Dave Brooks contributed to this article
As part of our year-end wrap up here at Amplify, we decided to take a look at the biggest stories we covered in 2017. From lengthy court battles and Ponzi schemes to record-breaking grosses and venue wars, Amplify has spent 2017 breaking and breaking down the biggest news in live entertainment. Based on the total amount of page views on our site, we compiled a list of the most-read articles of the year and distilled them into what happened and what to look for in 2018. Below are the top ten stories our readers wanted to know more about in 2017.
10. Songkick Sells Off Assets, But Presses On With Lawsuit Against Ticketmaster
Was Songkick ever really serious about its artist-friendly approach to democratizing ticketing, or was the company merely a cynical cash grab by big institutional investors trying to exploit a longstanding allocation provision that existed in ticketing? The company’s two-year legal battle with Ticketmaster is pressing on despite an asset selloff to Warner Music Group that included Songkick’s website, app, and trademark, but not its ticketing division. Hoping to cash out on the tens of millions spent on the failed ticketing effort, Songkick’s investors are hoping their lawsuit against Ticketmaster will recoup the small fortune sunk into the effort.
Both sides are now fighting over how much information needs to be turned over from Songkick’s investors regarding the sale, with Ticketmaster attorneys sending out subpoenas and deposition requests that Songkick says violate a court order allowing discovery into the acquisition. A magistrate judge recently sided with Ticketmaster allowing the subpoenas to be delivered. A trial in the two-year-old case is set to begin in January.
9. Alt-Furries Force a Furry Con Cancellation in Denver
The hostile election year that was 2016 and the resulting appointment of Donald Trump as president of the United States has caused a lot of contention in various communities across the country. One of the strangest consequences was the cancellation of the Rocky Mountain Fur Con 2017. Set to take place from Aug. 11-13 at Denver Marriott Tech Center in Colorado, the Fur Con was canceled by organizers who feared violence would occur after heated social media posts from attendees. The online animosity caused local police to demand expensive security precautions that broke the piggy bank after a member of the furry community known as Foxler Nightfire was accused of inciting an in-group neo-Nazi movement using the hashtag #AltFurry. Foxler told Amplify that neither him or anyone else in his group identified as Nazis and that he simply dons an armband, which features a paw print where a swastika would be, as part of his Foxler fursona and costume.
Unfortunately for the furry community, the cancellation of the 2017 Rocky Mountain Fur Con marked the end of its 10- year run. While there are plenty of other furry conventions around the country, this cancellation was met with plenty of additional backlash by way of Facebook comments. “I got engaged at this con and this was also the con I went to on my honeymoon,” Sammy Rowse, a furry from Omaha, posted. “That just ruined everything for me. Thanks.” Katherine Burbules, a furry from Arlington, Texas, wrote, saying the decision to cancel, “will bring our community together in ways you cannot comprehend. This buckle under pressure was spineless.”
8. This Year Coachella Passes Sold for Face Value on the Secondary Market & It Was a Good Thing
As per usual, when Goldenvoice announced the lineup for this year’s Coachella they did not disappoint. Riding the high from Lemonade‘s smashing success in 2016, Beyonce was set to bless the desert festival with a headlining performance on back to back Saturday nights. Shortly after announcing she was pregnant with twins however, Beyonce pulled out of the festival and promised to perform in 2018 instead. Just weeks prior to the festival, tickets for Coachella 2017 were selling close to face value or below for the two weekends. While the prices may have looked like a waning in interest for the highly successful event, Amplify reported that the lack of price gouging on the secondary market actually suggested that Goldenvoice had done a pretty good job matching price and inventory with demand, leaving very little money on the table. Amplify concluded that the face value secondary prices were most likely the result of three things —1) this year Coachella increased its capacity from 99,000 to 125,000 and increased their footprint by about 50 acres which allowed more fans to buy tickets at onsale. 2) Tickets for Coachella’s 2016 edition were going for three times their face value in the weeks leading up the festival, so brokers over-bought tickets for 2017 hoping to make the same profit. With the increase of passes sold from Goldenvoice at onsale, that wasn’t the case and 3) replacing Beyonce with Lady Gaga may have decreased demand for the event. By the time the replacement was announced, Gaga had already announced and sold out several dates of her Joanne tour including three stops in Los Angeles.
