Darren Fujii used to rock his newborn son to sleep by singing Bruce Springsteen songs. Now that Evan is 11, it was time for his first big-boy Springsteen experience — one of those marathon concerts. But finding tickets to a show that wouldn't disrupt the youngster's school schedule in Perham, Minn., wasn't easy.
Fujii settled on a Saturday in Kansas City last month. That meant long car rides, two different hotels and $1,100 for a pair of seats close to the stage.
After the road trip, Dad asked Evan to rate the experience on a 1-to-10 scale.
"A 10 absolutely!" Evan said.
"Even with the 18 ½ hours we spent in the car driving there and back?" Dad asked.
Fujii has since hustled to score tickets in multiple cities.
Getting tickets to Springsteen's in-demand World Tour 2023, which comes to St. Paul on Sunday, has been more challenging, expensive and frustrating than ever. Not only is there a verified fan process for preregistering to buy tickets, but there is the "dynamic pricing" policy of Ticketmaster — the price fluctuates as the demand goes up. Tickets spiked to a reported $5,000 in some cases. These new systems are causing high anxiety for eager fans.
"The prices are increasing as you're looking [online] for tickets," said Dave Lange, 56, of St. Paul, who has seen 60 Springsteen concerts since 1984. "I'd click on a ticket or two and by the time you'd go to the next page, those tickets have been sold. I feel like it was a pressure cooker.
"I ended up paying $500 per ticket for St. Paul for the lower level," he said. "In tours past, that's a $100 ticket. That's quite a jump."
Joann Fox, 62, of Denver, said she felt helpless trying to buy tickets with dynamic pricing.
"It almost feels like I'm being bullied by Ticketmaster," said the native New Yorker, who has experienced 92 Springsteen shows. "A $200 ticket should be a $200 ticket unless I make the decision to go someplace else and spend more."
Compounding the frustration are the additional Ticketmaster fees, which average 27% of the ticket price. President Joe Biden spoke in favor of limiting these fees in late January, and a Senate committee is investigating the antitrust and monopoly of Ticketmaster and dominant promoter Live Nation, its parent company.
"The fees are outrageous," Lange said. "Charging a percentage of the ticket for fees is just a flat-out gouge."
Figuring out the face value of a ticket is a quandary practically worthy of a congressional investigation. Fujii bought his Kansas City tickets six weeks before the concert via SeatGeek, a secondary ticket seller, so he can only guess at the original face value. Ticket prices for this tour were reportedly $59.50 to $399 last summer before dynamic pricing kicked in.
Whatever the final prices, they have surged since Springsteen's last tour in 2016-17. At Xcel Energy Center seven years ago, tickets ranged from $57.50 to $152.50, with no dynamic pricing.
Protests about ticketing have been loud and nationwide, none more significant and resounding than from Backstreets, a long-respected Springsteen magazine/website that the Boss himself has blessed. Backstreets — with more than 167,000 subscribers — shockingly announced on Feb. 3 plans to cease publication in protest because longtime fans were being priced out of the tour.
Similarly, social media has been tough on the Boss, long revered as rock's heroic champion of blue-collar ethos.
"Hard to believe that Bruce Springsteen turned out to be the one to make music fans miss scalpers," Bill Werde, a former Billboard magazine editor who is now director of the recording and entertainment program at Syracuse University, tweeted last summer.
Despite the skyrocketing prices, Springsteen concerts have been mostly filled to capacity since the tour started Feb. 1. Prices might drop closer to showtime, even via Ticketmaster, the official agency. In Tulsa two weeks ago, StubHub, a secondary seller, was asking only $5 for tickets several days in advance.
One thing that won't sink are the prices for Springsteen T-shirts and other souvenirs.
Fujii paid $50 for a T-shirt for Evan. "That's pretty pricey," he said.
By contrast, Elton John is charging $30 for his T's.
After complaining about the merchandise prices, hardcore fan Fox broke down and bought a $95 hoodie to go with her $65 "Springsteen on Broadway" hoodie from 2017 and her $60 one from his 2016-17 tour.
"I've worn it every day since then," she said of the new purchase. "It's very good quality and very warm. But $95? Ach! I'm almost embarrassed to tell my husband that I paid $95 for that stupid hoodie. That's a 50% jump. I'm not happy. But I do love it."
The Boss talks tickets
After the backlash last summer when tickets went on sale, Springsteen's manager Jon Landau issued a statement.
"We chose prices that are lower than some and on par with others," he said. "Regardless of the commentary about a modest number of tickets costing $1,000 or more, our true average ticket price has been in the mid-$200 range. I believe that in today's environment, that is a fair price."
While prices fluctuate, fans can still put a value on the experience. What's a reasonable price?
"Five hundred bucks is pricey, but I don't think it's completely unfair," said Fujii, 52, who paid $925 to see "Springsteen on Broadway" in a small theater in 2018.
Josh Jacobson, 60, of Minneapolis, takes a hardline stance. Tickets, he said, "should be worth what they were last time around with a modest inflationary markup. They can charge in the range of $200, $225, plus fees. Fine, the cost of doing business. Tickets should not be priced like this."
Jacobson, who saw the tour opener in Tampa and stood in the pit in front of the stage in Kansas City, understands some key factors: 1) this is likely Springsteen's last tour with his beloved E Street Band and 2) overhead is higher this time because the Boss is no longer playing on two consecutive nights.
Still, Jacobson said, "that doesn't explain essentially the doubling of ticket prices for the prime seats. It's just not necessary, especially for a man who sold his [music] catalog for a half a billion dollars."
Lange echoed $200 for a suggested price, though as a super fan he's willing to spend more.
"For me, this is a show of a lifetime," he said. "I think it's worth a lot. But I won't pay more than $1,000."
Fox scored two tickets in the pit in Tulsa for $1,137.
"It was priceless," she gushed the next day. "I shook his hand. He sweat on me. He leaned back into me when I was in the pit. I would have paid $1,000 for that ticket in Tulsa. We had the experience of our lives.
"I'm going to bitch, bitch, bitch about how much money I'm spending. Am I stopping? No. The thing with Bruce, it makes me feel like I'm 17 years old for three to four hours again. You can't really put a price on that."
Springsteen said he doesn't want to be the poster boy for high ticket prices.
"I tell my guys, 'Go out and see what everybody else is doing. Let's charge a little less,' " he told Rolling Stone in November. "For the past 49 years or however long we've been playing, we've pretty much been out there under market value."
Saying ticket buying has become confusing for fans as well as artists, the Boss sides with Ticketmaster's thinking: The performers, not enterprising ticket brokers, i.e. resellers, should profit from higher demand.
"We went for it," Springsteen said of dynamic pricing. "I know it was unpopular with some fans. But if there's any complaints on the way out, you can have your money back."
When: 7:30 p.m. Sun.
Where: Xcel Energy Center, 199 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul.
Tickets: $175 and up, ticketmaster.com.