The Great LCD Soundsystem Ticket Fiasco
"Eat shit." That was LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy's missive to StubHub scalpers in early February, just moments after presale tickets for the band's April 2 farewell show at Madison Square Garden instantly sold out. That sentiment was shared by legions of the band's fans who, unable to get tickets then or during the seemingly seconds-long general sale a few days later, were enraged to find StubHub hawking scores of them at exorbitant markups ranging from $80 to almost $350,000.
The resulting mudslinging and rumor-mongering has dampened what was to be an exclamation point on the New York–based dance-punk band's unexpected arc from obscure singles to three acclaimed albums (including last year's beloved This Is Happening) and a sold-out, three-hour-plus finale at MSG. But immediately, things went awry. First came a Tuesday, February 8, presale, held both in person at Mercury Lounge (where a long line of fans braved the blistering cold for 250 general-admission spots), and online through Ticketmaster and promoter Bowery Presents. Those went quickly. When fans noticed that many of the precious seats—originally priced at $35 and $49.50—were almost immediately available on StubHub for as much as $1,500 apiece, they took to the Internet to complain. So did Murphy, first Tweeting, "Fuck you, scalpers. You are parasites. I HATE you," and later specifically imploring StubHub to chow on excrement.
The remaining tickets went on sale that Friday morning at 11 a.m. By all accounts, they were gone by 11:05, surprising everyone, including Murphy. "We've never sold anything out so quickly in our lives and certainly never sold out anything as big as MSG," he wrote in a widely reblogged dispatch from the band's website. I personally thought I was being bold in suggesting to our manager that we might sell it out 'in 10 days.' " Fans were equally stunned. Douglas Bleggi, a record-store clerk in Long Island, was turned away at Mercury Lounge and again in the opening minutes of the general sale. "I totally underestimated the popularity of the group," he says. "Apparently, everyone got as excited about the show as I did." Finding even more tickets available on StubHub at even more ridiculous prices (including a set of floor tickets boldly offered for $350,000 each), those excited fans became enraged.
"I've gotten some of the vilest emails I've ever read from LCD Soundsystem fans," said StubHub Head of Communications Glenn Lehrman less than a week after the site began offering tickets for the MSG show. "I walked into the office this morning and thought, 'It's been a good 12 hours—no one's told me to go fuck myself.' "
Self-described as "the world's largest fan to fan ticket marketplace," the eBay-owned company does not buy tickets directly from distributors like Ticketmaster, does not own any of the tickets offered for sale on the site, and does not set ticket prices, Lehrman explains. He further argues that while the site often offers tickets at high markups, it's actually protecting consumers: "Buying tickets through something like Craigslist, the buyer has no recourse if the tickets aren't valid. StubHub guarantees the authenticity of tickets bought on our site." The company takes a cut from both seller (15 percent) and buyer (10 percent) in exchange for this service.
Lehrman isn't taking the blame for the LCD Soundsydstem ticket fiasco. "I've heard estimates that there were only 1,000 tickets available from Ticketmaster in the public sale," he says. "The public gets upset with us because StubHub is where the tickets end up, but the question is, how many tickets went directly to the promoter, to the venue, and to the artist? There's a transparency issue with how many tickets were actually available. Those same artists, promoters, and venues that are complaining, some of them sell their ticket allotment to brokers."
LCD Soundsystem, through media rep Steve Martin, declined to disclose the number of tickets offered to the public during the pre- and general sales: "We're not going to dignify that StubHub bullshit with a response." James Murphy did, however, address fans directly in an online letter: "We were more than taken aback and surprised about the speed of ticket sales . . . as well as the effectiveness of scalper pieces of fucking shit at getting their hands on said tickets before fans could, and it's knocked us on our asses." He also followed through on a promise to make things right by adding four consecutive shows at Terminal 5 (also owned by Bowery Presents, and surprisingly still available for four straight days in late March) leading up to the MSG finale.
The new shows have driven down the price of scalped MSG tickets, but keeping those same scalpers from gobbling up all the Terminal 5 tickets isn't so simple. One solution is "paperless ticketing," a system where concertgoers pay via credit card, then need both that card and a photo ID to get into the event. Ticketmaster offers this service along with their TicketExchange program, a secondary market where paperless buyers can resell their tickets (for a fee, of course) at a capped amount. But opponents of this approach often cite what they call "the grandma problem": Because the system requires that the buyer prove his or her identity at the gate, a blue-haired granny in Wichita can't buy her favorite grandkid tickets to a Lady Gaga, Cold War Kids, or Insane Clown Posse show in New York. Yet artists from Thom Yorke to Miley Cyrus to Tom Waits have done entirely paperless-only tours, including NYC shows, in the past year.
Thanks to state lawmakers, however, the paperless-only option is no longer available in New York. In July, legislators backed strongly by then-Governor David Paterson passed a ticket-reselling measure that takes the teeth out of the paperless system by requiring venues offering paperless tickets to give each individual buyer the choice of buying either a paperless or hard ticket.
So LCD Soundsystem settled for the next closest (some might say practically the same exact) thing, selling regular tickets for the Terminal 5 shows via Ticketmaster, but requiring buyers to pick up their passes—again with an ID and credit card—at will-call on the day of each show and enter the venue immediately. As additional measures against scalping, sales were limited to two tickets per person, and Ticketmaster pledged to delete multiple online purchases from the same IP address. Everything went on sale last Tuesday at 9 a.m. By noon, they were sold out.
Despite oversleeping, Douglas Bleggi snagged a ticket for one of the final shows—his alarm clock was just another in a string of obstacles in getting to see the band live one last time. "I wish it could be as simple as just getting a ticket, but these days you have to play this game of trying to outsmart the scalpers," he says. "It's pretty irritating."
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