James Murphy’s role in the LCD Soundsystem ticket fiasco

By Felix Salmon
March 24, 2011
tweeted precisely eight times. But when he was trying to sell tickets to his final show at Madison Square Garden back in February, he was very active.

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James Murphy, of LCD Soundsystem, is not on Twitter a lot. In the past month, he’s tweeted precisely eight times. But when he was trying to sell tickets to his final show at Madison Square Garden back in February, he was very active. He started on Tuesday February 8, with two tweets to announcements of a ticket presale on February 9. And then after the presale released tickets onto the market, he started getting angry, with a series of eleven tweets expressing violent and profane anger towards scalpers in general and StubHub in particular. It seems his ire was raised by someone selling a single ticket for $1,500.

But there’s something very interesting going on here. I talked to Glenn Lehrmann of StubHub today — himself the subject of an irate Murphy tweet — and he said that when Murphy started sending his tweets out, there were roughly 1,000 tickets for the LCD Soundsystem show available on StubHub. Most of them were priced at about $130 to $140, with about 90% under $200. The tweets, however, “significantly raised demand” and the perceived value of the tickets. By the time that tickets officially went on sale to the public on the morning of Friday February 11, fewer than 30 tickets had asking prices of less than $200, and the average price was around $500.

When the tickets went on sale, no one got any. And so the demand moved naturally to StubHub — of the 1,915 tickets to LCD Soundsystem’s MSG show that StubHub has sold to date, roughly one third were sold on February 11, when prices were at their peak. Right now, prices are much lower; the average is $212, and the lowest-priced tickets are about $100.

Lehrmann confirmed to me that StubHub saw no increase in the number of tickets available for sale after 11am on Friday. The official James Murphy theory — that scalpers with bots had bought up all the tickets and were flipping them with StubHub — is simply not true: substantially all of the tickets which sold on StubHub that day came from the American Express pre-sale on the 9th.

“It’s not humanly possible to sell 9,000 tickets in one minute,” Lehrmann told me, adding that if MSG or Bowery Presents (the promoter) or Murphy himself simply published the manifest for the show, that would clear everything up, by showing to the public just how many tickets were sold on February 11 when the bulk of the tickets ostensibly hit the market. “The artists and promoter aren’t going to share the ticketing manifest, so they hide behind the bots theory,” says Lehrmann. “But if the bot theory was true, wouldn’t you be waving the manifest from the tallest mountain?”

The fact is that the number of LCD Soundsystem tickets sold on StubHub is entirely normal for the venue — the Lady Gaga show in February, for instance, saw more than twice as much activity on the site.

So what’s going on here? “I’m not revealing any huge industry secret,” says Lehrmann, “when I say that the majority of tickets are held back, and are sold either to local brokers or directly resold on a secondary site.”

Essentially, what happens is that bands set the face value of the tickets artificially low, so as not to look as though they’re ripping off their fans. But they only release a fraction of tickets to the public at face value. Lehrmann told me that a Taylor Swift show at National Arena last year sold just 13% of its tickets to the general public, with another 30% going to American Express and to the fan club. Fully 57% of the tickets were sold through some kind of back channel, presumably at a substantial mark-up from face value. In the case of MSG, it’s clear that’s going on: “at $40 face value,” says Lehrmann, “the promoter probably isn’t even paying the rent on the building.”

Between them, the band and their promoter build up long-standing relationships with ticket brokers, who then sell on their wares in a variety of ways. Some appear on StubHub and other secondary-market sites; others are sold directly to clients; others still are hawked on the street on the evening of the show. The risk is borne entirely by the brokers: the promoter has sold its inventory to them, and then leaves it up to the brokers to determine how, where, and when those tickets might appear for sale.

In the case of LCD Soundsystem, it looks very much as though the overwhelming majority of tickets went to brokers, and few if any were sold at face value on the public on-sale date. Murphy can rage against the scalpers as much and as loudly as he likes. But looking at the numbers from StubHub, it seems that Murphy himself — and/or his promoters at Bowery Presents — are exactly the people putting those tickets into the scalpers’ hands. If Murphy wants to go around blaming people, he should first come clean on how much his own behavior caused the very problem he’s complaining about.