Sure enough, when Goldenvoice announced the total grosses for 2017’s Coachella the festival had made it well past that nine-digit mark. Coachella 2017 brought in a record-breaking $114 million in 2017, marking the first time the event made over $100 million. As Brooks reported for Billboard, despite the low prices on the secondary Coachella remained the highest grossing recurring festival, the first time a recurring festival has hit the $100 million mark, and a success for Goldenvoice.
7. Amazon Couldn’t Find Its Place in North American Ticketing
In August, rumors started circulating that Amazon was in talks with venues owners to sell tickets in North America and effectively take on Ticketmaster. Amplify was quick to correct the rumors and report that Amazon wasn’t looking to challenge Ticketmaster, but rather work with them as a distribution partner. We reported that Amazon Tickets had hired former Warner Music Group VP Lawrence Peryer to serve as co-head of music for Amazon Ticket and that Peryer and his growing team were building a ticketing distribution system that tied into the APIs of the various ticketing companies — including potentially Ticketmaster — and would push out ticket offers to users of Amazon Prime. The service would have been split into three tiers — Prime Tickets, which matches members of Amazon Prime with tickets from the company’s partners; Prime Experiences, which connects Prime users with special events; and Prime Events, which includes small concerts organized by Amazon for Prime members. Unfortunately for Amazon, the two companies clashed over data and who controls consumer information. Without some kind of deal with the largest primary ticketer in North America, Amazon wouldn’t be able to make a huge impact in the ticketing world like it had in the UK. After nine months of negotiation with Live Nation/Ticketmaster, Amazon found itself without much leverage. Amazon wanted to shop tickets to the best shows to its customers, while Live Nation wanted help hawking tickets to shows that don’t sell out immediately, incrementally moving the needle on the estimated 40-50 percent of industry inventory that goes otherwise unsold. But sources told Billboard that Amazon was reluctant to share purchasing data and contact information about its estimated 85 million Prime subscribers.
By November, Amplify learned that Amazon was essentially abandoning its efforts to disrupt the North American ticketing world. The failure to get a deal with Ticketmaster, coupled with the limited opportunities for the company due to Ticketmaster’s venue contracts and exclusivity model, have Amazon quietly shutting down parts of the effort. According to our sources, the company is no longer pursuing ticketing deals, although many believe Amazon could re-enter the market if conditions change.
6. Los Angeles Becomes the Battleground for the Venue Wars
This year WME’s Head of Music Marc Geiger told AEG that his client Neil Diamond would be playing The Forum in Los Angeles instead of AEG’s Staples Center because he was “getting squeezed” by Azoff MSG Entertainment’s Irving Azoff. Azoff reportedly told Geiger that if Diamond wanted to play Madison Square Garden in New York, he would have to perform at the MSG operated Forum when in Los Angeles. AEG responded by telling rapper J. Cole that he could lose the chance to play the O2 Arena in London if he didn’t chose the Staples Center while in Los Angeles. And so the venue wars escalated with Azoff stating to Billboard that the company had no official block-booking policy but “The premium MSG nights are going to loyal friends of the company, and playing The Forum … makes you a friend of the company.” By July, AEG released an official statement declaring it was forced to implement its block-booking policies due to the actions of Azoff and MSG. Following AEG’s declaration, Live Nation U.K. boss Denis Desmond filed an anti-competitive complaint with Britain’s Competition and Market Authority over AEG tying the O2 Arena to the Staples Center.
Earlier this month, British regulators with the Competition and Market Authority told company officials they would not be investigating AEG’s policy of block booking the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the O2 Arena in London, landing a win in the venue wars for AEG. This followed AEG’s Jay Marciano telling the audience at the Billboard Touring Conference in November that the company will end its policy to block book the O2 in London and Staples Center in Los Angeles until it feels Azoff and MSG have legitimately dropped their policy to tie playing the Forum to Madison Square Garden.
