Pearl Jam’s ETM ticket company founder looks back, 30 years later: ‘Ticketmaster crushed us in every way they could’

Published On June 25, 2024 » By »

Jeff Ament


Thirty years ago this week, on June 30, 1994, Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament went to D.C. to testify before Congress as part of their ongoing, ultimately doomed battle against Ticketmaster. Pearl Jam had filed a complaint with the Justice Department, claiming the ticketing giant had blocked promoters from booking them because they’d spoken out about Ticketmaster’s alleged price-gouging; the grunge group also argued that Ticketmaster had a monopoly on ticket distribution. At the time, Gossard stated, “It is almost impossible for a band to do a tour of large arenas or other significant venues in major cities and not deal with Ticketmaster.”

We all know now that Pearl Jam were on the right side of history. Ticket reform is a hotter topic than ever thanks to A-list artists like Taylor Swift and the Cure’s Robert Smith speaking out (the latter in a series of amusingly capslocked tweets), and even President Joe Biden has called for an elimination of junk fees. On Capitol Hill, bipartisan lawmakers have finally taken some important steps to systemically reform and regulate the live event ticket marketplace, and the Justice Department recently filed a sweeping antitrust lawsuit, accusing Ticketmaster and parent company Live Nation Entertainment of running an illegal monopoly over live events in the States. But 30 years ago, Pearl were fighting a losing battle all on their own, and they were often depicted in the media as being difficult and unreasonable for not just playing the Ticketmaster game.

Despite being at the absolute peak of their powers in 1994 and therefore seemingly in a position to bring about change, Pearl Jam found themselves unable to extensively tour America for much of the ‘90s, due to Ticketmaster’s exclusive long-term deals with major venues in almost every U.S. city. (According to Pollstar’s statistics that year, Ticketmaster had contracts with roughly 63 percent of American venues, with the other 36.8 percent working with Ticketmaster on a non-contract basis.) But no one can say Pearl Jam didn’t put up a good fight, for as long as they could.

After canceling their 1994 summer tour, a year later Pearl Jam enlisted a start-up ticketing company called ETM Entertainment Network to book a 13-date trek of alternative venues, including a ski lodge and racetrack; they charged just $18-21, plus a flat service charge of $2.45, per ticket. This industry experiment was considered a failure at the time, and by 1998 Pearl Jam had given up and reluctantly resumed working with Ticketmaster; ETM folded in 2000. But now, with some progress finally underway to hopefully make the concertgoing experience more convenient and affordable for all, Pearl Jam are being recognized as pioneering crusaders in the ticketing space.

Stone Gossard


I recently had the opportunity to speak with ETM Entertainment Network co-founder David Cooper, a touring/ticketing expert who once created a centralized ticketing system that was purchased and utilized by Ticketmaster, about his recollections of what went down (and went wrong) in ’94… and where the ticketing industry is three decades later.

In 1994, Pearl Jam tried to warn us about Ticketmaster, and they tried to do something it. They really did! And they were literally one of the biggest bands in the world at that time, so they seemed powerful enough to make change happen. But nothing changed.

And here we are.

Yep. So, the obvious and very open-ended question is… why are we here, in 2024? But before that, let’s talk about where we were in 1994.

I think there’s some really, really easy answers, but everybody kind of overcomplicates things. First of all, ‘94 was in the days when Ticketmaster wouldn’t give out the list of the fans who’d bought Pearl Jam tickets to Pearl Jam. Ticketmaster would not release the names of the people that they sold tickets to a band — and they still don’t. And Pearl Jam hated that they couldn’t get to their fans. That was issue No. 1: They wanted to have connections with the fans directly. Pearl Jam let me do a bunch of fun things. We built the Ten Club, their fan club, and that went really spectacularly. It’s still running today, it’s $35 per year, and the band gives back all kinds of fun things. And I learned that from my mentor, [Journey manager] Herbie Herbert.

And of course, the band also hated the fees. They went to [Ticketmaster’s then-CEO] Fred Rosen and said, “We’re going to do this $20 low-dough tour, and we’re not tacking on a $7 or a $9 service fee.” And Fred got down to $7 — that was his last offer.

What are your memories of Pearl Jam coming to you and ETM and basically saying, “We need to do something about this situation”?

