Well, the holidays are over; you've gotten all the gifts you're going to get until your birthday, or, if you're lucky, until you get your tax return back this spring. But if the feds do give you some scrilla back, and you're the sort who buys concert tickets regularly, don't expect to really see all of it -- the Marquee Theatre and its owner, Lucky Man Productions president Tom Lapenna, are taxing your ass, too.
Let me elaborate. Last August, Lapenna bought out his partners' interests in Nobody in Particular Presents SW, a Denver-based promoter he'd partnered with to acquire the Marquee Theatre and throw shows here at the Marquee and other smaller venues, and went independent as Lucky Man Productions. While a quarter-partnership in NIPP SW, Lapenna was obligated to distribute his tickets online through Ticketmaster, infamous for its obese service fees and convenience charges it added to the face value of the ticket.
Before Lapenna severed ties with Nobody in Particular, in May of 2004, he and I spoke on the phone about the Ticketmaster fees, the Marquee's box office service charges, and the ridiculous $5 you have to pay to park there.
Lapenna told me, "Unfortunately, my company [NIPP SW] has a national Ticketmaster deal 'cause we do shows in Colorado and Michigan and here and New Mexico. It encompasses all territories; we have to use them. If there was another alternative where we could bring in a different ticketing company, maybe we would be willing to lower our fees as well."
In the end, I sided with Lapenna, for the most part. Even wrote a pretty positive piece about the Marquee. But now I'm fucking pissed.
Lapenna had his chance -- he severed ties with Ticketmaster last summer, shortly after we spoke -- but I'm disappointed to observe that these invisible charges, rather than decreasing, have only gotten worse.
Case in point: SoCal punk band Strung Out is playing at Skrappy's in Tucson on January 23, with a face value ticket of $13, a dollar more than the $12 ticket Lapenna's advertising for the band's show at the Marquee the previous evening. Tickets for the Tucson Strung Out show can only be bought online at Ticketmaster, which tacks on a dollar building-usage fee, and a $4.50 convenience charge, for a total of $18.50. But if I buy a ticket online through Lucky Man (which partners with an online distributor called Ticket Force), there's a $3 convenience fee, plus a $5 charge for purchasing online, for a total of $20.
Get that? The Marquee's ticket says $12, but will cost you $20 online; Ticketmaster will sell you a Tucson ticket that says $13, but will cost you $18.50. That may sound like a small difference, but we're talking about Ticketmaster -- the evil empire; an independent distributor's prices should be way lower than the company that Pearl Jam started an intifadah against a few years back, not slightly higher.
So who's the price gouger here, Ticketmaster or Lapenna?
I e-mailed the following to Lapenna last week: "Congrats on severing your ties with Ticketbastard; one question for you though, why are the service/convenience prices still so high, even if purchased at Zia? The Strung Out show in Tucson is cheaper to buy online through Ticketmaster than it is to purchase for your Marquee show online, even though your face-value price is a buck cheaper . . ."
Lapenna replied with a vague e-mail stating, "The specific terms of my ticketing arrangement and the amount of the charges for each are confidential," asserting the "major financial investment" required to upgrade his ticket distribution systems online and in the Marquee box office.
But let's forget about the online charges for a minute (a single $5 fee, no matter how many tickets you buy). Let's talk about Lapenna's fairly new distribution agreement with Zia Record Exchange, which is contracted to tack on a $3 service charge to any ticket with a face value of 1 cent to $15, and a $5 fee on any ticket $15.01 and up.
Let's compare that to another prominent promoter in town, Charlie Levy's Stateside Presents. Buy a Stateside show ticket at Stinkweeds Records in Tempe or Phoenix, or Hoodlums in Tempe, and there will be a $1 service charge, which the store retains for its trouble. Zia requires a $2 service charge, but Stateside doesn't see any of that fee. Stateside and other local promoters like TMC Presents often use a distributor called TicketWeb for their online sales, which tacks on its own minimal convenience fee (for example, $3 for TMC's January 21 Pokafase album release show, which has a $10 face value).
But with the contract signed with Zia, Zia's not pocketing any more than the standard $2 it wants from any promoter; the rest of the either $3 or $5 charge goes to Lapenna and Lucky Man. Say you wanna see Helmet at the Snocore festival on January 25 -- buy a ticket that says $23 on it at Zia, and you'll pay $28; buy the same ticket online through Lucky Man, and you'll pay $33.
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Tom, Tom, Tom . . . what happened to trying to drop the fees once you broke away from Ticketmaster? Did you think we wouldn't notice? As the largest independent promoter in these parts, you're supposed to be the front line against corporate behemoths like Clear Channel and Ticketmaster. You've got Clear Channel on its knees already, bitching that you get all the shows that come through town; now you've got the opportunity to prove that independent promoters keep it real and aren't out to fuck you like the big guys.
Tom, I understand that, as you told me last May, "It takes money to provide the service that we're trying to." And, for the most part, people are extremely happy with the services you're providing; it's the weaselly way that you tack on hidden charges that gets our panties in a bunch.
Why not put the extra few bucks you so obviously need to run the joint right up front, on the face value of the ticket? You're running a numbers game; it's a dull subject, like taxes, but a scam nonetheless. And like taxes, as soon as it comes out of my wallet, I get fascinated.