Ticketmaster and Live Nation started the year as rivals in the concert ticket business.
Now they want to be partners.
And even though they are the ones getting into bed together, ticket buyers and artists have good reason to worry that they are the ones who are going to get ... well, you get the idea.
Ticketmaster is the world's largest ticket seller, and Live Nation is the biggest concert promoter in the United States, owning more than 140 venues (including House of Blues and Time Warner Cable Amphitheater at Tower City in Cleveland, Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls and Post-Gazette Pavilion in Burgettstown, Pa.) and having exclusive agreements with such acts as U2, Madonna, Jay-Z and Nickelback.
Live Nation decided to get into the ticket-selling business itself, using its Web site and phone sales rather than Ticketmaster outlets to sell tickets for as many of its shows at it could (Live Nation continued to use Ticketmaster for its shows at venues it doesn't control, like Quicken Loans Arena and Mellon Arena).
When the threat to Ticketmaster's monopoly first was announced, there was hope that competition might bring down the exorbitant service charges customers pay for tickets that can add anywhere from 10 to 40 percent to the advertised cost.
It didn't happen.
The companies will argue that joining forces will enable them to operate more efficiently and cut costs. There usually are promises that those savings will be passed onto the consumer, but it only seems to happen when the artists insist upon it, like Keith Urban's plan to eliminate the service charges on least-expensive tickets for his upcoming summer tour.
Concertgoers already have seen the unpleasant side effects of synergy between once-separate business entities.
In addition to being a ticket seller, Ticketmaster now is a ticket reseller. Its TicketsNow Web site is designed to compete with StubHub, Craigslist, eBay and anywhere else that folks go to sell tickets they either can't use or are hoping to make a profit by selling.
Last week, ticket buyers hoping to score tickets to see Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band found that most shows were sold out within minutes of going on sale. But those who tried to buy tickets through Ticketmaster and pay face value immediately were pushed toward TicketNow, where they could spend $150 to $1,500 for tickets that originally sold for $89.50.
Ticketmaster insists it did nothing wrong and that it doesn't funnel tickets to secondary sellers. Sure. But even with a head full of mucus from a lingering cold, I can tell this deal stinks. It's a setup that's ripe for abuse.
Springsteen issued a statement condemning the deal, and legislators in New Jersey are demanding an investigation.
The most damning paragraph in the statement released by Springsteen and his management hints that some of his fellow performers may be profiting from the situation:
''We know the many cynical arguments some make in favor of the Ticketmaster system: There are rumors that some artists or managers participate in Ticketmaster charges - we do not. There are rumors that some artists or managers are receiving a percentage of the amount above face value at secondary outlets like TicketsNow - we do not. Some artists or managers may not perceive there to be a conflict between having the distributor of their tickets in effect 'scalping' those same tickets through a secondary company like TicketsNow - we do.''
Allowing all aspects of the concert business to be under the control of one company will make it easier for those rumors to become standard business practice.
Andy Gray is the entertainment writer for Tribune Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org