In July, 2022, the editors of the Bruce Springsteen fan magazine Backstreets responded to outrageously high ticket prices for Springsteen’s current tour. If you aren’t familiar with this story, get up to speed here and here. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I will not be seeing Bruce on his current tour.
Here is a taste of the Backstreets July editorial, “Freeze-Out“:
This past week, too many Springsteen fans got thrown to the wolves, pushed aside in a way that seems as unfathomable as it was avoidable. The artist has maintained that he understands the essential role of his audience. How, then, did we end up facing, in far too many instances, prices for tickets that exceeded normalcy, then departed from reality entirely by orders of magnitude?
One might cite inflation, market value, or any number of factors; we’d argue that it can’t be “market forces” when supply is purposefully obfuscated, then manipulated by the platform of distribution. But from our point of view, it boils down to the stark difference between inside and outside. So many fans who have always gone to the shows, who have always been part of This Thing of Ours, now can’t go, will not be inside, will not be part of the conversation, purely because they can’t pay the cost to see the Boss.
Bruce Springsteen tickets have been historically and notoriously difficult to obtain. That’s the nature of the beast, with so many wanting to witness the power and the glory of rock ‘n’ roll, and relatively few seats to hold them. But the issue has rarely been the money.
Over many years, there have been continuous, clear efforts made by the Springsteen camp to keep things fair and as fan-centric as possible, to foil scalpers, to give average concert-goers and fans the best shot at a reasonable price in a world where bots run rampant and scalpers rule.
For decades, Springsteen kept his ticket prices significantly lower than what the market might bear, which felt in keeping with his brand, his stated philosophies, his belief in community, and his clear view of what a concert was supposed to be, as for three hours or so — and sometimes more — he and the band gave us a glimpse of a better world.
The tent over E Street has always been big, inviting, and open, but what about the question he began to ask in 2012… are we missing anybody? After this week, it sure appears the answer has changed.
What were we to think when we made it through the queue on Wednesday morning to find that tickets — initial sales, not resales — were on offer for thousands of dollars? In the past, no matter how difficult tickets were to score, persistence paid off. Now, it seems, persistence just ratchets the algorithm up another notch. Or four.
Surely, these multi-thousand-dollar prices were not intended or anticipated, many of us thought. Some assert the algorithm got out of control — are we sure that it was ever in control? We’d never expect Ticketmaster to balk at making money, but surely, many believed, Springsteen would put a stop to it and demand adjustments to the system, if not an overhaul, before the next onsale. Friday came with a general repeat of circumstances and even more fans in disbelief.
As recently as last month’s European offering, we’ve seen Ticketmaster cancel an onsale when conditions called for it and reschedule for the following day. So if these prices were unintentional, it’s hard to imagine a good reason for the second onsale, let alone a third. For the ticketsellers, the end result of dynamic pricing must be a feature and not a bug.
And that is a foundation-breaking, worldview-shaking notion.
Wait a minute. We thought it was raining. Is it not raining? That might be a takeaway from data Ticketmaster just shared with us, suggesting that the rain is an illusion. Variety reports these Ticketmaster-provided stats, a series of figures that don’t
quite add up appear to tell the full story, that obscure more than clarify. [Update: Representatives for the tour production company confirm the accuracy of the figures provided.] If nothing else, the data shared say nothing about outrageously priced tickets fans declined in horror, only telling us what did sell. In the end, these numbers only leave us with more questions. The biggest one being, if it’s not raining, why are we getting soaked?
At a time when we needed to feel hope and promise — when the world seems on fire, when we’ve suffered through escalating deception, greed, fear, isolation, racial strife, violence, “alternative facts,” democracy literally under threat, and an ongoing global pandemic — we’re left feeling further disillusioned, downhearted, and dispirited.
Read the entire editorial here.
Springsteen responded to the high ticket prices in a Rolling Stone interview:
It caused a bit of an uproar in the fan community because some of the tickets used dynamic prices, and some tickets hit $5,000. Did you know in advance about those price points and dynamic pricing, and do you have any regrets about that?
What I do is a very simple thing. I tell my guys, “Go out and see what everybody else is doing. Let’s charge a little less.” That’s generally the directions. They go out and set it up. For the past 49 years or however long we’ve been playing, we’ve pretty much been out there under market value. I’ve enjoyed that. It’s been great for the fans.
This time I told them, “Hey, we’re 73 years old. The guys are there. I want to do what everybody else is doing, my peers.” So that’s what happened. That’s what they did [laughs].
