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Pearl Jam battle has Ticketmaster on guard

Like the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger, the E Street Band without Bruce Springsteen, the Blowfish without Hootie, it's not easy for a rock band to go on tour without Ticketmaster.

That didn't stop Pearl Jam from trying. Angered by what it considers price-gouging of concertgoers by Ticketmaster, one of the nation's most popular rock bands opted to use an upstart ticket agency with lower service fees to put on a summer tour.

It didn't take long for Pearl Jam to realize how difficult it is finding adequate venues not affiliated with Ticketmaster. The problem, coupled with bad weather and lead singer Eddie Vedder's illness, turned one of the most awaited tours into an on-again, off-again odyssey. Shows were canceled, shows were rescheduled.

"There is no other ticket agency out there to speak of," said Rob Collins, general manager of the Forum in Inglewood. "There are real small ones, but they're not capable of generating the reports and providing a service that we need."

The feud between Pearl Jam and Ticketmaster has highlighted the mounting legal woes plaguing the Los Angeles-based company, the nation's largest distributor of live-entertainment tickets.

Consumer groups have joined Pearl Jam in criticizing the size of the service fees Ticketmaster tacks on to tickets. Smaller, regional ticket agencies complain their attempts to expand are met with insurmountable obstacles created by Ticketmaster.

Many have taken their grievances to court. In addition, the U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether Ticketmaster has a monopoly in the $1-billion concert industry.

Ticketmaster sells tickets via telephone operators or outlets to everything from rock concerts and basketball games to the ballet. It sold 55-million tickets last year, earning $240-million for the company.

Behind the scenes is Fred Rosen, the man credited with building a 25-person operation on the verge of bankruptcy in 1982 to a company that today employs 4,200 workers and operates in more than 40 states. Along the way, Ticketmaster gobbled up at least a dozen rivals, including Ticketron, the granddaddy of the business. Ticketmaster's dominance was gained, in part, by locking up exclusive, multiyear contracts with two-thirds of the nation's major venues.

In interviews, Rosen has charged that his competitors' complaints stem from jealousy and inability to offer a quality service.

While Ticketmaster claims its fees average 12.5 percent of a ticket's face value, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group contends it is an average of 27 percent. U.S. PIRG and Consumers Against Unfair Ticketing want to see that drop to 10 percent.

"The entertainment ticketing industry is the least consumer-friendly industry. There's no choice, a lack of information and unreasonable charges passed on to the consumer," said Maura Brueger, executive director of the Seattle-based consumer group.