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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Showbiz Apologies: OK, now I'm REALLY sorry!

February 5, 2009 | 12:45 pm

Apologies are just breaking out all over. As we noted earlier, first it was Bruce Springsteen, saying he was sorry for doing an exclusive deal with Wal-Mart. Then it was Barack Obama, apologizing for trying to hire top-level officials who, ahem, hadn't actually paid their taxes. Can Christian Bale be far behind?

Sprinsteen_2Actually, give Springsteen credit for sparking the latest apology on the pop music front, using an open letter on his website to call out Ticketmaster--who handles the ticketing for his upcoming tour--for redirecting fans trying to buy Springsteen tickets--even when face-value seats were still available--to a subsidiary service that offers tickets for way, WAY more than face value. Springsteen says in his letter to fans that he was only belatedly informed about Ticketmaster's relationship with TicketsNow (the up-selling ticket service). He called the relationship a "pure conflict of interest," because "the distributor of [an artist's] tickets is in effect 'scalping' those same tickets through a secondary company." Springsteen demanded that Ticketmaster "immediately" stop redirecting fans to TicketsNow.

This prompted an abject apology from Ticketmaster chief Irving Azoff, the longtime manager of the Eagles, among many other notable artists. Since he's known in the industry as a fiesty, fiercely combative advocate for his artists--years ago, when I wrote something negative about Don Henley, Azoff sent me a Mafia-style bouquet of black roses--having a revered artist like Springsteen complaining about his business practices was a huge PR black eye for Azoff, especially at a time when Ticketmaster is in the midst of a proposed merger with Live Nation. So Azoff didn't beat around the bush, saying: "We clearly missed the mark. Fans are confused and angry, which is the opposite of what we hoped to accomplish. We sincerely apologize to Bruce, his organization, and above all, his fans."

There's much more to this story, which is being covered in far more detail by Pop & Hiss, our stellar pop music blog. But this isn't just about a ticket snafu. Ticketmaster and Live Nation are the two largest companies in the live concert racket business, sparking fears among fans--and artists--that one combined company would wipe out serious competition, leading to even higher concert prices, and ticket fees, than exist already. I suspect Springsteen got an instant apology from Azoff because he raised the unsettling spectre of artists going to Washington to rail against concert ticket abuses when the Feds hold hearings on the proposed Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger.

It wasn't by chance that at the end of his open letter, Springsteen pointedly said: "The one thing that could make the current ticket situation even worse for fans than it is now would be Ticketmaster and Live Nation coming up with a single system, thereby returning us to a near monopoly situation in music ticketing." Springsteen helpfully directed fans to the office of the Attorney General of New Jersey, where they could register their complaints. Bravo for Bruce! I'd say this wipes the slate clean for his Wal-Mart blunder. If you've ever had a hideous experience buying tickets from Ticketmaster, I'd love to hear about it. It seems clear that this merger would be another knife in the back for fans, who've long known, from bitter experience, that buying concert tickets is almost guaranteed to take the fun out of actually going to the concert.

Photo of Bruce Springsteen performing at this year's Superbowl Halftime Show by Chris McGrath/Getty Images.