Since Sept. 27, Tegan and Sara have provided their fans with a thoughtful memoir about their time in high school; a new record full of songs written in those formative years; and a tour of underplay shows to promote both that has introduced a new concept: “rush seating.”
Coined by the twin sisters and their team, the “rush seating” experiment began as a response to the group’s sold-out show at the Balboa Theatre in San Diego on Sept. 30 — at which they showed up to play for a significantly empty room. Resellers had gobbled up large amounts of inventory for the tour, which went on sale in July, that had the effect of significantly raising the ticket price from the original price of around $40.
“We have seen Tegan and Sara’s tickets show up on the secondary over the years, but never in these types of volumes,” says the group’s co-manager Nick Blasko.
The issue continued the next night. For Tegan and Sara’s San Francisco show on Oct. 1, the duo found more than 200 tickets on StubHub. So, six hours prior to the show, the group asked fans to show up at the 1,600-capacity Sydney Goldstein Theater to be seated on a first-come, first-served basis. Rather than selling the ticket again, fans would be granted seats in return for “pay what you can donations” to the Tegan and Sara Foundation.
Through coordination with venue staff, Tegan and Sara’s team eyeballed open seats and filled them with fans lined up at the door. If a ticket holder arrived late, ‘rush seaters’ were moved to another available option.
“What makes this thing so awesome is that we are trading a donation for a little ticket stub that we’ve made which says ‘rush seating.’ It’s a little stub that helps identity them to the ushers and it is something for the fan to keep,” says Blasko, who explains that DIY spirit of the experiment has led to them collecting the donations in random boxes — even Tegan and Sara fanny packs pulled from the merch table — as rush seating was introduced to additional shows in Seattle, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg.
Donations varied from a couple of dollars to contributions of $125 to the Foundation, which fights for economic justice, health and representation for LGBTQ girls and women. With roughly 40 rush seats available at the Oct. 5 show at The Vogue Theater in Vancouver, the Foundation received $500 in donations.
“The third night of the tour we played to hundreds of empty seats in San Diego,” Tegan Quin said in a statement to Billboard. “It was devastating. And not just for us. All those fans who had written desperately after the show sold out had missed seeing this performance for no good reason. The idea to do rush seating came from [Blasko] that night. In return for a donation to our Foundation fans could line up last minute and fill those empty seats. We’d combat the scalpers, fill the theaters with die-hard fans and raise money for women and girls in the LGBTQ community. For the fans it was a relief, a second chance to see the show. For our team it was a solution to a terrible situation. It allowed us to fill seats and raise money and hopefully inspire other bands in a similar situation to think about new ways to tackle the problem.”
The announcement of additional shows has left brokers on the secondary market at a loss, with the tickets they scooped up for $40 or more now going for $6 or less on StubHub.
“When we heard about the last-minute offer to enter the show at a price determined by the fan, we reached out to Tegan and Sara, as we consistently do with other artists to help them identify improved distribution solutions,” StubHub’s head of music business development Jay Harren tells Billboard. “While we weren’t able to come to a solution in this case, StubHub frequently works with artists and their teams to alleviate on-sale issues and ensure their fans get in the seats.”
“For us, this experience still remains a sad mark on an otherwise magical release and special show,” Tegan continued. “We can’t help but still see some empty chairs that we know could be filled with real fans every night. We believe we have a serious issue in our industry and that people on every level are complicit, and it’s hard to shake the sensation that you’re a pawn in a game that you’ll never win.”
Other artists’ teams have reached out to Blasko to let him know the experiment has not gone unnoticed.
“We are such a small piece of the business. We are beta testing a new dynamic for these tickets and it sort of totally undermines [the secondary market’s] value proposition, but us alone won’t tip this,” says Blasko. “There’s a lot of misinformation and lack of transparency [in the secondary market] and all of these things are adding up to a frustrated consumer in many cases. In the case of our organization and Tegan and Sara coming up with a solution, it falls on a very willing and supportive group of ears in the fan community.”
Tegan and Sara have recently announced another slate of shows that will implement rush seating for their Hey, I’m Just Like You Tour that runs through Nov. 1. Blasko says they have already cleared the rush seating with promoters and venues across the remainder of the trek and started educating staff on how to best implement the policy going forward.
“When we devised the plan, it was really about what serves Tegan and Sara’s needs and their fan’s needs first and foremost,” says Blasko. “The simple answer to that was, ‘Let’s get them into the shows. If there’s an empty seat, let’s put someone in it.’ We needed to get a few shows under our belts to really see if it was going to work. It absolutely works.”