It started because Kelly Curtis was their manager, and Kelly had tour-managed a hard rock band called Loudness from Japan. Loudness opened for Van Halen, who was one of my perennial clients. So, Kelly and I kept in touch, and then Pearl Jam happened. I was hanging out with them at the University of Colorado in Boulder on Thanksgiving weekend, and they had three shows there. But two shows they had to cancel, because of the counterfeiting and scalping and all kinds of nonsense that was going on. There were three times as many kids lined up at the venue as there were places to inside for them. They realized how bad counterfeiting and scalping had become. They were really pissed off, and they were getting ready to do their next tour. So, I said, “I’ve got a ticketing system. We could do it right. We could collect your information from your fans and create a two-way conversation with them after the show.” And they all said, “That’s what we want! We want to be able to reach out to our fans. We want to be able to know who bought our tickets. We want to set up the fan club.” So, we set up the system… and honestly, Ticketmaster crushed us in every way they could. It was nasty.

How so?

Well, for me personally, they shut down a bunch of my relationships with lots of artists and promoters and agents and managers. Fred had it out for me, for sure. He was a notoriously ugly lawyer who had some very interesting tactics.

It seemed like things got off to a good start with ETM, though.

Yeah, ETM wanted to also prove a few things — chinks in the armor, if you will, with Pearl Jam as our backer. I knew three things in Ticketmaster’s contracts that we could get around. The first one we did was at Constitutional Hall in D.C., a charity concert where they donated a percentage of their gross box office to a charitable organization. Because anyone who rents a hall to do a benefit can do their own ticketing. We sold a couple thousand tickets in Constitution Hall, a Ticketmaster building. Then we [booked another benefit at] the Felt Forum in New York City, the building under Madison Square Garden, which was definitely another Ticketmaster building. The third show we did was for the Ten Club, at the Key Arena in Seattle — a fan club-only show, and hence a private event. I could ticket a private event any way I wanted. And Ticketmaster did not want us putting individual ticketing systems in each venue! They had big national things, economy of scale, blah blah blah, and here was the little guy being given total freedom to manage the tickets their own way, have their own data, have their own money. We were able to manage the tickets out of these box offices with my own tickets and printers. We carried all our stuff into every building we played. Ticketmaster hated us for that, because theoretically they couldn’t move their ticketing systems. The fact that we were not only mobile, but showing up and managing box offices in their venues, made them hate us! So, those were three times that we played Ticketmaster venues but Ticketmaster didn’t make a penny, and we definitely chinked their armor.

But eventually Pearl Jam weren’t able to play most major venues in America, because they were official Ticketmaster venues.

Yeah, that was absolutely the case. Pearl Jam was blackballed with all the major promoters. So, we used much more minor promoters and found wacky places to play. We played some really crazy places. The biggest place we played was San Francisco’s Golden Gate State Park. Eddie [Vedder] was not well that day, so Neil Young came and sang with Pearl Jam. We had no problem with the ticketing, though; our portable barcode scanners worked flawlessly. That was a great day. I remember playing a ski slope in Missoula, Mont. We actually practiced there for a week. It was a venue that hadn’t yet opened and wasn’t due to open for another couple weeks; it had a Ticketmaster contract, but they hadn’t engaged the Ticketmaster contract yet, so we came in before it was officially supposed to be open. We made a deal to practice there and paid for a week of practice. We also played a state fair in Northern California somewhere, because they didn’t have a Ticketmaster contract and it was a walk-in thing. We played Randall’s Island in New York City…

Maybe if a bunch of Pearl Jam’s peers had joined in the fight, their crusade would have been more effective. But it seems like Pearl Jam were doing it alone.

Yeah, a lot of people said to us for a long time, “We wished everybody else followed your lead.” A lot of other bands had said, especially privately: “We’re going to do this!” But the only folks that actually came through was a [booking] organization out of Colorado called Madison House, who did Leftover Salmon and a bunch of what I’ll call jam bands. They were very loud about it as well. But I believe they got hurt equally as bad by Ticketmaster blackballing them. Unfortunately, Ticketmaster just had too much fucking power.

After Pearl Jam testified before Congress in June 1994, there was a bill written proposing full disclosure of service fees. And obviously that didn’t happen — that’s why Robert Smith was up in arms about fees on the Cure’s 2023 tour. What exactly happened with all that? Why did the Justice Department drop this case?

A couple of days after one of the first runs of Pearl Jam’s Ticketmaster tour, we had done a consolidation and had a report that was very damaging to Ticketmaster, and we had told the DOJ [Department of Justice]. The day before we were supposed to present, the lady [Janet Reno] who was running it — I can still see her in my mind — decided that they were going to change and go after Microsoft for monopoly instead of Ticketmaster. This all came because one of Fred’s lawyers was White House counsel and got to that lady and told her, “There’s nothing there for you. You should go after Microsoft! Here’s some stuff on Microsoft.” So, they did not accept our report, and shortly thereafter they closed the lawyer division that we were talking to about antitrust and monopoly, and they moved them to antitrust and monopoly on Microsoft. The case got dropped, for all intents and purposes, and it was always rumored that it was Fred’s lawyer and Fred who provided the stuff to that lawyer who got [the DOJ] to focus on Microsoft — to make it look like Microsoft was bigger and badder than he was.

