Clashing sharply with Capitol Hill’s customary pomp and circumstance, two Seattle grunge-rockers took center stage before a House panel Thursday to accuse Ticketmaster of maintaining an illegal monopoly over the concert ticket distribution business.
The appearance of Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard and bass player Jeff Ament at a House Governmental Operations subcommittee hearing drew a throng of curious congressional interns lining the halls outside the hearing room, which was packed with entertainment paparazzi.
The band, which has filed an antitrust complaint with the Justice Department against Los Angeles-based Ticketmaster, alleges that the company is violating federal law by controlling ticket prices and blocking new entrants to the distribution business.
Gossard and Ament, speaking on behalf of the five-member group, said an absence of competition has allowed Ticketmaster to tack exorbitant service fees onto the base price of concert tickets. Justice Department officials have launched a probe into the matter and are expected to testify before the House panel next month.
“It is almost impossible for a band to do a tour of large arenas or other significant venues in major cities and not deal with Ticketmaster,” said Gossard, resplendent in a peach-colored shirt and blue velvet shorts.
Gossard said Pearl Jam had planned a coast-to-coast summer tour and wanted to cap the cost of concert tickets at $18. But the band members canceled the tour after realizing they could not prevent Ticketmaster from tacking on service fees that would increase the price substantially.
Gossard and Ament, who were joined at the hearing by managers of other rock bands, said they have become increasingly wary of Ticketmaster’s control over pricing since the Justice Department allowed the company to buy Ticketron, its main competitor, in 1991.
Ticketmaster’s chief executive, Fred Rosen, told subcommittee members that his company faces a “highly competitive” marketplace and takes in an average of only 10 cents for every ticket sold. Ticketmaster recorded profits of about $7.5 million last year, according to financial statements released at the hearing. The firm’s share accounts for only a small fraction of combined national ticket sales of 1.5 billion tickets, he said.
Under exclusive contracts with venue owners, Ticketmaster’s service fees can add between $4 and $8 to the cost of admission. Gossard said the charges provide revenue to promoters and venues in an “incestuous relationship.”
“I think all of us support lower ticket prices,” said Rosen, who also distributed a written statement dismissing the band’s antitrust memorandum to the Justice Department as “a work of fiction.”
The Pearl Jam members were easy to spot in a hearing room full of gray suits and wing-tip shoes. Ament showed up wearing an army-green combat jacket and a Seattle Supersonics cap perched backward on his head. Both band members giggled during their swearing-in.
“I think you’re just darling guys,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma), who warned that “the music won’t rock if consumers get rolled.”
The adulation was not universal, though. At one point, Gossard and Ament engaged in a heated exchange with Rep. Steve Horn (R-Long Beach), one of the few Republicans to attend the session.
Horn tried to inquire whether the band had exclusive contracts with its manager or its record label, but Gossard cut him short, saying, “I find your line of questioning very strange. This is about whether Ticketmaster has a monopoly.”
Rep. Gary Condit (D-Ceres), chairman of the subcommittee, declined to discuss possible legislative intervention, preferring to await the results of the Justice Department inquiry. If Ticketmaster is found to be breaking the law, he said, “it would be incumbent on us” to consider changes in antitrust law.
Several music industry representatives at the hearing, including Aerosmith manager Tim Collins, urged Congress to impose new regulations on the ticket distribution industry.