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Bruce Springsteen outraged his fans with the “scandalous and exorbitant” prices of his last tour

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Jon Landau, Bruce Springsteen’s manager, attributes this to a desire to combat scalping and the use of a “dynamic pricing” algorithm that isn’t quite well calibrated. The fact is that on July 20, tickets for six of the concerts of Springsteen’s 2023 US tour went on sale. Specifically, those in Tampa, Orlando, Hollywood (the coastal city of Florida, not the famous Los Angeles neighborhood), Tulsa, Denver, and Boston. Barely 24 hours later, the New Jersey artist’s community of always-dedicated fans seethed with outrage: Tickets were being sold at “obscene” prices, in some cases over $5,000. And not only that: the cheapest with a theoretical price of 60 dollars were conspicuous by their absence.

As explained New York Times“We’re not talking about the classic speculative resale here, but about completely exaggerated scandalous prices at official services such as Ticketmaster”. Also the Twitter account of Backstreet’s Magazinethe oldest and most renowned of the zines Dedicated to Springsteen, reflected the state of collective uneasiness that was generated: “This time we suffer from a crisis of faith.”

Music journalist Will Werde, former editor-in-chief of the magazine billboardHe also took to the networks to vent his dissatisfaction and astonishment: “Who was going to tell us that Bruce was going to be the one responsible for us missing out on resellers?” Werde also accused the artist of “putting the last nail in the coffin of live music as we understood it until a few years ago” by failing to intervene to curb a “predatory and abusive” pricing policy.

That’s not our Bruce

As Lieber explained, “music fans protesting on networks and public forums for concert awards they find abusive is not new, it happens all the time on Elton John or Rolling Stones tours.” unprecedented drought in live music has helped “turn it into a scarce and very precious commodity” and many promoters intend to “take revenge in 2022 and 2023 for the losses they have suffered accumulated.” since 2020″.

Bruce Springsteen during a concert in Barcelona in 2008.EFE

What is special about this case is that “the person responsible for this disregard for his audience is precisely Springsteen, the most populist, closest, most accessible and most authentic of rock dinosaurs”. The man who offered his rock with roots and conscience as an antidote to the antisocial outburst of what he believed was Ronald Reagan’s conservative counter-revolution. If your product is proletarian ethics, you cannot sell it for the price of Iranian caviar.

Mick Jagger fans, Lieber argues, naturally accept that their idol is “a product and even a luxury they may not be able to afford.” Those of Bruce who see their hero’s live music as “a kind of public service that they neither want nor can deny” take the tickets, which cost four figures, “as a personal affront, as a betrayal of the supposed”. Working-class values ​​that the singer has defended and proclaimed for more than five decades”.

More than just a rock star, Bruce is the high priest of a contemporary cult with millions of followers. A secular religion whose holy books are like albums The river born to run either The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shufflebut whose Sermons on the Mount, the ceremonies that kindle the sacred fire, are the concerts.

For his most loyal followers, people who invest their savings to follow Bruce from Dublin to Rome via Barcelona and Paris, a prohibitively expensive train ticket or a “No Driving” sign amounts to an expulsion from the community of believers. The emotional damage caused explains the sharpness with which many of them today turn against their idol. As well as Rock critic Jordi Meya wrote in the magazine rock zone“How much is a broken dream worth?”.

The Bruce Springsteen of 50 years ago seemed very concerned about his followers’ wallets. In December 1972 he performed for the first time in the state of Ohio at the Hara Arena in the city of Dayton. He did it as the opening act for the band Doo wop New York Sha Na Na, in a large venue that seated barely a thousand spectators that night. It was a somewhat soulless concert, in front of an unresponsive audience and under a poster announcing the appearance of a certain “Rick Springsteen” due to a vocal error on the part of the promoter. But Bruce’s main complaint, as he explained in a radio interview the following day, was “the armed robbery” suffered by a group of friends from New York who came to him and an additional fine of ten dollars (about $70) had to pay dollars back then).

Bruce Springsteen in a photo from the 80's.
Bruce Springsteen in a photo from the 80’s.

Springsteen, 23, felt that five dollars to see a few bands was more than enough. If rock gave up its popular roots, it would eventually die, he claimed. Of course, Bruce was still well aware of the circle of bohemian cafes and beachside hangouts in Asbury Park on the New Jersey shore, the enthusiastic and precarious scene in which he had appeared regularly since 1969, alone or as part of groups such as The Castles, the earth or the steel mill.

