HT Interview Exclusive: David Butler – President of Ticketmaster North America

Two other facts just to be clear: We didn’t take any money from any fans. We caught this early enough in the evening that while we might have authorized the card for a fan when they were buying, we never sent the request to the banks for funds. So I held all the orders, we removed those from the settlement process and we are the ones, at Ticketmaster, who came up with the idea to issue a gift certificate for $50 to each of the affected fans along with a letter explaining what happened.

LS: So the band was not involved in those decisions? You made them?

DB: Absolutely. However we were in contact, as you might imagine, with the band’s management and the promoter about the facts of what had occurred and the events. But the error was ours. If anyone is frustrated, as much as nobody wants to be in this situation, I ask that fans shouldn’t be upset with Phish or AEG or Red Rocks. They should realize that we made a human error.

We want all Phish fans to have fair and equal chance to buy the tickets at the announced on-sale date and time, which is set by the promoter and the band. So nobody kept tickets from the accidental availability. We canceled every order on the system. As it turns out there were a little over 1,800 fans that were impacted – about 1,860 or 1,870 total. We are sending out to each of them a $50 gift certificate on our nickel to apologize and we are encouraging them to come this Thursday when the actual on sale will occur. Our policy is to cancel it because we want to do the fair thing for all the fans. It wouldn’t have been fair in this case to let people who stumbled across the mistake keep the tickets. So that’s the reason we took the steps we did. But there is no conspiracy theories and to be clear, there are no links between the Ticketmaster website and any secondary resale environment, like TicketsNow, which we own. There is no link. We in fact barred anyone listing the canceled tickets on TicketsNow because we didn’t want fans to be confused. Unfortunately, I went online and StubHub had tickets for sale for this mistake event a couple of days later. We did notify the band of that.

LS: I’m glad you mentioned TicketsNow. How does TicketsNow get its tickets? Are they just like the rest of the general public where they have employees on the phones and on the internet?

DB: I’m so glad you asked that because it’s the number one misperception about the secondary ticket market. Ticketmaster, for primary tickets, owns zero inventory. We don’t own a single ticket to any Phish concert. We simply provide the mechanism for the band and the venue to sell their tickets to the public. Similarly, we own TicketsNow as you are aware, but we don’t own the tickets on TicketsNow. We simply provide an e-commerce site for buyers and sellers to meet and have a safe transaction between them. The tickets that are listed, typically, for resale on TicketsNow as an example, are owned, some by fans and most by brokers. Brokers get their tickets either by going in the on sale and buying tickets; many times they have season tickets for events so they get them that way. They may have a relationship with a promoter or a band but they don’t get any preferential treatment from Ticketmaster whatsoever.

LS: Does Ticketmaster take proactive efforts to thwart the efforts of scalpers beyond the Captcha software?

DB: Yes. Without giving away any secrets that would make it easier for them, I want you to know that our number one goal is that every ticket ends up in the fans hands. That’s what we try to make happen. So we have a number of layers of technology that we use to identify what appears to be either robotic traffic – if you look at our website you will see that we got an injunction against a company last year because they were selling the software program to brokers to attack our site to try to get tickets. We got the court to block that practice and enjoin the company not to do it anymore. We employ roughly 20 people all day long who are constantly looking at this cat-and-mouse game of automated programs and finding new ways to block or frustrate them.

In a perfect world, we wish every buyer at every on sale were the fan that plans to attend the event. That’s why we released paperless ticketing and if you notice the AC/DC concerts used it and Metallica used it when they played the (London) O2 (Arena) with us. In that scenario, when you buy your ticket, to enter the event you actually use the credit card you used to purchase the ticket to get in. That’s an anti-resale mechanism that our venues and our clients have as an option to make sure the fans are the ones who get the tickets.

LS: Does your battle with scalpers ultimately boil down to technology? You come up with something new and they come up with a way around it and so on?

DB: From a primary sales perspective, we don’t want anyone to get an unfair advantage over anyone else. Having said that, reselling tickets is legal in most of North America with a few exceptions and therefore we own TicketsNow because we know fans want to be able to sell tickets to events they can’t attend. I have season tickets for hockey and I can’t go to every game. There are a lot of fans like that who want the ability to resell their tickets and there are lots of fans who buy at the last minute and want to be able to get great seats and are willing to pay a premium price. I don’t mean to demonize the whole secondary world because I think it provides a valid business service in the marketplace. My point is that in our responsibility as the primary partner helping venues sell tickets for artists, we want to make it that nobody gets an unfair advantage. That’s why we refunded all the (Phish) orders and instead will stick with the scheduled on sale. That’s why we try to block robotic traffic. In both those cases it was an unfair advantage for someone, albeit in the early presale it wasn’t the fans fault, it was our mistake.  We want everything to be fair and transparent so every fan has an equal opportunity to get the tickets.

