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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