5. Look What You Made Her Do: Taylor Swift Disrupts Ticketing With Swift Tix
This year marked the highly-anticipated return of Taylor Swift following the soaring success of her 2014 album 1989. Ever the businesswoman, Swift wasted no time capitalizing on her status as one of the most powerful artists in the industry. The same day Swift announced her sixth studio album Reputation, she also announced a partnership with Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan called Taylor Swift Tix. Through the partnership, fans could register with the Ticketmaster program to get a first stab at the pop star’s concert tickets and boost their place in line by interacting with the star on social media, playing games on her site, and, most notably, purchasing Taylor Swift music and merchandise. Some fans took offense to the idea that they would have to fork over more time and money to Swift in order to see her in concert and criticized her for monetizing on her brand. Still, Swift sold well over one million copies of Reputation in its first four days and fans were quick to sign up for Verified Fan. Swift added dates to her tour to meet the demand she and Ticketmaster estimated through Verified Fan signups and when her 2018 tour went on sale, the two entities embraced a new, slower ticketing model. Plenty of tickets remained on sale via Ticketmaster after the general onsale and Dave reported at Billboard that “While some view the lack of sellout dates as a sign of softness in demand, Ticketmaster officials say they have effectively shifted ticket sales back to the primary market, captured more revenue for the artist and are changing the customer experience for fans.” Ticketmaster’s David Marcus said the days of bots scooping up larger quantities at the 10 a.m. onsale were gone and that Verified Fan was creating a more ‘human’ way to purchase tickets.
The introduction of Taylor Swift Tix had the unintended affect of creating an online market for presale codes on eBay, but that’s not to suggest that the new partnership hasn’t been a success. According to Ticketmaster, fewer seats have ended up on the secondary market and with cheap tickets still available through the primary ticketer they are estimating an additional $1-1.5 million in revenues per show for Swift and promoter Louis Messina. With tickets still available and her tour beginning in May of 2018, we’ll have to wait for actual grosses to be sure if Swift has finally found a way to bring the money being lost on the secondary back to artists and promoters.
4. Prince Has 99 Heirs and a Kid Ain’t One
When Prince unexpectedly died in April 2016, the 57-year old superstar left this world with a lot of gifts excluding a will. As a result, 45 people came forward as potential heirs to the Minnesota’s star’s estate. Prince’s sizable estate, estimated at $200 million, was put into the hands of Bremer Trust while the courts weeded out the legitimate heirs to Prince’s wealth. This year, two his heirs flied a lawsuit against the trust in charge of a tribute concert that they claim breached its fiduciary commitment when it asked an obscure concert promoter to organize, with undisclosed ties to the trust, and promote a benefit concert to honor the pop star. Two executives with Bremer Trust were accused in the lawsuit of loaning $2 million to Jobu Entertainment to secure the rights for the concert, creating a conflict of interest. Jobu backed out of the benefit show just months prior which resulted in the show possibly making less money than if they had originally gone with an established promotion company. Meanwhile, one of the Bremer Trust executives L. Londel McMillian, made a commission off Jobu and went on to promote the show himself to earn an additional $116,500 commission. Bremer is also currently facing suspicion of mismanagement over the fact that they signed a $30 million licensing deal with Universal Music Group.
A Minnesota judge ruled in May that Prince’s sister and five half-siblings were to be named his official heirs. Others who were denied heir status have up to a year to appeal the decision. In the meantime, the rightful heirs will be unable to claim their portion of the $200 million estate. In addition, an investigation conducted by second special administrator Peter Gleekel and Larson King LLC has suggested that Prince’s estate should pursue repayment for fees and commissions paid to its legal counsel and former special entertainment advisors at Bremer, according to Variety. The two executives were said to have earned over $3 million in commission from the Universal Music Group deal.
3. Joe Meli’s Elaborate Ponzi Scheme Includes ‘Hamilton’ Tickets, Forged Documents, and Radio Host Craig Carton
In January, federal officials charged entrepreneur and ticket reseller Joe Meli, age 42, with bilking investors as part of a scheme to buy and resell tickets for the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” resulting in an $81 million Ponzi scheme. Prosecutors alleged that Meli misled investors about his contacts with producers of the “Hamilton” musical and only spent a fraction of the millions of dollars raised to buy up entertainment tickets, instead spending the money on jewelry, vacations, and private schools. It was quickly revealed that Meli was listed as a Director for ticket brokers, DTI, in a Sept. 9, 2016 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission during a private stock offering valued at $105 million. Meli orchestrated an elaborate scheme to convince the owners of DTI Management he was purchasing their company and then allegedly used the phony purchase to raise money from investors, an additional lawsuit claimed. Adding to the story’s intrigue, in September, a number of new indictments and arrests were issued in the case including radio personality Craig Carton. Carton was picked up by the Feds and charged with ripping off investors to the tune of $5.6 million, allegedly to pay off gambling debts. Carton was indefinitely suspended from his job after the suit alleged he helped forge documents showing ticket sales agreements with concert promoters for concerts like Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Roger Waters, Metallica, and Barbra Streisand that didn’t actually exist.