LS: Your name was on the email that went out to the Phish fans. Have you gotten many responses? If so, have they been along the lines of “thank you for the $50” or more people complaining that $50 doesn’t help them get Phish Red Rocks tickets?

DB: I haven’t had that, in fairness. I have had some that were positive saying this was more than I expected and probably more than you needed to do so thank you. In fact there was a nice article in the Denver Post with a couple of fans quoting that. And I’ve had some fans that were frustrated and said things like, “I’ve been waiting my whole life to get tickets for this” or “I’ve waited 15 years for them to go back to Red Rocks, I can’t believe you are canceling my order” and I have to explain to them that we did it because we were trying to do the fair, right thing for all the fans. I don’t blame a fan for being frustrated; it’s a frustrating situation. I just want them to understand it was an innocent, human error by someone on our staff and we tried to do right by it, and that was canceling it and we tried to do more than just right and that was the purpose of the $50 gift certificate. I ended up paying out almost $100,000 to fans as an apology.

LS: Being a Phish fan myself, I know Phish fans can be rabid when it comes to tickets. Is Phish a unique situation for you? I know there have been problems with Bruce Springsteen and some other artists in the past involving tickets. But do you guys take separate steps or are there certain things you do for artists where the demand is so high versus what you might do for your average hockey or basketball game?

DB: We know the high demand acts based on past history. We work directly with the artists and their agents with our music services group to ensure we give a great experience to the artist on a national level.  There are very few acts that have the passionate following that Phish does. There are some others – Bruce Springsteen is another good example that you raised. Jimmy Buffet is another one that could fall into that group as well.

While I haven’t been to 100 Phish concerts, I think I’ve been to 45 or 50 Jimmy Buffet concerts. So you and I are somewhat comparable there. The reality is that for these really high-demand shows, we make sure the resources are available to have a good, positive selling experience with the fans. But the problem we run into with a venue like Red Rocks, where there are 4,000 seats available to the general public in that on-sale per show, the reality is that they could probably sell 50,000 or 100,000 because the fan base is so large and so committed. This is really an issue of supply and demand and that’s as frustrating as anything to a committed fan. There are so many people that want to attend and only so many seats per venue. If Phish stayed at Red Rocks for three months and played every weekend I bet we’d sell every ticket out. Michael Jackson just went on sale for London at the O2 and we sold out 50 shows in the first three days.

LS: Moving forward, what are some of the steps you have taken or will take to ensure this type of mistake doesn’t happen again?

DB: We have checks and balances for every event set up where an employee and his or her manager independently review all the details of the show and make sure that everything is accurate. In this particular case, that process did not work. We are looking at why that is.

Secondly, we automate the event setup process, as you would imagine, because the artist determines how many seats, what the prices are, when they will go on sale and then we automate that. We are looking at the tools we use to make sure there is a way to take the information we got from the band and check it against the setup to make sure nothing is inaccurate before we publish it.

We constantly are improving those tools, those event-management tools, to make that work better. We do a huge number of events every year and it’s very very very seldom that a mistake like this gets through the system. Nonetheless, it did happen and for the fans impacted, it was 1-1 for them. But for us, we sold over 100 million tickets last year and I can’t remember this happening in this time period. It really was an individual event based on human error yet we are working hard to improve and do a great job as we do 99.9 percent of the time.

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73 thoughts on “HT Interview Exclusive: David Butler – President of Ticketmaster North America

  1. nic Reply

    UM ITS REALLY SIMPLE. ITS PHISH’S MANAGEMENT AND THE PROMOTERS FAULT THEY ARE THE ONES WHO TURNED DOWN THE PAPERLESS TICKET OPTIONS. TO CLARIFY PAPERLESS TICKETS COMPLETLY ELIMINATES SCALPERS. INVENTED BY TOM WAITS IN CONJUNCTION WITH TICKETMASTER. THE SYSTEM IS NEARLY PERFECT. IN THE PAST I HAVE PAID 500$ FOR TOM WAITS TICKET. AFTER THE PAPERLESS TICKET I DID NOT PAY OVER FACE ONCE. THE PROBLEM IS THAT BANDS WANT TO MAKE THE EXTRA MONEY THEMSELVES. PHISH UNFORTUNATLY DOES NOT CARE ABOUT THE FANS. THEY RECENTLY STATED THAT THEY ARE DOING EVERYTHING IN THIER POWER TO STOP SCALPERS AND THAT IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE. A SYSTEM ALREADY EXISTS THE PAPERLESS TICKET. GOOGLE PEOPLES TESTIMONY ON THE TOM WAITS TOUR OR METALLICA OR ACDC THESE ARE BANDS THAT TRUELY CARE ABOUT THIER FANS AND ARE NOT GREEDY. HE SAID IN INTERVIEW ALL BANDS ARE OFFERED THE PAPERLESS TICKET OPTION. JEEEEEEESE PEOPLE NEED TO START TALKING ABOUT IT NOT ONE PERSON MENTIONED IT IN A COMMENT BECAUSE THEY DON;T KNOW HOW GREAT IT IS. BASICALLY ITS A 2 TICKET LIMIT AND YOU BRING THE CREDIT CARD USED AND THEY SCAN IT UPON ENTRY. YOU MUST WALK IN WITH YOUR GUEST AT THAT TIME. SO NO SCALPER WILL SEND A BUYER THEIR CREDIT CARD. IT REALLY IS FOR FANS ONLY. ALSO I KNOW PHISH KNOWS ABOUT THIS OPTION AS I PERSONALLY SAW TREY AT A TOM WAITS SHOW. FUCK THAT PHISH ALTHOUGH THEY ROCK ARE SUPER LAME TO ME BECAUSE OF THAT. IF ANYONE IS COMPUTER SAVAY PLEASE START A WEBSITE TO PETITION THE PAPERLESS TICKET. I AM WILLING TO BET WE GET 500,000 SUBMISSIONS
    THANKS FOR READING
    TOM WAITS LIVES BEST SHOW ON EARTH.

