By Anthony Kuzminski
Fan clubs should exist for one reason; to serve your most loyal and ardent supporters. Throughout the 1980’s and most of the 1990’s, this is what most fan clubs did. They offered special listening parties, access to the best seats at concerts, exclusive interviews, rare live recordings and extra goodies only a die-hard fan would appreciate. Somewhere in the last few years, these clubs stopped serving the most loyal fans and often turned into another profit piece of ever expanding empires. One of the clubs that has continued to exceed expectations is Pearl Jam’s Ten Club. For $20 a year, you get access to concert tickets, a news magazine that is published a few times a year and every Christmas and an exclusive 45 RPM record with two rare songs on it. Pearl Jam makes their fans feel like family. This was highlighted in August 2007 when Pearl Jam was headlining the Lollapalooza festival in Chicago. As a special treat to their most dedicated fans, they did a fan club only show at the Vic Theater in Chicago. The $75 ticket price was spot on and the band delivered with a set that made the most cynical and crazed fan wet their pants. No hits were performed and this show was done as a “thank you” to the fans. Most recently Fall Out Boy ventured out on a club tour in support of their new record. This is a band that performed in arenas in 2006 and 2007. They easily could charge $100 for these intimate venues, but they are not. The average ticket price is around $35 and their hometown show in Chicago was $10. Yes, that is not a typo-“ten dollars”. I only wish Bon Jovi felt the same way about their fans the way acts like Pearl Jam and Fall Out Boy do.
In recent years, a lot has been written about Bon Jovi’s fan club, Backstage with Jon Bon Jovi. In the early days, it was an inner sanctum where interviews, exclusive pictures and information were delved out first. It was never the best fan club on the planet, but it always put the fans first. Somewhere along the line, someone realized how loyal, zealous and steadfast these fans were and decided to take advantage of them. Jon Bon Jovi’s brother, Matt, took over the fan club in late 2006 and since then, fans who were always dedicated and unswerving have decided to turn the back on the fan club because of their business practices. The fan club has become a cash cow for Matt where money comes first and the fan comes last. The most disgusting display of greed I witnessed was this past July when the band performed at Madison Square Garden for $305 a ticket. If that price wasn’t enough, the fan club seats came with a $75 handling fee. That’s right, face value for tickets was $305 and the fan club added $75 onto every ticket. The biggest insult was when members collected their tickets and found they were twenty-five and thirty rows back on the floor after they had been advertised to be in the first twenty rows. The members realized they could have bought tickets they were given during the general on-sale for less. Needless to say, this was one of those rare instances where Ticketmaster proved to be a better alternative. Anytime you have a business model where Ticketmaster provides a better and cheaper service, it’s time to shut your doors.
With membership in the Bon Jovi fan club diminishing as a result of above practices, they needed to do something dramatic to get people back into the club, which they did. A fan-club member’s only concert has been announced for February 23, 2009 “somewhere in Central New Jersey”. The full press release is below. I am not a member of the fan club but numerous fans emailed it to me in hopes I would publish it:
Happy Thanksgiving to our Backstage JBJ Family!
We are still working out all the final details for our members only show, but we are happy to announce a few things about it!
The show will be February 23rd, 2009 at 7pm and will be held in Central New Jersey (the location is to be announced). Tickets for this general admission show will be standing room only and will be limited to active members only. BackstageJBJ.com will be the ONLY PLACE you can get tickets for this show!
At the concert, we will be having a special contest as well as an auction featuring items from the Lost Highway Tour! The on sale date for the tickets will be Saturday, December 6th, 2008 at 10 am Eastern Time and tickets will be $275.00 US Each. We will have more details about the show this coming week!
$275? Seriously? In a day and age where it has become apparent that greed ran our economy into the gutter, this band is asking fans to fork over $275 before Christmas for this show? Why does it have to be $275 (it was reduced at a later date to $250)? If Pearl Jam can do it and rent out a major concert venue in Chicago and charge their fans $75, why can’t Bon Jovi? On top of that, you have to spend $50 to re-join the fan club? If they sell 1,000 tickets, that will reap a gross of $300,000.00. If they bring in 2,000 or 3,000, well, you do the math; they could potentially clear one-million dollars. There is a concert for Philadelphia Soul season ticket holders two days later so it is not as if they are dusting off their equipment specifically for this show. The money has been spent on crew and transportation already. What was once a fan club about offering assistance to the most devoted has turned into an elitist organization where “he/she who has the most money wins”? I find it morally incomprehensible in light of the recent economic turmoil that anyone would have the gall to charge this much for a concert, even if it is only for fan club members. However, the events that led up to and after this announcement is flat out jarring, so let’s break them down:
1. A Fan Club only concert is semi-announced in October in an effort to increase membership.
2. Tactic number-one fails and Matt B extends board memberships one month (which costs him nothing).
3. A concert is announced for February 23rd, but few other details are given.
4. Tickets are priced at $275, plus the $50 membership fee (Total cost to fan club member=$325).
5. Due to constant complaining on the boards the price is lowered to $250 and with a tag line of “some of the proceeds” going to Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Foundation. Total cost to the fan is still $300.
