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When the April 8 Bruce Springsteen concert at Kiel Center was announced a few weeks back, the excitement among Bruce freaks was palpable, the scramble for good seats plotted with a certain amount of anxiety. No one wants nosebleeds. Such tickets would at best seem bittersweet: You're there, but barely.
So ticket-gathering strategies were laid out: secret Ticketmaster locations recommended, those where the lines were less hectic; favors called in -- "Know anyone at Contemporary?"; friends and relatives deployed to hoard line tickets. Credit cards cocked and loaded, fans searched in vain for the bull's-eye that is a prime seat at a Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concert.
Gradually, and inevitably, the options played themselves out as the reality set in that Corvette owners had no better odds of getting a spot on the floor than Chevette owners, that the Great Equalizer, the lottery-styled ticketing system, would blindly mix the blue collars with the white. Because of the Boss' strict controls of the prime seats -- rows 1-16 -- fans would have to duke it out on the phone lines to secure a golden ticket.
But those buying tickets online had a different option: Visit www.kielcenter.com. Load the page and wind your way through the site, and at the end of the line, off to the side of the page, is a note: "Click here for the premium seat provider for this event." The link ends up at Ticket Solutions, a company that claims to guarantee a pair of seats in the first 17 rows for the price of $275 per. And you could order those tickets before tickets to the show officially went on sale a couple of days later.
"Premium" tickets? From the kielcenter.com Web site? From all appearances, the Kiel Center site links directly to a ticket scalper's.
Wrong, says Kiel Center's Cindy Underwood. "Our official Web site is www.kiel.com." Until a few months ago, the venue had a hold on kielcenter.com through their Web contractor, but, she explains, they lost it. "Supposedly because of some changeovers over there, the rep who we worked with to get all of our Web-site stuff up last year had put www.kielcenter.com on hold. He never did anything with it, but we thought everything was done. It was released, though, and Tickets.com purchased it. They have been notoriously doing this around the country with other buildings. They're eating up what people might think our Web address would be. So when you type in kielcenter.com, it comes right up to Tickets.com. It doesn't even say anything about the Kiel Center or the building or anything. They've bought it. It's gone, and the only way we can get it back is, obviously, if we bought it."
The result is confusion. Undoubtedly scores of surfers aiming to land at the official Kiel Center Web site have instead ended up at the site owned by Tickets.com. Once the surfer gets there, the page never mentions its lack of affiliation with the venue; it simply reads, "For Programming and on-line ticketing info at Kiel Center in Saint Louis please click on the banner below." That banner takes you directly to the Tickets.com Web site, and you are gradually led to information on the Springsteen show, including choices for buying tickets: from "another ticketing agency" -- Tickets.com's main competitor and the official ticketing agency for the Kiel Center, Ticketmaster; online through the use of the site's auctions; or from a premium-seat service -- a ticket scalper.
Though the whole thing seems a bit shady, Tickets.com, which couldn't be reached, isn't doing anything illegal by snatching Kiel Center's logical domain name or by linking to Tickets Solutions, the Overland Park, Kan., firm offering the $275 Bruce tickets, doing nothing that the city or state could prosecute, doing nothing but cashing in on the public's desire to see Bruce Springsteen in concert.
Scalpers -- or their euphemism of choice, "brokers" -- get tickets the same way you do, by ordering them from Ticketmaster. But they've got bodies, and they blitz the booth. "A scalper will have an office set up with 20 or 30 people all trying to order the same tickets," says Erin Miller of Ticketmaster. "So they might call the charge-by-phone number, also have people at the outlets, also have people on the Internet, basically using every way possible to get tickets. It's just one of those things where there are more of them then there are of you, so they might end up getting some of the better tickets just because there are so many of them working for the same tickets."
Many acts combat the scalpers by placing limits on the number of tickets a person can purchase for the best seats. Springsteen restricts to two the number of tickets any one buyer can get in the first 16 rows. The owners of those tickets must pick them up at the "will call" window of Kiel Center on the day of the show, where these lucky concertgoers are given wristbands and led to the gate. Springsteen makes it incredibly difficult to scalp his prime tickets.