What lessons can we learn from Pearl Jam’s Ticketmaster fight, 30 years on?

Well, first of all, the artists should control the ticketing. And Ticketmaster always says the artists do, but that is complete bullshit. Especially now. They accused Taylor Swift of putting all the shows on sale at once. That wasn’t Taylor Swift! Even back in the days where I would do [sales for] two or three events on a Saturday morning, we staggered them in different parts of the country, because it was stupid to put too much stress on any single system. It’s just stupidity to do that.

When artists like Taylor Swift or Robert Smith speak out about their ticket sales going awry, do you feel any vindication, knowing that you were at the forefront of any kind of reform that now seems like it might happen?

No. Sorry, but the answer is that distinct. No. Nothing has changed. They’re only more powerful today than they were then.


When Ticketmaster merged with Live Nation [in 2010], it was the worst day of the touring industry’s life. Not only did they prevent other ticketing companies from coming in then, because they controlled the artists, but they were the biggest buyer of talent on the planet. It just stopped so many other ticketing companies from coming in. It stopped so many other promoters from trying to get in places. It was just the worst day. The worst. And [I was] part of the 2010 DOJ investigation. I actually testified two or three times in front of committees, but at least a dozen more times. I sat as an industry expert in front of lawyers that asked questions for days and knew nothing about the entertainment industry. It was like trying to teach the blind to see the sun. It was very hard. And by that point in time, I was starting to feel the pain.

As a layperson and frequent concertgoer, I see multiple issues here. There are the junk fees. There’s just trying to buy tickets in general: being shut out of sales, having to queue up online for hours, the system crashing or not working. There’s tickets going for crazy amounts of money, not just due to fees but things like dynamic pricing. And then there’s scalping. What can be done to fix all this in 2024? It all seems insurmountable.

Well, with scalping for instance, the Cure said, “You can’t resell these.” And the scalpers knew that because they’re going to deny entrance, then the scalpers will be on the hook to give the fan the money back, because it wasn’t a legal ticket. So, there’s still ways to fuck with the scalpers. But truth be told, you’re not going to stop it. You never could when it was illegal, and now [with resale sites like StubHub and SeatGeek], it’s not illegal. So, anybody who thinks they’re going to stop scalping at this point in time needs to be prepared to do a lot of work to enforce that. That’s why I put barcodes on tickets for Pearl Jam and printed the names of the fans on the tickets, so no matter where we went, I could validate a ticket in one second. And we were doing this from Blackberrys, before there was even such a thing as an Apple app! I could get ticket-holders in a door faster than everybody, and no counterfeits. … Anyway, here’s another way to phrase your question: “What does Ticketmaster need to do to stop being a monopolistic company and start enhancing the customer experience and ticketing much, much more than they have?” If they weren’t stupid, they would enact a system like I just described.

What would you say is the most potentially easily solvable problem here, among the several I just listed?

One solution is outbound ticketing for high-volume shows. Ticketmaster doesn’t have any problem on any other day. They only have high-volume days when they’re stupid enough to put a bunch of big shows on sale, a hundred shows on sale, at the same time. Stupidity! So, they have to stop being stupid. I think they should do outbound tickets for those high-demand shows, which means give everybody a number and then lottery the numbers. That way nobody can complain, “I didn’t have equal access.”

And here’s the single biggest thing that could change: If you were to abolish the exclusives, there would be an instant drop in service charges, because then the other ticketing companies don’t have to pay the promoter and the venue. If that goes away, it will drop the service charges immediately, because there’s competition for the ticketing.

Looking back, do you think this Ticketmaster battle hurt Pearl Jam’s career?

In the short run, it absolutely did. It was not only political, it was economical, because bands tour to eat and pay rent. No record company, with minor exceptions, pays a band enough to live on until they get to multiplatinum status. Now, Pearl Jam was at multiplatinum status, so they were getting paid enough through royalties that they didn’t really need to tour as much. But the reason they toured was to be near their fans. Where else could Eddie crawl into the rafters and hang from light fixtures? He likes that.

Do you remember if Pearl Jam regretted doing this?

No one ever mentioned that to me. Kelly Curtis continued to use ETM’s services, mostly for the fan club and merch. No one ever said to us, “That was stupid.”

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