6. Another modification is added that each member can buy two tickets, instead of one per member (much to the chagrin of certain members who bought two memberships in the weeks leading up to this announcement).
7. How much money is going to charity? $1 or $100, no specifics have been provided to fans leaving many wondering is Matt will still pocket the majority of the proceeds.
8. On Friday December 5th, it is announced that Bon Jovi, the band, will NOT be appearing at the event.
9. Tickets go on sale on Saturday December 6th to little fanfare and there is still no venue announcement. All that has been provided to members is that it will take place somewhere in “Central New Jersey”
10. Emails go out to old members informing them that tickets are still available as of Tuesday December 9th with still no mention of the venue.
A year ago these tickets would have been long gone even in a depressed economy. So what the hell happened? First off, when you charge a $75 handling charge for Madison Square Garden tickets and put fans in the rows further back than advertised, it leaves a bad taste in their mouths. Matt has continually promised new contests and improvements to the fan club, but none have happened to date. Plus, many fans are upset that this is a Jon Bon Jovi show and not a full-band one. I can see both sides of the coin. However, if Mick Jagger performed without the Rolling Stones he wouldn’t charge the same price as the Stones. This is a situation where Backstage with Jon Bon Jovi has become the Ford of fan clubs. The man running it has his head in the clouds and believes that is a severely depressed economy, $300 (including the membership fee) is a deal for a one-off concert with Jon Bon Jovi and hired musicians. It’s like offering Ford employees a 10% discount of SUV’s in lieu Christmas bonus while they expect the taxpayers to bail them out. Fans are blindly devoted to their favorite artists and it takes a lot to piss them off and Backstage with Jon Bon Jovi has left many wondering why they fell in love with the band in the first place as they feel it’s not about being a fan anymore and all about lining the Matt’s wallet. I’ve had a number of fans email me disappointed with the band’s business practices the last few years- the country album, the $300 tickets, but none has been as vehement as the ones about the fan clubs. Plus, despite the business practices, I think fans are willing to forgive a band of Bon Jovi’s size on certain things (ex. marketing an album, showing up on American Idol, having a ticket price that is a little over $100, etc.). However, based on correspondence I have received, the one item that Bon Jovi may have lost fans over is the way they have been treated by the fan club. If Matt were the CEO of a company he would be fired; numbers are down, customers are pissed, he has failed on all promises, no one believes anything he says and loyal customers have left vowing to never return again (which is something that will haunt the band on future albums and tours).
Jon Bon Jovi probably does not want to be bothered with a show like this, but it involves the well being of a family member and he is stepping up and performing, for which I respect him For the record, I do not blame the band or their management for this as I believe they are completely unaware of how unhappy people are since Matt took over the fan club. However, I wish he realized how many faithful fans have been so alienated that they may never buy another Bon Jovi record ever again. When I was speaking to one fan (who makes a healthy six-figures annually), their attitude was “I’ll never buy another record or DVD by them again, I’m paid for seven albums in my MSG service fee of $75”. In regards to the ticket price, even if the entire first two albums were to be performed top to bottom, it still wouldn’t be worth it to me. Plus the fact they mention that the show is standing room only makes me think that they will sell as many tickets as possible to give them the best profit possible. This is why they have not announced a venue. Matt has most likely penciled in the date at a number of venues so in case sales are less than expected, he can rent out a cheaper place. However, if he sells every ticket, he can rent a larger place. I normally wouldn’t have an issue with this, but the fact they are being deceitful is what’s disappointing. It’s like finding out a partner you believed was cheating on you isn’t, but merely wants to watch the game at a bar with his friends. Be honest and you can’t go wrong, just tell everyone that venue is pending ticket sales.
Tickets should be priced under $100 as it will still turn a profit for whoever reaps the rewards. I have seen a lot of greed in the music industry in the last few years, but this has reached new heights, especially in light of the world’s recent economic downturn. The irony is that it is the middle class and blue-collared fans that elevated Bon Jovi to immense heights in the 1980’s, stood by them in the 90’s and resurrected them in the 00’s, however just like they did last fall in Newark, their ticket prices are alienating the very people to whom they owe their success. In the end, it all comes down to one ideal that keeps running through my head time and time again whenever I see ticket prices; “How much money does one need?” In short, I’m sick and tired of making multi-millionaires into multi-gazillionaires. This is the prime reason I have stopped attending any shows where the ticket price exceeds $100. In short, I’ve come to learn that it’s not worth it and judging by the number of empty seats I’ve seen at arena shows in recent months, others feel that way as well. The hardest thing for someone in the music industry to do is to find highly devoted and loyal fans. These are the people who stand by you during lean years when musical styles change and allow artists to record experimental solo projects they otherwise never would be able to do. Time and time again (and Bon Jovi are not the only guilty ones) bands are choosing the easy money over fan loyalty and service. Instead of catering to the core and rolling out the red carpet to maintain their loyalty, they are extending their hand waiting for a few crisp $100 bills to be handed over before they let you across the roped barrier. All I want to know is: when did fan loyalty become about money?
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network and his daily writings can be read at The Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com.
Bon Jovi - "Rich Man Living In A Poor Man's House"