  2. neeko Reply

    just because you post in capital letters doesnt make it true. so there! nanny nanny poo poo, pasties and g string..

  3. ticketsnowscalped Reply

    Although Scalping is legal it shouldn’t be LEGAL for the company who distributes these tickets to then turn around minutes after they are on sale sell them for 300 400 500 % more on the secondary market which you are promptly sent to when tickets are no longer available on their main site SHADDY!TICKMASTER IS TICKETNOW!DO YOU THINK THEY WOULD HOLD BACK TICKETS TO SELL FOR 500% MORE NAH! THERE GOOD GUYS!The truth is they got caught doing exactly this and are trying to pay off phish kids to get good PR and stear the attention away from the fact that they were breaking the law. AND WHO THE HELL IS TOM WAITS?AND DOES TREY REALLY LISTEN TO TOM WAITS PROBABLY NOT.my 2 cents

  4. Sniglebeach Reply

    We can all rest easy now.

    I don’t think a CEO would lie. HAAAAAAA

    I think this guy used to work for AIG and BearsStern.

    In this day and age, anything a CEO says just assume that the exact opposite is true.

    TicketsNow gets tiks on its own = “We keep all the tiks and sell them for quadruple face value.”

    His job is to make the stock good. not make fans happy. Pfretending any different is a lie and an insult to my inteligence.

  5. phunkyjedi08 Reply

    yea, a Jimmy Buffet fan really does obviously know very little about… anything – if he compares 45-50 Buffet shows with 100+ Phish shows… actually, if he SAT THROUGH 45-50 Buffet shows, he probably should not be allowed to have a job that relates to music at all…

    that being said, I’ve had my fun trashing his face: it’s AMAZING that he gave this interview, and, in my opinion, this human error was correctly handled – canceling the orders and sending $50 gift certificates as an apology. still, there’s definitely something unhealthy about this industry, and I’m sure the interview was given with a condition that the questions be kept strictly to the RR incident.

  6. Sniglebeach Reply

    2 more things,,

    Who the hell is Tom Waits??

    And since when is phish more greedy than metallica. Phish gives its music away free on internet, Metallica tries to prosecute u.

  7. bumblephuck Reply

    What about questioning the ever ballooniing price of convenience fees. I understood 2.00/ticket when TGD toured, and we had to wait in line and actually deal with a human and walk away with a ticket. Now its like 12.50+/ticket and I do all the work and printing. I just don’t understand how they can do this. The cost of the ticket should be just that, you don’t go to the supermarket and get ground beef from the butcher, for $3.99/lb then they add on the convenience fee of 2.50/lb bought b/c you went to the butcher. Convenience fee should be a flat fee per order, not per ticket. Now with less competition I know TM will be hitting the $20 mark per ticket convenience. TM owns the venues, overcharges for everything once inside, esp. beer (I went to a Live Nation NYE concert and they tried to charge $12.00/beer that I didn’t buy, and that was 5 years ago) americans have anti-trust laws in place to prevent corporations from doing just this controlling the market and jacking up prices.

  8. Terry Leah Procyk Reply

    I am totally pissed off about how the sale of the PHISH Red Rock tickets went down…Is this how the band wants things to be run? They have incredibly loyal fans…and they are totally getting screwed…especially in these tough economical times…The band should try to help those fans that are hurting…Ticketmaster via Tickets Now is screwing their fan base that have been loyally waiting for them to get back together…besides the facts that you are totally ruining my sons “21st” birthday surprise!#@*??

