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The price of a promise

24 July 2022

Last week, as thousands of Springsteen fans sat staring in astonishment at “dynamic prices” on computer screens wondering how Bruce could let this happen, it felt as if a promise was broken. We’ll return to that theme in a moment. First a question. How is “dynamic pricing” even a thing? It’s a term that sadly, most Springsteen fans have become intimately familiar with as we tried to buy tickets to the his 2023 tour. In short, Ticketmaster the ticket-selling monopoly, put a process in place that increases the price of tickets based on demand. As thousands of people logged on to buy tickets and waded through the electronic queue, they were presented with tickets that were outrageously overpriced. The examples are too numerous to count: $10,419 for section 130, Row L at Amalie Arena in Tampa, $5113 for rear standing room in Minnesota or $1968 for rear floor seats in Boston. These are not reseller prices. These are jacked-up, overvalued tickets being sold by the company that has partnered with Bruce Springsteen to sell his shows.

Ticketmaster’s “defense” is that they instituted this process to eliminate third party resales. They’re painting themselves as our concert-going saviour but they’re the devil incarnate.  As for Springsteen’s defense? Crickets. The deafening silence coming from Bruce and his management team has fans fuming and feeling betrayed but again, more on that later.
First, let’s talk about “dynamic pricing.” I’m sure Ticketmaster employed a high-priced marketing team to brainstorm that particular euphemism but this is price gouging plain and simple. Price gouging is a practice that is outlawed in a majority of jurisdictions in North America and around the world. It’s usually seen and prosecuted by law enforcement, after natural disasters when demand for essential goods or accommodations far exceeds the supply. I can almost hear the executroids in the TM offices now:
We’re just capitalizing on demand.
It’s a market-driven economy.
Concerts aren’t essential.

Nope.
Nope.
And hell no.

They’re profiteering on the backs of a global community who, for the last 28 months, has been denied a soul-enriching, life-affirming activity. I used to love the way Bruce himself explained the concert-going experience. He said that in the hours before and after a show, nothing exists inside the venue but for those two and half hours when the band is on stage and the crowd is in place, a kind of alchemy occurs in which the artist and the fans come together to make something ethereal and magical. You’ll note that I said I used to love this description. Lately it feels phony. It’s an antiquated notion miles removed from the days when he would hire a “man in black” to wander the upper reaches of every stadium, finding people with the worst tickets in the house, and upgrading them to the front row. It seems he’s become so detached from his fan base that he either doesn’t care or can’t be bothered. The financial exploitation that Ticketmaster is imposing and that Springsteen is tacitly permitting verges on criminal. It’s foolish to think he’s unaware. He’s a well-read man. His manager Jon Landau is too. His recent induction to the rock and roll hall of fame – a significant accomplishment for a manager - wasn’t achieved by ignoring public reaction. They both have significant culpability for what’s been happening. Last year when Bruce re-opened Broadway, he told his audience, “I am here tonight to provide proof of life.” Well Bruce, where is your proof of compassion, your proof that you understand our sense of betrayal, your proof that you’re not just another artist trying to capitalize on the people that gave you a career?

When I first saw Springsteen in 1984, he was so good, I bought a ticket for the next night’s show too. The price of those tickets was $18.00 each.
In 1999 when the reunion tour happened, I took my 9-year-old son to Continental Airlines arena in Jersey. The price of those tickets was $67.50 each.
In 2009, I took my beautiful Ginette to her first Springsteen show. The tickets were £55.00 ($102.00 CAD). No price gouging, no profiteering and each show was transcendent and reassuring somehow; as if the troubles of the world could be solved in one place by one guy singing about the Promised Land. It’s a naïve concept but we all need that type of reassurance from time to time; never more than during the height of COVID. Like many I struggled with the loss and the isolation as the pandemic raged on, but one day in May, as I was travelling the empty streets back and forth to the office, I felt hope rise up inside me. I was listening to Bruce Springsteen’s show “From My Home to Yours” on E Street Radio. In one of the early episodes, he said something that changed my outlook, “When this experience is over, I am gonna throw the wildest party you have ever seen, and you, my friends, are all invited.”
My emotions rose to the surface as I heard those words. Live music is a vital part of who I am and COVID had snatched it away without notice and with no indication it would ever return. Then, here comes the icon of my rock and roll heart assuring me that someday soon, the pounding backbeat that has nourished my soul for 50 years would resume and that he would lead the charge. I imagined that first show and how he would step to the microphone with a smile three stages wide and that familiar Fender Esquire strapped across his chest. I could hear the crowd rising to meet him in sheer joy and exhilaration. I could literally feel the pre-show anticipation rising up within me. On that day, with those words, Bruce made a promise to me and to the rest of E Street Nation.
I sincerely hope that during this relentless silence, he’s taking his time and formulating a plan to make it right. The logistics are complex but not impossible and the first show doesn’t happen until February of 2023; plenty of time to reset things and get it right. Plenty of time to bring that train back into the station, re-load all the saints and sinners, the losers and winners, and move on down the tracks to the Land of Hope and Dreams. The longer the silence rages, the more likely we are to feel as if that promise he made on the radio has been broken and if that happens, we’ll just have to cash in a few of our rock and roll dreams and find our redemption someplace else.