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Comments
11 comments so far

Phish has jacked their ticket prices up to $75 for this year’s summer tour – up from $50 a few years ago. If people will pay it, it might as well go to the band and not the scalpers, right?

Springsteen combated this long ago by jacking up his ticket prices too.

Both Phish and Springsteen tickets still pretty much sell out.

Posted by KidDynamite | Report as abusive

it seems like in this instance, the scalper is the promoter! Or at least the promoter is enabling the scalping.

But you (and Felix) are right, the way to combat scalping is to raise the price. Or dutch auction.

Posted by GregHao | Report as abusive

I’m way too much of a skeptic to just roll with this. Two questions:

1. Did you attempt to ask James Murphy what he thinks about what Lehrmann told you here? If LCD was really using artificially low ticket prices at MSG, there’s no reason for him to flip out and then tack on four shows at Terminal 5 leading up to it for lower prices than the MSG show (and also with a very difficult will call-only ticketing system designed to stop reselling). That’s way too much work for him if he knows he can just raise the face value of MSG tickets and fix things that way. Something’s not adding up.

2. Did you try to get a source other than Lehrmann? This whole thing was a giant PR debacle for StubHub, to the point that they had to shut down their Facebook page temporarily because angry LCD fans were swarming it. Of course he’s going to want people to blame the band, or anyone else but StubHub, really.

Posted by tanukijones | Report as abusive

Just about everybody has asked James Murphy about all this, and he’s gone VERY quiet.

Posted by FelixSalmon | Report as abusive

I remember seeing them in Omaha at a basement venue below a medium sized venue for 5 dollars! Might have been ninety people there max.

Posted by sunnohh | Report as abusive

“Just about everybody has asked James Murphy about all this, and he’s gone VERY quiet.”

The question wasn’t if everybody has asked him, the question was if YOU had asked him. By your dodgy response, it sounds like you haven’t.

Posted by MMDC | Report as abusive

Felix you miss as wide here as you did in your interview with Nick Denton at Paid Content. And the people at Bowery Presents were totally overwhelmed by the demand. And if you were to follow any kind of logic that he was doing it for money – wouldn’t he not be quitting at his peak.

Posted by tkrieg | Report as abusive

I read a couple of stories about the ticket fiasco, and I don’t think Mr Murphy’s hands are as dirty as Reuters implied. If the world works as they say it does, with the promoter holding back huge swaths of tickets and then dumping them on brokers, hangers on and the band, that still doesn’t mean the band had to be in cahoots. Maybe the band got a couple of hundred tickets of the thousands? Immediately booking the T5 gigs, and then imposing a delivery regimen that would discourage scalping seems to indicate that Murphy’s anger was genuine. After all, how often did LCD play big enough venues that he would be aware of how the deck is stacked against the lowly fan. And I’m not Machiavellian enough to believe that the whole enterprise was staged just to make a big pop.

Posted by caitrosedev | Report as abusive

Agree with above commenters, this is terrible journalism. Sounds like a stub hub ad.

Posted by danfrank1111 | Report as abusive

I’m not a fan of over paying for things either but let’s take a look at the facts:

1) MSG can hold 20,000 people at a concert.
2) StubHub sold 1,915 tickets to the event.

That’s less than 1% of the entire venue capacity!! Obviously the majority of tickets did NOT go to scalpers, StubHub, Premium Seats USA, Tickets Now, the secondary ticket market; whatever you want to call it. They either went to fans as LCD intended OR LCD held tickets back and got real shady with how they were selling tickets for way more than the “face value” they established and blamed the “scalpers” for the inflated prices.

A bunch of friends and I would have been shut out of this event had it not been for brokers. I thank the lord the brokers bought some seats when they could, otherwise I would have missed this show completely. I mean, who really has time to sit around and wait for a 9am on sale?! Some of us have jobs and other priorities that don’t always make it easy to get tickets the day they go on sale. You pay a little more but at least you’re not shut out.

Posted by LEwing | Report as abusive

Your math is wrong – 1,915 is about 9.5% of the capacity.

And to echo what was said above, using Lehrmann as your only source, not talking to Murphy and apparently not contacting Bowery Presents either: all of this looks like sloppy journalism.

Posted by MarcBrubaker | Report as abusive
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