A few months later it would go on sale Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, the album that would start the Boss on his unstoppable march to stardom. With the leap from obscurity to nascent fame, ten bucks would soon become a ridiculous amount to see the white rock hopeful live.

A questionable line of defence

Let’s go back to the present. Bruce and his representatives remained silent as the storm of criticism raged across the networks. Finally, just under a week later, on July 26, Jon Landau, the former music critic who “discovered” Springsteen at a concert in New York in 1974 and who has since served as the rock legend’s manager, spokesman and squire, wanted to come out with a series of technical explanations that only fueled the fire.

Landau acknowledges that “a tiny percentage” of tickets are sold at prices in excess of a thousand dollars, but ensures the average cost per ticket is “in the region of 200, a perfectly normal amount compared to what it’s the competition takes into account”. . The higher amounts, according to Landau, are solely due to the use of a dynamic pricing algorithm whose function would be to intelligently exploit the law of supply and demand so that “fans with more resources get preferred seats closer to the stage and thus help to win the much lower to pay the price of the remaining tickets”.

By “dynamic pricing” we mean a flexible sales strategy that is updated in real time and adjusts tariffs to changes in demand. It has been used systematically by airlines and hotel chains for more than a decade, and its use has been exported to areas such as mass events due to the rise of e-commerce and advances in artificial intelligence. The principle is simple: an algorithm analyzes the demand in real time and when a certain location is in high demand, the price automatically increases, while less popular ones tend to adjust their entry price downwards. In short, it’s all about “auctioning” each of the available locations to sell them at their ideal price.

At events with a medium or small number of visitors, the system works optimally and unnoticed. Less popular tickets drop in price and can become real last-minute bargains, while the most expensive tickets remain at acceptable prices. Under unusual parameters, at events with the level of expectation and demand that Bruce’s tour generated, the only way to avoid noticeable bias is to set a maximum limit in addition to a minimum limit and an average starting price.

Bruce Springsteen signs autographs for some fans.
Bruce Springsteen signs autographs for some fans. MASSIMILIANO MINOCRI

Landau argues that if a cap was not set in this particular case, it is because it favors resellers, who can then buy at a lower price than the algorithm recommends and then resell indefinitely on their underground market . In short, it would be about increasing the profit margins of artists and promoters and reducing those of pirates. If someone is willing to pay more than $5,000 to see Bruce, why should we settle for paying a criminal instead of Bruce himself and his business associates? However, as Steve Appleford explains, “The paradoxical effect of this attempt to combat scalping is that developers have become scalpers themselves.”

However, beyond explanations of mathematical models and the law of supply and demand, Landau mainly argues that tickets at abnormal prices make up a “ridiculous” percentage and that it is quite possible to get “very decent” seats.” For “between $60 and $100,” a price he says is “popular.” Scores of fans responded to the comments on social media, hours later posting screenshots showing how difficult it was to get tickets for less than $500 in most areas of the venue at the Tampa concert. when a high percentage of capacity was still available.

Landau has, yes, one less irrefutable argument left: Bruce didn’t do anything that other popular music stars like Drake or Taylor Swift didn’t do in their day, whose concerts pioneered the use of no-ceiling dynamic pricing systems in any form. The problem, perhaps, is that the Bruce Springsteen of a few years ago, the pride of working-class America, would never have appeared in the same sentence as Drake or Taylor Swift.

Amid the controversy, the occasionally disaffected fan brought up data such as Bruce Springsteen’s current personal fortune in excess of $650 million and that he’s been allocating himself an annual salary of $80 million as a manager of his own company. And that in December 2021 he sold his music catalogue and the publishing rights thereof to Sony for an amount in excess of $500 million, surpassing the 400 received by Bob Dylan in his day.

Bruce, as the journalist of diversity Chris Willman is now an immensely wealthy man who also owes much of his wealth to the enormous (and well-deserved) reputation of his live shows. At this point, to pretend to meddle so his fans can see him play for the equivalent of a few beers is “highly naïve”. Algorithm or not, Bruce’s concerts are increasingly becoming a luxury that die-hard fans can’t always afford. Like the Rolling Stones.

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Source elpais.com

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