False Hopes Fuel Keith Urban's Ticket Frenzy - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NC5 Investigates: Concert Ticket Secrets

False Hopes Fuel Keith Urban's Ticket Frenzy

Keith Urban Keith Urban
music industry analyst Bob Lefsetz music industry analyst Bob Lefsetz
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As country music's biggest names gather for a week of awards and celebrations, NewsChannel 5 investigates secrets that some would rather you not know. 

The secrets involve the growing ticket frenzy surrounding some of Nashville's hottest concerts. It's why fans may find it impossible to get a good seat at a good price.

That frenzy, it turns out, is sometimes fueled by false hopes and some lucrative side deals.

In the case of Keith Urban, our investigation began with a recent controversy over one major concert, but it led to some startling revelations about the selling of one of Nashville's biggest stars.

NewsChannel 5 chief investigative reporter Phil Williams has the results of a seven-month investigation.


When country music superstar Keith Urban announced his latest project -- a charity benefit to raise money for the Country Music Hall of Fame -- Nashville's music community was quick to sing his praises.

"To have someone of Keith's stature step up and do this today -- and who all he's bringing to play in October -- is overwhelming to us," Vince Gill told reporters at the time

The benefit -- "We're All for the Hall," as it was known -- was advertised as "all tickets just $25."

But even before tickets went on sale to the general public, they showed up on scalping web sites like Ticketmaster's TicketsNow -- listed, in some cases, for hundreds of dollars each.

"When you have a highly desirable product with incredible demand, all kinds of shenanigans go on," said music industry analyst Bob Lefsetz, who writes The Lefsetz Letter blog.

Ticket scalping has become a big problem with any major act -- whether it's the Jonas Brothers, Taylor Swift or Keith Urban.

But Lefsetz added that the promise of a $25 ticket had more to do with Urban's image than the real value.

"The big problem with this 'All for the Hall' thing is the tickets are worth much more than $25," Lefsetz said.

And our investigation discovered that Urban's own team may have fueled the frenzy with the ad that declared, "All tickets just $25 and on sale Wednesday, September 2nd, 10 a.m."

Watch the TV ad for the benefit show

In fact, internal ticketing documents show that, by 10 a.m. Wednesday, out of less than 15,000 seats, more than 10,000 had already been sold.

To view ticketing documents from the Sommet Center show, click here. Out of 14,904 seats, there were 4,491 tickets for the "public onsale." More tickets were made available for the fan club, so the "public onsale" number was likely much lower.

Click here to view ticket maps, showing which seats were reserved for which group.

 "Listen, the whole business is smoke and mirrors," Lefsetz said.

"So why advertise all tickets go on sale 10 a.m. Wednesday?" Williams asked.

"Because no one is policing them, telling them to tell the truth."

And while Urban's people dismissed the scalping as "unfortunate," it turns out that a big chunk of the tickets sold in advance had gone to Keith Urban's Monkeyville fan club.

Urban pockets $25 for each membership, giving fans -- and scalpers - early access to some tickets.

For the Hall of Fame benefit, we found 12 of those $25 seats right on the front row, scalped at $642 each -- all of them, according to internal documents, allocated to the fan club. Urban's team denies any responsibility for those scalped tickets.

"Are scalpers working the fan clubs?" Williams asked Lefsetz.

"Scalpers are working everything," Lefsetz answered.

Still, Keith Urban's team told reporters they could not involve themselves "in a ticket-scalping debate."

And there may be a reason that he was reluctant to condemn the scalping.

That's because, as our investigation discovered, this year Keith Urban struck a deal with Ticketmaster to, in essence, scalp tickets to his own shows.

Internal documents show that at stops on his 2009 "Escape Together" tour, Keith Urban's people instructed the venues to pull out 50 prime seats to be auctioned off to the highest bidders through Ticketmaster.

Plus, they ordered a hold on another 150 so-called "Platinum" or "TicketExchange" seats. TicketExchange was an area of Ticketmaster's web site that claimed to have tickets being resold -- usually at inflated prices -- by other fans.

For the ticketing instructions given to venues for Keith Urban's "Escape Together World Tour," click here.

For a breakdown of the specific holds for the Sommet Center show, including the "Platinum Seats/TicketExchange" hold, click here.

"What could be better?" Lefsetz exclaimed. "The act says, 'They don't know. They're blaming the scalpers, and it's going directly to me.'"

Urban's team says Keith took the deal to help finance his highly praised effort to make tickets available for 20 bucks during his nationwide tour. His own web site called it a "True $20 Ticket," quoting Urban as saying that he knew that "people out there are hurting."

To view an image of that "True $20 Ticket" announcement, click here.

GACTV.com News: "Keith Urban Offers $20 Escape"

"I think that's great," one fan told Phil Williams. "Then so many people can go, and it's affordable for everyone."

That led to a ticket frenzy of its own.

A CMT blogger blamed scalpers for the dearth of $20 tickets available to fans.

 But what Keith Urban did not tell fans was that, out of almost 15,000 tickets at his "Escape Together" show in Nashville, there were really only 389 tickets available to the public for $20.

"Really?" asked the fan, after being told the numbers. "That's not cool."

Her friend added, "I have nothing bad to say about Keith Urban."

And that, critics say, is part of the problem.

Keith Urban isn't alone in such techniques.

Earlier this year, a Wall Street Journal article revealed Neil Diamond's relationship with TicketExchange.

CMT blogger: "Neil Diamond, You Should Be Ashamed of Yourself"

Ticketmaster now says that, about 10 days after Keith Urban's concert tour went on sale, they stopped promoting all artists through TicketExchange.

Now, they're clearly labeled as "Official Platinum Seats." The truth is: those are good seats -- not necessarily the best seats -- with a fancy name and a big price.

Urban's ticketing instructions call for those seats to be on the floor somewhere in the first 30 rows.

As for the presales, Keith Urban's people say there's no way to keep the scalpers out.

But either way, Urban makes the money.

Take, for example, the Hall of Fame benefit.

His team put out an announcement saying, " If you are not a Monkeyville member yet, don't worry. You can become one now by clicking here to get access to these pre-sale tickets."

So that's what we did.

To view an image of that "All for the Hall" announcement, click here.

Keith Urban got the 25 bucks for our membership, but there were still no tickets available.

A spokesman for Urban now says that fans only got the possibility of getting pre-sale tickets, not actually guaranteed tickets.

Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper said there are limits about what promoters can or cannot say. In a statement to NewsChannel 5 Investigates, Cooper said:

"Promoters should be careful not to make misleading claims about the price and availability of tickets.  Deceptive practices in the marketing of goods or services is a violation of Tennessee's consumer protection laws. Whether a violation has taken place depends on the facts of each case.   We encourage consumers who feel like they have been misled to file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs. We need as much detailed information as possible so we can determine if a violation of the law has occurred."

Click here for more information about how to file a consumer complaint.

Back to NewsChannel 5 Investigates

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