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COLUMN ONE : The Ticket King's Path to Power : As Pearl Jam just learned, Ticketmaster's Fred Rosen gets what he wants. His tactics have earned him some foes, but even critics admit he has transformed the industry. Now he's eyeing new realms.

June 17, 1995|LESLIE HELM and CHUCK PHILIPS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

For Fredric Rosen, this was a week to savor.

America's most popular rock group had admitted defeat. Pearl Jam acknowledged that it would be unable to set up a nationwide concert tour without the help of Ticketmaster, the company Rosen transformed from a fledgling software firm into the world's biggest ticket operation.

Rosen had won what he once branded Pearl Jam's "holy war" over the way tickets are sold--a 14-month standoff during which the Seattle band tried to bring down the controversial system Rosen had invented.

Forging one of the remarkable business success stories of the last decade, the pugnacious 51-year-old ticket king has built an empire by relentlessly attacking enemies and handsomely rewarding friends. The list of the vanquished includes formerly dominant Ticketron, which Rosen first beat in the marketplace before his company bought what was left.

Among concert promoters and venue owners, Rosen is revered as a genius who took ticketing--once a costly irritant for arenas--and, like an alchemist, turned it into a huge source of cash. The Los Angeles-based company he heads owns the bulk of the nation's $1.6-billion live entertainment ticketing business. For rock concerts, the most coveted part of the industry, Ticketmaster rules.

But his aggressive tactics and higher service charges have also earned him many foes among fans, artists, competitors and some lawmakers.

"If the only tool you have is a hammer, then anything that stands in your way just looks like a nail," said Tim Collins, manager for rock superstars Aerosmith. "Fred is a brilliant businessman who has single-handedly made ticket distribution 100 times better than it was before he arrived on the scene. But in the process he has turned from a driven businessman into an arrogant bully who has forgotten who his true customer is: the fan."

Having conquered the concert ticket business, Rosen is poised to take Ticketmaster into wide new realms where it is less clear whether his hard-nosed business practices and abrasive qualities will continue to serve him as well.

With the backing of Ticketmaster's new owner, billionaire and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Rosen wants to expand into on-line computer and cable ticket distribution as well as movie and airline ticket sales.

Consumers meanwhile are seeking legislation to curb service charges that in some cases boost the price of a ticket more than a third. And Ticketmaster's exclusive agreements with arenas remain under scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Department for possible antitrust violations after a memorandum filed last year by Pearl Jam, which is still angry with the ticketing giant.

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Rosen once boasted that he learned his approach to business from the Chinese classic "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu. And yet he is unusually sensitive to public perceptions of him.

It is his success, Rosen says, that has made him a target of criticism, his only sin being that he is a good capitalist.

"The quality we love in athletes we hate in our business leaders," he said in an interview early this year. "There is intense jealousy when you succeed."

He declined to be interviewed for this article because of what he believes has been unfair coverage of the dispute between Ticketmaster and Pearl Jam. Attorneys for Rosen contend that The Times has taken the side of the rock band and of ticket buyers and has not presented Ticketmaster's side.

Notoriously volatile, friends say, Rosen sometimes displays a self-deprecating sense of humor. As a businessman, he is foremost a pragmatist: "When I want vision, I go to the optometrist," he said recently.

His success in the ticketing business has made him a rich man, though how rich cannot be determined because Ticketmaster is a private company. Those who know him say he is generous and takes pride in donating to charities such as the City of Hope, Pediatric AIDS Foundation and the Neil Bogart Labs. He is devoted to his wife and two children.

In his cluttered office on Wilshire Boulevard, an autographed ticket from an early Beatles concert and a framed letter from Mark Twain hang on the walls. Rosen has Foosball and a pinball machine to amuse promoters and other clients while they wait in his office as their concerts sell out. Colleagues say he loves oldies rock and has mused about setting up his own record label.

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Rosen was raised in New York City, where his father was an advertising executive. He worked his way through Clark University in Worcester, Mass., busing tables and selling jewelry. Then he went to Brooklyn Law School.

Working as an attorney assessing companies for acquisition, he came across Ticketmaster in the early 1980s. He decided the business, which had just over $1 million in annual sales, had potential and arranged a meeting with Jay Pritzker, a member of the billionaire Chicago family that owned it, Hyatt Hotels and other properties.

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