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Concert Prices Taken to the Limit? Don’t Bet on It : Pop music: Streisand easily got $350 for top seats, so other acts may up their tickets. Still, many fear that high costs will alienate fans.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES: Robert Hilburn is The Times' pop music critic and Steve Hochman is a free-lance writer

Concert promoters have seen the future of rock ‘n’ roll . . . and it’s a $100-ticket.

Now that Barbra Streisand’s fans showed they are willing to pay up to $350 a ticket for choice seats, promoters and managers predict a steady escalation in ticket prices, which for two years have averaged between $20 and $40 in Southern California.

Insiders believe that several superstar acts--especially those with an affluent fan base--could command $250 or more for choice so-called “golden circle” seats, especially in Southern California and other “glamour” markets.

Yet they see acts as reluctant to go much beyond $100 because they don’t want to be seen as gouging their fans.

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Indeed, the Eagles announced Wednesday that they’ll charge $115 for “golden circle” seats at their upcoming Southern California shows--even though promoters around the country said the band could safely charge significantly more for their much awaited reunion tour.

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Eagles shows will be May 27, 28, 29 and 31 at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre and June 3 at the Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion. The $115-, $75- and $35-tickets--which include parking and Ticketmaster service charge--go on sale Saturday.

“Based on what promoters have said, I think we could sell out with a $250- or $500-top in some markets,” said Irving Azoff, the group’s manager. “But that’s not our style.

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“The higher figures would set a (standard) for other shows to move up to after us, and I don’t want to be responsible for that.”

The debate over ticket prices has been intense for years as pop promoters and managers keep seeing higher prices being charged for some sporting, Broadway-type and classical events, as well as seeing hot pop tickets resold by private brokers and scalpers for 10 or more times their face value.

“I have been saying for years that concert tickets are the most underpriced commodity in America,” Fred Rosen, president and CEO of Ticketmaster, said after the Streisand sales. “Why else would you have such a proliferation of brokers and scalpers?

“When I advocated the ‘golden circle’ concept in 1985, everyone was skeptical, but no longer. I think it’s now a reality in the concert business.”

But Ron Stone, who manages such acts as Bonnie Raitt and Nirvana, branded the expected ticket escalation as “horrifying.”

Stone says his acts have been instrumental in establishing the higher priced “golden circle” concept, but as a way to raise funds for various charities.

“It’s really unfair,” Stone said of prices. “The problem is that there are some people who are willing to pay scalper prices, and now the artists are in the same mentality. In reaction to the scalpers, the artists have decided to become scalpers themselves. That’s really abusing your audience.”

Because prices were set before the last weekend, the prices for most pop shows this summer will continue in the $20- to $50-range--including such acts as Natalie Cole, Vince Gill and Yes.

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Even before the Streisand box-office blitz, however, some acts had been testing the market for “golden circle” seats, which generally consist of the front 10 to 25 rows.

Rod Stewart has a top price of $100 for his shows Sunday and Tuesday at the Anaheim Pond. Traffic, the veteran English band that is also mounting a reunion tour this year, is charging $55 for “golden circle” seats for its Blockbuster Pavilion stop June 16. Top prices for Frank Sinatra’s shows Sept. 23 and 24 at the Greek Theatre are $70.

Fans will clearly pay higher amounts for the right act--as evidenced by reports that the $350- Streisand tickets sold faster than the $250- and $50-seats for shows.

“Those are the most ardent fans,” Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert business magazine Pollstar, said of “golden circle” patrons. “Those will be the first that sell (at most concerts).”

Martin Erlichman, who represents Streisand, said promoters around the country felt that the singer--who hasn’t toured in two decades--could charge the same $1,000-top she charged in Las Vegas recently in their markets.

“They all said that as long as they didn’t charge more than Vegas, they could handle it,” he said. “They thought $350 was a slam dunk (in terms of selling out) and $250 was too cheap.”

Erlichman said the performer favored $350 maximum over the $1,000 Vegas figure to make the shows “more accessible” to her fans. “One of the reasons to do the tour is reach as many people as we can,” he added.

Not all acts are likely to try to join the $100-a-ticket club. In many cases, the price of tickets is determined by region of the country and style of music. Country and alternative rock acts tend to charge less than mainstream pop and rock stars.

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In recent weeks, for instance, Garth Brooks charged $18.75 per ticket in Minneapolis and Pearl Jam charged $18 in Chicago, while Sting charged $45 top in East Rutherford, N.J., and Rod Stewart charged $75 in Landover, Md.

Some see a danger in pushing the prices to the limit, pointing out that when the “golden circle” prices go up, the remaining seats tend to be increased. For instance, the thousands of mid-level Eagles tickets at $75 for the Irvine Meadows and Glen Helen shows is far above the average, even when parking and service charges are considered.

“You may see a lot more people having ‘golden circle’ tickets,” says Bongiovanni. “But in terms of the whole scale of tickets raised like that, I don’t think that would be smart. These (Streisand and Eagles) dates are on sale largely without competition. As we get into the summer there will be a lot of things on sale at once.”

Gregg Perloff, president of the San Francisco-based Bill Graham Presents promotions firm, warns that promoters and artists who buy into the notion that they can charge sky-high prices are not paying attention to lessons offered by the most successful acts.

“I always use as examples the two most successful touring artists of our time: the Grateful Dead and Neil Diamond,” says Perloff. “Both have chosen to keep their ticket prices down over a long time. And generally speaking, they’ve always had one price for all the seats at a show.

“These are very different artists with very different audiences, but they have one thing in common. Everybody gets a bargain and everybody has a great time and wants to go back.”

The topic of prices was, naturally, a hot one in the parking lot of the Pond as Streisand fans waited to purchase tickets last weekend.

Shelley Sherman of Santa Ana and Margret Hershkowitz of Fullerton were upset that the best seats were way out of their range.

“That eliminates a lot of people who helped get her ahead by buying her records,” said Sherman.

Most others, though, accepted the prices as part of the special nature of the event.

Dee Rosenblum of Fullerton said, “She’s one of my favorites. I feel this is my one and only chance to see her.”


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