Why Pearl Jam Risked So Much to Take on Ticketmaster
Pearl Jam had never been more popular than they were in early 1994. Armed with that sense of invincibility, the Seattle band set about taking on a concert industry behemoth in Ticketmaster.
In a bold move, Pearl Jam charged Ticketmaster with creating a monopoly after the ticketing behemoth gobbled up its principal competitor Ticketron in 1991. This allowed Ticketmaster to pile on whatever it wanted in additional service fees, they said, driving up the price for concerts. Pearl Jam wanted to charge no more than $18.50 for tickets in '94, with service fees of no more than $1.80. Ticketmaster balked, saying that they needed at least $2 in fees simply to cover costs.
Eddie Vedder and company weren't just paying lip service: They hired the Manhattan-based law firm Sullivan and Cromwell, and on May 6, 1994, filed an official complaint with the Justice Department, leading to testimony from bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard before Congress. Ticketmaster's CEO, Fred Rosen, shot back, "If Pearl Jam wants to play for free, we'll be happy to distribute their tickets for free." Time magazine referred to the anti-trust-focused legal battle as "Rock 'n' Roll's Holy War."
Pearl Jam ended up skipping a summer tour that year as the battle raged. That was no small thing, considering the celebrated reception the group's two most recent albums (1991's Ten and 1993's Vs.) had received. They tried, mostly for naught, to book into venues that weren't associated with Ticketmaster.
"Our band, which is determined to keep ticket prices low, will always be in conflict with Ticketmaster," Gossard asserted.
It was, however, for naught. The federal investigation was eventually dropped. Worse, really, was that Pearl Jam were eventually forced to book parts of their next tour with – you guessed it – Ticketmaster.
The dust-up led to one moment of levity, when Vedder inducted Neil Young into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. A party planner put Pearl Jam's table next to Ticketmaster's at the ceremony, prompting Vedder to quip: "I predict a food fight by the end of the evening. I would recommend that the classy people scoot away, or join in! Maybe we should all join in, while we've got them right here!"