Attorneys for Meli said the government used a confidential informant to capture an illegally recorded admission of guilt and are accusing the U.S. Attorney’s office of violating the rules of professional conduct. Days after Meli’s attorney filed a motion to have those tapings suppressed, Meli entered into a plea deal with PEOPLE at the end of October. Meli pled guilty to one count of securities fraud that could result in up to seven years behind bars. Striking a deal, however, will most likely result in a lighter sentence for Meli who had the additional five charges against him dropped. Meli’s attorney Dan Fetterman at Kasowitz Benson Torres released a statement on Meli’s behalf that stated “Mr. Meli is pleased that the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York has agreed to dismiss the charges against him concerning the Sentinel Ponzi scheme, and he looks forward to putting the case involving his ticket reselling business behind him.”
2. Pemberton’s Fall Further Erodes Trust in Festivals
Following the April disaster that was the infamous Fyre Festival, the cancellation of Canada’s Pemberton Music Festival served as another high-profile failure in the festival community. Just a few weeks after tickets went on sale for Pemberton’s 2017 edition, a shell company for the festival declared bankruptcy and instructed fans to apply for refunds for their $270-plus tickets as unsecured creditors with no guarantees they’d see a dollar. According to Canadian filings, the festival’s owners structured the bankruptcy so that private companies they owned were first in line as secured creditors, with claims equaling $3.6 million, paid out before thousands of fans and potentially dozens of vendors would get a crack at any money left over. Unlike Fyre Fest, Pemberton was ticketed by a major ticketing company and promoted by Huka Entertainment which would have originally given customers faith in the event. “This is just gross to me,” WME partner Marc Geiger told Dave at Billboard. “These guys are declaring bankruptcy, but none of them are actually bankrupt. Their shell company is bankrupt. And now they want fans to pay the price. That’s not bankruptcy. That’s fraud.”
Bankruptcy documents revealed that Pemberton had been a money-loser since Huka Entertainment revived the festival brand in 2014 despite staff shakeups. As of September, 80% of fans had received refunds for their Pemberton tickets via credit card chargebacks. It’s unclear how the remaining 20% of fans will obtain refunds. The case is still winding its way through Canadian bankruptcy court with Ernst and Young serving as a trustee.
1. Fyre Festival: The Good, The Bad, Just Kidding…It Was All Ugly
In 2017, the luxury destination Fyre Festival became the most talked about event of the year. Unfortunately for founders Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule it was for all the wrong reasons. McFarland and Ja Rule rolled out one hell of a marketing campaign for their first-ever Fyre Fest set to take place IN THE BAHAMAS that promised two weekends of music, exquisite accommodations, the finest cuisine, and Instagram-worthy sights for everyone who could book a flight and spend at minimum $1,200 to attend. When festival-goers arrived at the island all they found were FEMA tents and cold cheese sandwiches. All the VIPs and musical acts were told not to arrive at the scene due to the disheveled outcome, but producers were still encouraging attendees to load up their Fyre Fest wristbands the day before. Since the outcry on social media about the event, details began to surface about how the ramshackle Fyre Fest came to be such a disaster. From staff revolts to defaulting on loans and rent, the tales about Fyre’s mismanagement are never-ending and have cemented the festival’s name as a synonym for disaster.
With several lawsuits filed against them including a $100 million civil suit, McFarland, Ja Rule, and Fyre Media are facing an uphill battle in 2018. McFarland was arrested for wire fraud and forced to represent himself since he did not have funds to pay a lawyer. Ja Rule has done his best to distance himself from the dumpster fire of a festival, but finds entangled in all the lawsuits while he is on tour with Ashanti. Fyre Media was forced into bankruptcy as details emerged about the misuse of funds and investors came looking for their money back. Most recently, the appointed trustee of the Fyre Festival estate has asked a judge to force founders Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule (real name Jeffrey Atkins) to hand over documents and records for the disastrous April 2017 festival. If signed, the order would designate McFarland and Ja Rule as the responsible debtors in the bankruptcy case.