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An attempt to break down concert ticket service charges


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By Chris Richards
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 9, 2010

For generations, pop fans have been confronted with vexing questions.

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Why do birds suddenly appear? Should I stay or should I go? Who let the dogs out?

And why am I being charged $23.75 for a $15 concert ticket?

The last question has an answer: Service charges, those annoying fees tacked on to the price of a concert ticket for no apparent reason. Along with hidden credit-card fees and staggering ATM surcharges, ticket service charges offer another twist in the maze of penalties facing American consumers. And concertgoers are getting tired of it.

"I think the fans feel used and abused," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, a trade publication for the concert industry. "As an industry, it's extremely disingenuous to do what we do. These fees may exist for reasons that business people understand, but when a fan tries to buy a ticket for $60, and they pull out their wallet and it ends up being 80-something? Just tell them it's an $85 ticket, so they don't feel scammed in the process."

So where's the "service" in a service charge? And why do they vary so widely?

Local venues cite disparate operating expenses. Ticketing companies offer customized rates to venues, often based on the volume of tickets they expect to sell. Some venues profit from their service charges while others claim to break even. Sounds as simple as decoding your cellphone bill, right?

Despite complaints from concertgoers, venues aren't likely to get rid of service charges anytime soon. To help fans understand the fees they should expect to pay, we picked a single gig from each of the area's leading venues and clicked on the best seats we could find. Below, a breakdown.

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