musical musings: u2, fans and wannabes

Possibly the biggest “it” event in the 2005 concert scene is the U2 Vertigo tour, which will hit the U.S. twice before the end of the year. U2 has tried to give the fans access to the good seats, via their online U2.com fan club and the old “Propaganda” club. But some still feel cheated, blaming either Ticketmaster or the band. But who’s really to blame?

The premise of the early-access sales seemed simple enough. Many bands in the past – including U2, Paul McCartney and Wings and Norah Jones – have used their fan clubs to allow for early ticket sales. In most of these earlier cases, it was a mail-in process: you mailed in a request for x number of seats at a specific venue on a specific date. You enclosed a check that covered the pre-sent price of tickets, and that was that – the tickets (which usually were situated in the front of the house, in the first 10 rows or in the GA floor section) would be sent well ahead of the concert date, and die-hard fans would be happy.

The days of both large concert promoters (such as Clear Channel) and online ticket agencies (such as the aforementioned Ticketmaster and Tickets.com) have changed the game quite a bit. Combined with the rise of the internet, the rules have changed, and U2 changed to an all-online system for both their club and their advance ticket sales. Members of the U2 fan club received a special access code for use at Ticketmaster.com. Three to four days prior to the general onsale date, fans would get early access to ticket. The fan club members, who had paid $40 club dues for the right to get access to these prime seats, were eager to buy their precious ducats.

But the first day of sales was a nightmare for many fans. It turns out that many “ticket agents” (called “scalpers” in the olde days) had become conveient “fans,” and were able to nose in before the long-time fans of U2. The 12-hour pre-sale period in mid-January was a quick, come-and-go event. The best seats (GA floor and $165-170 lower bowl seating) were gone within minutes, many to scalpers. Die-hard fnas who weren’t able to get in immediately were often left with “nosebleed” seats that, while cheaper, weren’t really what fans expected for their dues and early access. The good seats appeared at ticket reseller websites and the internet within hours.

As is the case with all things internet, the fans voiced their displeasure. On blogs, online forums, email campaigns and IMs, the fans made clear their disgust with the system. The apex of this was both an online letter and Grammy acceptance speech from U2 drummer Larry Mullen, who apologized for the poor results of the revamped early-access system.

The second round of these early-access sales, which started last week, are a bit revamped. Firstly, those who used their codes in the first sale and received less-than-great seats were offered a second-chance at good seats. Secondly, legacy members of the “Propaganda” club were given special codes that allowed them an extra day of early ticket sales. Thirdly, folks who joined the new fan club after January 24th were not issued early-access sale codes. This system, if everything went according to plan, would stave off the criticisms of January.

Did it work? From personal experience, it was a success. I was able to secure GA floor tickets for the October 19th show at the MCI Center in DC. Many others reported similar success, both with Propaganda codes and U2.com codes. Sure, some were still left in the cold, but the happy voices certainly seem to outnumber the venomous ones.