  9. andrew Reply

    Today’s ticketing went no different than Hampton/Summer Tix…The ticketmaster site was WAY overloaded, wait times jumped from over 15 minutes to 4 minutes and then back up to 10 minutes and then all of a sudden there were “no more tickets available that matched your request, but there still might be tickets available….” HA bullshit. Another totally botched sale. Not just because I was shut out but because they were immediately posted on Tickets Now and Stub Hub for $5000 for a 4-day pass to RR. Insane, ridiculous, absurd, and criminal. Paperless tickets or strictly will call. If you want tickets that bad, go to the venue and get them. If you are going to the show anyway, why does that not work?

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  11. screw the scalpers Reply

    DON”T support scalped prices. Problem solved.

    If there wasn’t a secondary market so demanding, then this wouldn’t be an issue.

    I got shut out of Hampton, it really was not fun sitting at home watching the setlists roll in, but I refused to pay scalper prices.

    Also 100,000,000 tickets x $10 = $10,000,000,000 in ticket fee revenues in a given year.

  12. ticketmaster is lying... Reply

    ok .. interesting reading but that’s about all.. TM does have a different excuse for every issue… I had a problem when Hampton tickets went on sale.. all 3 nights sold out in under 10 seconds, while ticketsnow had tickets available… immediately.. we got lucky with the pre-sale lottery for asheville, knoxville, and merriweather, however I feel sorry for those that were not sucessful, because they did not get tickets when public sale happened, with the exception of knoxville. we even purchased tickets for a friend that did not have funds available that week, and the fees were minimal.. I know the ticketing agency was a smaller entity, but it went much smoother, no freezing pages, etc.. I do know that fans are not the only ones disgruntled over the whole tickstmaster issue, some venues did not renew their contract with ticketmaster this year because of what they feel unfair ticketing practices. (just what I have been told at the venue box office) we are not the only ones aware of ticketmasters “inappropiate ticketing” !

  13. Chuck Reply

    This is the biggest bunch of BS ever. TicketsNOW are cornering the Tix from Ticketmaster(which, of course, is in on it) and SCALPING the same tix for 300%-1000% gain. Complete Scam and ILLEGAL or at least should be.
    What’s the difference in some fuckwad slinging tickets for more than face value. TicketsNOW, STubHUB, and every other company like that….you should all be HUNG. you fucks ruin it for the real fans.

  14. TM needs to face the music (from federal prosecutors and consumer boycotts) Reply

    BrotherTim77 said: “Laws are enforced everyday capturing criminals online from preying on minors for sex or kiddy porn. I know there is no money involved, but the point is that the higher powers are highly motivated to put an end to these types of behaviors. They are not motivated to stop scalping of tickets for above face value because their is too much money to be made and all said parties above have their hands in the cookie jar.”

    I’m ambivalent about Phish but say: ‘Zactly!

  15. Bobby Dank Reply

    Now that TM and Live Nation are ONE, we are all screwed. Within a year they will roll the fees into the price of tix so you don’t think you’re getting fucked. Except that the price of tix will skyrocket. This is a monopoly that will fuck over TRUE live music fans. I hate the way corporations run this country. The little guy gets fucked every time.

  16. Scotty G Reply

    Wow, interview didn’t explain anything to me that I did not know except that Ticketmaster owns broker websites like TicketsNow, which makes this whole situation even MORE SKETCHY… I wish I could interview a corporate scum bag because I would ask the real questions, not ones that are planned out by somebody above me to make Ticketmaster sound good. DAMN THE MAN SAVE THE EMPIRE!!

  17. Buckroe Steve Reply

    WOW!!!….just got off the phone with TM about a charge for shipping on some tix I just payed for.& had to share with yall….you all….all of you….I wanted to get them before this weekend (payed Wed. morn)so I payed the”2 day evening…=$18.50″ for them to get here today,.got an e-mail this afternoon that said my tix had been”printed & should be sent via ups soon”..( I had called after I ordered to ask if the tix were even available for 2 day & the girl told me that they had already been shipped out,..I said …”Cool”..).ANYWAY..Long story short…NO TIX…They’ll be here Mon….(6 days)….(for $18.50)..I called to ask if they’d even give me a credit…on the shipping diff..& they acted like I was asking for a kidney,.they told me that they’d try to get it back from UPS & lemme know,..Honestly its not the money… Its the fact that $220.00 worth of tix costed after fees & shipping $285.00…& theyre assholes about it,..TRY THIS AND SEE IF I’M LYIN,.. ..I told him that I might be recording this call.. “for Quality assurance”…lol.. & He said that if I was recording that he was instructed to hang up…… & he did,…ASk for …CUSTOMER SERVICE….Both the 1st guy and the”floor manager said theyre name was “Angel”..prob a name for the unit..His (the floor managers) # was ZYS811…CAll him & say HIIIIIIIIIIIII… He’ll help ya right on out….

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