But ticket buying has gotten very confusing, not just for the fans, but for the artists also. And the bottom line is that most of our tickets are totally affordable. They’re in that affordable range. We have those tickets that are going to go for that [higher] price somewhere anyway. The ticket broker or someone is going to be taking that money. I’m going, “Hey, why shouldn’t that money go to the guys that are going to be up there sweating three hours a night for it?”
It created an opportunity for that to occur. And so at that point, we went for it. I know it was unpopular with some fans. But if there’s any complaints on the way out, you can have your money back.
As you said, the fans were pretty upset. Backstreets said it caused them to suffer a “crisis of faith.” They wrote an op-ed where they said that dynamic pricing “violates an implicit contract between Bruce Springsteen and his fans.” How did you feel about all that blowback against you?
Well, I’m old. I take a lot of things in stride [laughs]. You don’t like to be criticized. You certainly don’t like to be the poster boy for high ticket prices. It’s the last thing you prefer to be. But that’s how it went. You have to own the decisions you have made and go out and just continue to do your best. And that was my take on it. I think if folks come to the show, they’re going to have a good time.
And now the latest. After forty-three years, Backstreets is closing up shop. Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Christopher Phillips writes, “we simply realized that we would not be able to cover this tour with the drive and sense of purpose with which we’ve operated continuously since 1980.” Here is a taste of his last editorial:
After 43 years of publishing in one form or another, by fans for fans of Bruce Springsteen, it’s with mixed emotions that we announce Backstreets has reached the end of the road.
We are immensely proud of the work Backstreets has done, and we are forever grateful to the worldwide community of fellow fans who have contributed to and supported our efforts all these years, but we know our time has come.
It starts with the personal, having as much to do with where I find myself in life. I was 22 when I started at Backstreets in 1993; I’m 52 now. For all of those 30 years, there’s never been a time when my heart wasn’t fully in it. That’s the case, too, for the editors who preceded and inspired me in the magazine’s first 13 years.
A key reason something as gonzo as Backstreets has been able to exist, and for so long — since 1980 — is that it has consistently sprung from a place of genuine passion, rooted in a heartfelt belief in the man and his music. As difficult as it is to call this the end, it’s even harder to imagine continuing without my whole heart in it.
If you read the editorial Backstreets published last summer in the aftermath of the U.S. ticket sales, you have a sense of where our heads and hearts have been: dispirited, downhearted, and, yes, disillusioned. It’s not a feeling we’re at all accustomed to while anticipating a new Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band tour. If you haven’t yet read that editorial (“Freeze-out,” July 24, 2022), or the crux of Springsteen’s response to Rolling Stone in November, we encourage you to do so; we don’t want to rehash those issues, but we stand behind our positions and points.
We’re not alone in struggling with the sea change. Judging by the letters we’ve received over recent months, the friends and longtimers we’ve been checking in with, and the response to our editorial, disappointment is a common feeling among hardcore fans in the Backstreets community.
When I revisit that writing now, it reads like a cry for help; most discouraging was that six months went by with no lifeline thrown. What we have been grappling with is not strictly the cost of admission (“It’s not just about the money!” is a refrain we’ve heard from Backstreets readers) but its various implications.
Regardless, there’s no denying that the new ticket price range has in and of itself been a determining factor in our outlook as the 2023 tour approached — certainly in terms of the experience that hardcore fans have been accustomed to for, as Springsteen noted, 49 years. Six months after the onsales, we still faced this three-part predicament: These are concerts that we can hardly afford; that many of our readers cannot afford; and that a good portion of our readership has lost interest in as a result.
We hear and have every reason to believe that there will be changes to the pricing and ticket-buying experience when the next round of shows go on sale. We also know that enterprising fans may be able to take advantage of price drops when production holds are released in advance of a concert. Whatever the eventual asking price at showtime and whether an individual buyer finds it fair, we simply realized that we would not be able to cover this tour with the drive and sense of purpose with which we’ve operated continuously since 1980. That determination came with a quickening sense that we’d reached the end of an era.
Know that we’re not burning our fan cards, nor encouraging anyone else to do so. In fact, as diehard music fans, we have every hope of rekindling enthusiasm for what we’ve always believed to be a peerless body of work. If any of this is to reflect on Bruce Springsteen here at the end of our run, we’d like it to be that his extraordinary artistry inspired an extraordinary fan response that lasted for 43 years. That’s extraordinary.
This is sad. I”ve been reading Backstreets for about twenty years and I understand the decision to close. Springsteen fandom is like being part of a community–a hometown, if you will. Backstreets was a place where that community was cultivated. But sometimes the “robber barons” and “greedy thieves” come around and bring death:
Bruce has a lot of us “shackled and drawn,” but it seems like things are going well for him and his friends up on “Bankers Hill”;
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