Upon first glimpse, comedian Louis C.K. doesn't seem to have much in common with Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. But the independent way that C.K. approached his ticket sales for a new tour spanning October to February-charging just $45, all-in, for any seat-reminded many concert-goers of the challenge that Pearl Jam posed to Ticketmaster over its ticket policies in 1994. Indeed, C.K.'s recent DIY ticket enterprise has thrilled fans and offered industry outsiders a rare demonstration of how the concert business can be tweaked for a better fan experience.
Like Pearl Jam in the '90s, C.K. aimed to keep all prices and ticket fees low. Embroiled in a public boycott of Ticketmaster, Pearl Jam sought out many nontraditional venues and used ETM Ticket Network to handle its ticket sales. Nearly two decades later, C.K. also had to seek out venues that would allow him to sell directly to fans at a low price with low fees.
C.K.'s ticket sales, launched June 25, also had the DIY feel of Radiohead's pay-what-you-want release of its 2007 album, In Rainbows. But the comedian isn't exactly engaging in self-ticketing: Etix is providing the platform that powers the direct-to-fan transaction from his website. Also, while the amounts are relatively small compared with Ticketmaster's costs and surcharges, C.K.'s ticket prices do include fees.
The way C.K. booked his tour dates reflects the nature of the ticketing business. To sell tickets on his own website, C.K. needed to work with venues and work around whatever exclusive contracts they have with ticketing companies. Performing arts centers, which make up the majority of the tickets available at LouisCK.net, tend to license ticketing software and are usually free of exclusive arrangements, according to ticketing executives who spoke to Billboard.
C.K. was able to book venues and sell direct-to-fan while avoiding buildings locked up by Ticketmaster. A handful of locations on the tour use Ticketfly and Tickets.com. The Fox Theatre in St. Louis and its ticketing service, MetroTix, are both owned by Fox Associates. (A representative for the Fox Theatre didn't comment, but the reason for contract flexibility appears obvious.) C.K. isn't avoiding Ticketmaster altogether. Though not listed at LouisCK.net, tickets for a performance at the Live Nation-produced Just for Laughs Festival in Toronto and the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, N.J., are both available at Ticketmaster.com.
Booking C.K. meant doing a bit of legwork for a venue with a ticketing contract and client-specific hardware. Attendees of the comedian's December performances at Austin City Limits Live, a Ticketfly client, will be carrying Etix tickets, according to ACL Live director of marketing Sherilyn Mayhugh. Mayhugh says Ticketfly executives "were great about not standing in the way" to host C.K. and sell tickets through his website. Etix will bring its own ticket scanners to the venue for the performances, she adds.
Non-rigid rules also helped Seattle's Paramount Theatre land C.K. for four performances in two days in December. Vivian Phillips, director of marketing and communication at the Seattle Theater Group, says her organization has "a great relationship" with Tickets.com that recognizes the two parties may occasionally get unique requests from artists. "Our flexibility as partners is focused on artists having what they need."
The ticket buyer can sense the differences. Many headlines lauded C.K. for helping fans avoid Ticketmaster and its often astronomical service fees. C.K. kept his ticket prices at a firm $45 each and built in whatever small fee was charged by the venue. C.K. also took a hard line against scalping so fans wouldn't pay inflated prices on the secondary market. He may have well circumvented the entire ticketing industry as far as his fans are concerned.
"It's hard to draw the line between what's self-ticketing or what's not," says Ashley Capps, founder of AC Entertainment, which produces the Bonnaroo festival. Capps believes the same problems should be resolved whether a venue or promoter handles tickets internally or outsources the functions: They need a ticketing system in place that provides customers with convenience and a high level of service. The rest, he says, is academic.