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Tom Waits leads fight against ticket scalpers

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) – Paperless ticketing is emerging as a potential weapon in the efforts of some touring acts to eliminate resellers from the ticket-buying equation.

Tom Waits became the first recording artist to use Ticketmaster’s paperless ticketing technology during his 13-date U.S. theater tour earlier this summer. Ticketmaster first offered paperless tickets during the NBA’s 2007-08 season, when they were used by the Phoenix Suns, the Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat.

Ticketmaster’s expansion of its own secondary ticketing business this year through its $265 million acquisition of TicketsNow raises questions about how motivated the ticketing giant would be to encourage other touring artists to drop paper tickets. But even if paperless ticketing doesn’t necessarily pose a threat to the overall secondary ticketing industry, it does provide a new option for artists keen on cracking down on resellers.

Paperless ticketing “can eliminate a lot of scalping and help keep ticket prices reasonable and in the hands of fans who want to buy them, as opposed to people who want to buy them just to resell them,” says Michael Marion, GM of the Alltel Arena in North Little Rock, Ark. “It sure beats (paying) quadruple the face value of a ticket.”

Ticketmaster senior VP of music David Marcus doesn’t expect paperless ticketing to crush the secondary market. “There are no particular outcomes that we’re trying to achieve beyond providing the best service we can,” he says.

But Marcus notes that more touring artists “are exploring this and trying to understand how it fits into their touring mix . . . I expect over the coming year we’ll see it implemented here and there.”

For Waits’ sold-out Glitter and Doom tour, which visited 1,400- to 4,600-seat theaters in June and July, fans were given two options to buy tickets — via ticketmaster.com or Ticketmaster charge by phone. To gain access to the show, concertgoers were required to bring the credit card they used to make the transaction, along with a valid photo ID. Only two tickets could be purchased per household, and both guests were required to be present at the time of entry. Ticket prices averaged about $85, plus regular service fees.

The idea to go paperless was a conscious decision to “take the secondary market out of the mix,” says Stuart Ross, Waits’ booking agent at Music Tour Consulting. For the singer/songwriter’s 2006 U.S. tour, the Waits camp instituted a will-call-only procedure where either the entire venue or just the best seats were only available for pick up at the box office. The process was effective in keeping tickets out of resellers’ hands but created long lines at the venue that delayed performances, Ross says.

With paperless ticketing, “we are now able to construct a 100% will-call pickup with no lengthy lines, ensuring that all of the tickets are sold to the end user at face value,” he says. “Everyone wins, except for the brokers.”

Ross admits that a handful of tickets in each market were posted for sale on Web sites like Craigslist and eBay. “But it was pretty minor,” he recalls. “You’re talking about two or three per city, and I don’t even know if they sold them.”

A notable drawback to paperless ticketing is that concertgoers can’t give them away at the 11th hour. “People have legitimate problems that come up, and a concert becomes secondary to a more pressing situation,” says Danny Zelisko, chairman of the Southwest for Live Nation, which promoted Waits’ June 17-18 stand at Phoenix’s Orpheum Theatre. “If it’s an iron-clad deal and you can’t get out of it, it will scare certain people off from buying tickets.”

Wendy Garrett, director of theaters at the Plaza Theatre in El Paso, Texas, says her venue faced a different problem for Waits’ show. “There are some people here who don’t own credit cards, so they couldn’t buy tickets to the event,” she says. “I don’t know if they were able to come.”

These types of challenges lead some secondary ticketers to believe that paperless ticketing doesn’t pose a direct threat to their business. “It certainly takes some of the ability to resell out of the particular venue, but at the end of the day it brings no real added value to the fan,” says Sean Pate, head of communications at StubHub, the leading player in the secondary market. “The industry is talking about what is best for (itself), and never thinking about the fan first.”

Reuters/Billboard