in bundle through bots and then sell back to the fans at a higher cost. Everyone who woke up this morning was participating in Dave Grohl’s grand experiment to in essence turn back the clocks of time…
Riding the subway, anticipation ran through my body. I was gaining a new experience – never before had I waited in line to buy concert tickets. Despite the excitement, I experienced internal tension about getting the tickets. How long would the line be? Will any good seats be left? What if I have to piss while in line? Maybe I should just purchase them online… It dawned on me that it’s probably not going to be fun to stand in line for several hours on this brisk November morning.
But I promised myself I would surprise my friends by purchasing these tickets. Onward I went and relegating the slight apprehension to the back of my head and focusing only on the positive. My friends would be pumped. Standing in line would allow me to wax in the nostalgia I have never actually experienced. Images came into my mind of how music fans used to do this regularly – some actually camping for days street-side to buy tickets for such bands as The Stones, The Dead or Led Zeppelin. But it’s only a mega band that could pull this move off in today’s day & age and get people to even line-up at a box office on a morning, as people camping for tickets has probably gone the way of the dodo bird. Maybe there is a reason for this…
“Beat the Bots” is a noble pursuit by Dave Grohl. It’s a move aimed at rewarding their most ardent fans. As the band said in a press release, “Fans sick of Scalper-BOTS programmed to clog online queues and snatch up huge amounts of tickets to resell them will get first shot at tickets to these shows.” So if you woke up early enough on the morning of Saturday November 22nd, waited in line, rain or shine, you could purchase tickets at face value (from $45 for the nosebleed at four apiece to $90 general admission), at just four tickets allowed per customer.
By the time I reached Citi Field, nearly 2 hours later from when the tickets went on sale at 9am, the earliest arrivals were surely back home, basking in their accomplishment and enjoying the warmth of the indoors. Luckily, it was a warmer than average November and the paralyzing winter of New York City hadn’t kicked in just yet, though the wind reminded me it was certainly on the horizon. Walking up to Citi Field from the 7, the tickets booths appeared at first to tease you. Wrapping around the corner from the ticket booths, the line unfolded. It was long. It could take hours. I kicked myself for drinking too much last and ignoring my alarm at 6 am. But I was there already, no turning back now.
The sheer amount of people was amazing. The sea of Foo Fighters beanies impressed me. A sense of camaraderie vaguely hung in the air. I say vaguely because you could sense some people were there for Foo and others merely woke up early to buy tickets and attempt to then turn a quick profit. Unfortunately, this pre-sale could only block computer programs, not the questionable entrepreneur behind the schemes. In today’s music industry, most revenue is generated by ticket sales – not albums – and it’s no revelation to say that there will always be people taking advantage of the fans.
Sure, a lot of people were there, but Citi Field was prepared and the line did steadily move. By the time I made my way around the long bend in the line it was around 11:30 AM, with at least another hour still ahead of me still. Slowly, growing impatient, I further questioned my decision to wake up so early. It’s my friends who are the big fans, not me. Why am I doing the waiting? I doubt any good tickets will be left. But leaving the line was no option. Plus I saw that there was 16-year-old kid behind me. If he could wait it out, I could too.
Eventually, the ticket booth only became a stones throw away and the wait became worth it. Reaching the last moment felt like a real triumph, giving one a feeling that can’t be experienced purchasing your tickets online. Yet before you could get to one of the ticket windows you had to pick one and then wait for the person before you to finish their transaction. So the person after you in the original line could theoretically purchase tickets before you even made it to the booth yourself – depending of course on the speed of the person in front of you.
I imagined that I was actively being screwed out of better tickets than what I would receive. The non-fans would get better tickets or scalpers would make an even larger profit because they got their seats before me! I fully understand that this seems like an odd thought. Yet these are the little things one begins to ponder when you’ve made this type of chilly sacrifice to purchase concert tickets, when the minuets in line feel like so much longer. Again, this was a new experience…
Finally, the guy in front me handed over his credit card. Was he haggling with the vendor? Who knows… I didn’t care at this rate. The middle-aged ticket vendor, clearly burnt-out by the day and not a fan of the Foo Fighters, asked, “Where would you like to sit?’
“I’d like the four best seats you have left possible. Anything in the first tier.”
She replied, “Let me look at what is available.” Standing there, watching her plug away at computer, I thought, how is it exactly that Citi Field manage to keep track of the sales as numerous ones occur simultaneously? Somehow the whole enterprise came together just fine.
I was told four seats are available in Row 1 of Section 123, which runs along the third-base line. Without any hesitation, I handed over my credit card and plunked down my e-cash. The total cost for four tickets came out to $300 – not a small chunk of change. But surprising my friends and seeing the Foo Fighters at Citi Field would be worth it, or I so I told myself.
I’m not sure I’d like to wait in line again for concert tickets on a winter morning. It was sort of fun once, but certainly not the type of activity I would like to pursue for every concert I attend. Though there are certainly thousands of flaws with the Ticketmaster system and secondary markets, the ease of purchase in the comfort of indoors is just more convenient – there’s no way around it. Plus, the geographical and time constraints of needing to be in a certain location at a certain time to purchase tickets seems too exclusionary, those constraints should be limited to the concert itself. If most shows employed the same model as Beat the Bots, the amount of shows the normal music lover would be able to attend would drastically be less. And how could that be a good thing?
Walking away, I couldn’t help but wonder – who else today could pull this stunt off? Would Rolling Stones fans – one the longest touring bands around – come out in masses? A smaller – yet fantastic – band like Portugal. The Man could never expect to gain a critical mass of fans to come out and scoop up their tickets in person at every venue.
For a one-off event, there are probably other larger bands that could pull off this experiment too. But I don’t foresee the world ever returning to the waiting in line to purchase tickets as the norm. Once you take the apple off the tree, you cannot put it back. After my experience I am confident in saying that I don’t foresee this model as ever being able to come back into the norm. It’s too much effort to coordinate, when there’s an automated system at your disposal, a system that doesn’t rely on a geographical location or ask for hours of your free time. People prefer convenience, not lines. That’s not going to change.
So while there is merit in Ghol’s attempt to shed light on the flaws of the current system and reward his most ardent fans, in the end this particular effort seems to come up short of creating a movement capable of attaining those goals. Is there a way to stop the Bots? Who really knows… If TicketMaster has not attempted to stop them yet, I doubt they ever will. Considering that StubHub loves the system as well, as they make twice the number of processing fees, it seems unlikely in the short term. It’s a corrupt system. A more adept use of Ghol’s energy, influence, and resources would be to create an online ticket-purchasing platform that somehow doesn’t allow bots to buy tickets or is aware of who it’s “real” fans are. Jam bands used to offer tickets first to those in their online fan clubs, and while that may be an antiquated approach, it still seems like one with more real-world viability than making people stand in line. Turning back the clock may be a fun talking point, but a more forward looking approach would probably better service the average lover of live music.
No one is questioning the nobility in the marketing ploy – Dave Grohl and crew wanted to reward the true fans. But in the end did they really beat the bots? The tickets I bought are now selling for $300 online. I could make some very easy money. The thought is enticing, but I won’t. The line was too long…
Written by Mark Sytsma
OurVinyl | Contributor