When U2 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, Bono paraphrased an old Groucho Marx quip about marriage: "It's a great institution,” the musician said of the Hall. “I'm just not sure that I'm quite ready to accept institutionalization.”
With members of a U2 special "club" getting first crack at tickets for the 360° Tour, and seats going up for bid before the general public even gets a shot, another Marx line comes to mind, "I don't want to join a club that will accept me as a member."
Amid the exclusive clubmember "pre-sales" and Ticketmaster-run auctions, tickets to the group's upcoming stadium tour already are going for up to $7,500 on resale sites like Stub Hub -- high enough to induce, well, vertigo.
Some buyers are joining a U2 fan club, paying $50 so they can get the magic personalized password that will allow them to purchase tickets (as well as get access to streaming music, videos and other goodies) days before the general public. The passwords are turning up on sites like eBay and Craigslist, where some nervy sellers are asking up to $400 to give buyers the privilege of paying upwards of $250 a ticket -- not including sales fees.
Special "Red Zone" tickets near the stage are being auctioned through Ticketmaster, starting at around $300, depending on the venue. Throw in a backstage tour, and the bidding begins at $1,500. U2, to its credit, reportedly is donating its portion of those auction proceeds to charity.
Still, the auctions start before the general public has a chance to try for run-of-the-mill seats. Tickets reportedly have been selling out in record time – sending desperate fans straight onto the expensive bidding route.
Seems like we've heard this song before. Bruce Springsteen blew his top when fans complained that Ticketmaster redirected fans to an auction site moments after tickets went on sale. Ticketmaster has denied employing such practices.
Springsteen became a leading voice in the music industry against the proposed Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger, which critics say would give the dual company a near-monopoly on large-scale events. The deal is on hold pending a U.S. Justice Department examination.
While Springsteen, who has been known to use to the concert stage as a soapbox, has spoken up, Bono, the globetrotting activist, has been all-but silent on the issue.
Asked in early March about the proposed merger, he told the Chicago Sun-Times, “I haven't really spent any time thinking about it.”
The music industry, of course, is rapidly changing. As album sales drop, music stores close and more work gets distributed through online pick-a-song operations like iTunes, acts of all sizes are relying more heavily on concerts and merchandising for profit. It's not cheap to put on a show like U2’s, with its state-of-the-art custom-built stage.
But as U2 hits stadiums around the country, there’s no reason to deny fans a level playing field in the name of bucks.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.