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'House Scaling' Means Best Seats Will Cost More

May 17, 1991|CHUCK PHILIPS and JIM WASHBURN

Whether convenience fees rise as a result of Ticketmaster's expected acquisition of Ticketron, insiders predict that the base price of concert tickets is certain to soar in the years ahead.

Venues, promoters and ticket agents aren't the only ones responsible for pushing the price of tickets up these days. Artists are also demanding more money.

Many industry officials believe that the exorbitant rates commanded by scalpers and brokers for front-row seats offer concrete proof that tickets--as a free market commodity--are dramatically underpriced.

As a result, a new artist-endorsed practice called "scaling the house"--in which consumers are asked to pay significantly higher prices for front-row seats--was introduced during Steve Winwood's May 10 concert at the Pacific Amphitheatre. Promoters charged fans $50 for "golden circle" seats in the first six rows, more than twice the cost of the $19.50 general admission ticket price.

A similar arrangement of exclusively priced seating was offered at Wednesday's Yes concert at the Inglewood Forum.

Claire L. Rothman, general manager of the Forum, believes that "house-scaled" seating is destined to become the blueprint for rock concerts in the '90s.

"It's just a matter of time before it catches on everywhere," said Rothman, "We accept the idea that the best seats cost more everywhere else--in boxing or theater--so why not at rock concerts?"

"At first, artists were a bit reluctant to charge higher prices for the best seats. They thought people might get the wrong idea. But after seeing so many people scalp tickets for such astronomical prices, we thought, well, why shouldn't the artist get that extra money? It's not as if we created the demand for the higher ticket prices. The public did."

Rich Meany of the Nederlander Organization, which books and operates the Pacific Amphitheatre, said the arrangement for the Winwood concert is indicative of the way concert pricing is going. Ticket scaling, he said, "is becoming a standard around the country," and he believes several more county shows this season will be priced similarly.

Which shows will be targeted for scaling, he said, will depend on demographics, the demand for an artist and the artist's consent. The advantage for an artist agreeing to the scaling is that he receives a large percentage of the additional revenue generated by the more expensive tickets. The downside is that the artist might appear to fans as mercenary.

Meany thinks that won't be the case. Fans already pay far more than $50 to ticket brokers and scalpers for shows they want to see. By the venue charging $50 a ticket, Meany feels scalpers will be discouraged from competing with fans for tickets, and the fans will prefer that their money goes to the artist rather than a scalper.

An extreme of ticket scaling can be found in Irvine Meadows' "The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber" performances June 20-22, where seats in the pit will run $250, making the the $2.25 facility surcharge seem trivial in comparison. Seats in the first 10 rows of the orchestra section will be $100, while the rest of the orchestra seats are $50. Terrace and loge seats are $25.

That show is very much the exception for the venue, says general manager Matt Curto, who doesn't share Meany's view that ticket scaling is necessarily the wave of the future.

"I don't see us doing that," he said. "Everything else (outside of the Webber show) is our usual $17.50 to $25. I'm not sure if Avalon (which books Irvine Meadows shows) will decide to do that in the future, but I have booking memos all the way through October, and tickets prices are staying what they usually are."

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