"The vocal glides gracefully between recognizable language and fluent Bongolese -- semilinguistic scat forming temporary bridges over lyrical gaps."
-- Brian Eno
U2 Fans Sound Off After Difficult Joshua Tree Tour Ticket Sales
February 07, 2017
Tickets for all of U2's announced 2017 concerts are now on sale and, to no one's surprise, there are a lot of happy U2 fans and a lot of frustrated U2 fans. The fans who managed to score tickets are -- in most cases -- the happy ones, even if they didn't enjoy the stress of buying tickets online. But there's plenty of frustration, too, among those who got tickets and those who didn't.
In North America and Europe, many fans are upset about the difficulty of getting tickets -- especially at face value -- as well as the fan club grouping system and other aspects of the ticket-buying experience. It's even worse in the Southern Hemisphere, where many fans are angry that they don't even have a chance to see U2 play in their home countries this year. We'll have more on that in a separate article. First, let's talk about what happened with ticket sales in North America and Europe and how U2 fans feel about the experience.
Our recent online survey reveals that some fans say ticket buying for this tour was better than for previous tours, but more say it was worse. There are several reasons for that, but scalpers and ticket resale sites earned some of the loudest complaints -- both from fans who got tickets and those who didn't.
"Scalpers are a terrible problem," wrote Kirsten Hagemeister in response to one of our survey questions. "Within minutes (particularly during general sale), tickets sold out and Ticketmaster immediately redirected us to their resale ticket site where tickets were already being posted for upwards of $1,500."
Fans across Europe and North America echoed those sentiments about the ticket sales experience in their own countries.
A "disgrace" is what European fan Mark Ormrod called it. "[U2] know full well that tickets are bought in bulk by touts and sold on at hugely inflated prices on the secondary market," he wrote. "Their silence on the issue is appalling and as good as condones this practice. It is becoming evident they don't care about their fans and I am not sure whether I will even make the effort to get tickets for the next tour."
In our survey, we asked fans to compare their ticket-buying experience for The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 to past U2 tours, and how you view the results probably depends on who you are. About 21 percent said this year's ticket sales were better than for previous tours, while about 28 percent said they were worse. Almost half of the 2,000 fans who responded said it was about the same.
The big question is what experience those 49 percent had on previous tours. If it was a good experience, then Live Nation/Ticketmaster/U2 could look at the results and conclude that more than 70 percent of U2 fans said this year's ticket sales went as well as or better than for past tours. But if that 49 percent had poor experiences with past ticket sales, then the opposite conclusion would apply: Almost 80 percent had an as-bad-or-worse experience this year.
Stop Using Ticketmaster
In addition to scalpers, Ticketmaster itself was a frequent target of complaints. Many fans used the survey to call for U2 to bypass Ticketmaster and sell tickets directly to fans. "U2 need to take more control over the ticket distribution process," wrote an unnamed fan in Europe. "The problems with the pre-sale and tickets ending up on the secondary market within minutes impact their brand."
Even if U2 wanted to sell its own tickets, such a scenario doesn't seem likely to happen for at least three more years, if not longer.
In 2008, U2 and Live Nation -- which merged with Ticketmaster two years later -- signed a 12-year contract that calls for Live Nation to handle U2's touring, merchandise and official website. If that contract is still in place, it would end in 2020. But when Paul McGuinness stepped away as U2's manager five years after that deal, U2 signed a new contract with Live Nation and Guy Oseary, their current manager. It's unknown if that contract changed the terms of the previous one. If it did, it seems unlikely that the contract would have been shortened. In other words, U2 and Ticketmaster are likely joined at the hip until at least 2020, and possibly longer.
Fan Club: Mixed Reactions
Live Nation also manages the band's official website, U2.com, and its associated fan club. Many members were happy with their ticket-buying experience last month, including North American fan Kathy Stacho, who said "it was one of the easiest and seamless ticket buying experiences I've ever had thanks to the fan club pre-sale." An unnamed fan club member in Europe voiced a similar sentiment: "The pre-sale was much smoother than previous years. I did not have a problem buying the tickets I wanted." Fan club members specifically mentioned the ability this year to buy four tickets in any combination of shows as a positive change from past tours.
But many paid U2.com members were frustrated with the member-grouping system. This year, there were only two pre-sales groups: Red Hill for "longtime subscribers" and Wires for new/recent subscribers. The first group, Red Hill, included all members who joined by Dec. 24, 2016. Some fans who've been paying for the fan club since the Propaganda days weren't happy about being grouped with fans who had joined for the first time just a couple weeks before tickets went on sale. As North American fan Craig Murray wrote, "Being a member for three weeks before the tour announcement should not qualify as long-term. A priority group for people that have supported them consistently for YEARS is not too much to ask."
According to our survey, fans who tried to buy tickets online were satisfied overall with the amount of information provided about the tour. A little more than 80 percent of respondents said they had enough tour information.
When we asked fans who said "no" to that question about what information they felt was missing, 72 percent said "ticket pricing and location" -- by far the top response. About 37 percent said they wanted more information about the stage design, and 32 percent wanted to know more about the credit card-only entry process.
"On future tours, PLEASE can we have all the information we need in good time before the tickets go on sale," wrote an unnamed European fan. "Every time there is missing, unclear or contradictory information (e.g., regarding ticket limits), and the Zootopia moderators are still trying to get answers when the pre-sales start in less than five minutes! This is needlessly stressful."
To be clear, this year's ticket sales weren't all doom and gloom. Many U2 fans who took our survey shared their happiness with the process. For whatever reason, many of these fans chose not to leave their name when they completed the survey, so here's a sample of their anonymous comments with the fan's location in parentheses:
Perhaps the most common reply when we invited fans to let us know what they would want to tell U2 about the ticket sales is what North American fan Dave Rodgers said: "Thanks!"
Meanwhile, In The Southern Hemisphere...
You can be sure that many U2 fans in South America, Australia and New Zealand are reading the fans' complaints about buying tickets in this article and feeling very little sympathy, if any. That's because, as of right now, The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 isn't even coming to their home countries. If the current tour itinerary is final, it'll be the second straight U2 tour that only visits Europe and North America.
Our recent survey also asked fans where the tour isn't visiting to tell us how they feel about being skipped again. We wanted to know if they understand why the Joshua Tree tour is only playing in North America and Europe, if they're losing interest in seeing U2 live or if they're willing to wait for the next U2 tour. We'll share their thoughts on those questions and more in a separate article tomorrow.
(c) @U2/McGee, 2017.