If you log on Friday morning to buy tickets to some of this summer's hottest concerts, you might notice something big missing: Ticketmaster.
The long-dominant ticketing giant -- infamous for making a $30 concert turn into $47 with the blink of its fees -- is facing new competitors throughout the country, and especially in the independent-streaked Twin Cities music market.
As of Friday, Minneapolis' leading rock club, First Avenue, is selling tickets online exclusively through a rising company called eTix. The Cabooze, Varsity Theater and Triple Rock all recently started using another alternative site, Ticketfly.
In each case, these companies offer lower fees for fans along with new promotional technology for the venues.
"It's definitely a win-win," said First Ave general manager Nate Kranz, who estimates fees will be 20 to 40 percent lower for his club's ticket buyers.
Lower fees are also coming to some of summer's bigger outdoor concerts. Canterbury Park's two major festivals, Soundset and the Warped Tour, go on sale Friday through another site called TicketWeb -- which is actually a Ticketmaster-owned company that promises less markup.
That's right: Even Ticketmaster is now offering a cheaper alternative to Ticketmaster.
The company has also promoted "no-fee" days and discounted tickets to reshape its image, following an $889 million merger last year with promotions company Live Nation that raised concerns about its tight grip on the concert industry.
"It's clear that concertgoers everywhere are fed up with Ticketmaster's fees," said Andrew Dreskin, co-founder and CEO of Ticketfly. Since opening its virtual doors in June 2009, Ticketfly has signed up more than 150 rock clubs around the country, including the famed Troubadour in Los Angeles.
Social media level the field
Dreskin -- also the founder of TicketWeb, which was sold to Ticketmaster in 2000 -- said the big chink in Ticketmaster's armor is technology. Its vast database and promotional capabilities have become less important to concert promoters thanks to Twitter, Facebook, iPhone apps and other social-media platforms that Ticketfly uses to connect with fans.
"We offer a one-stop shop where promoters and club owners can get the word out to all those social-media avenues through us," he said. "The playing field has been leveled."
The Cabooze's talent booker, Jason Aukes, said "all those new bells and whistles" sold him on Ticketfly, which the club began using in January. "I couldn't be happier with the way it has gone. They're making our jobs easier, but more importantly, they're making the customers happier by not charging so much in fees."
Avid concertgoer Brian Zirngible used eTix for the first time a few weeks ago and immediately noticed the difference from Ticketmaster, starting with the lack of a "print-at-home" charge, one of Ticketmaster's most-scorned fees.
"I liked it much better," he said. "It seemed easier, cheaper -- and I just printed the ticket vouchers before the show."
Ticketmaster still has fans
Not every club owner or promoter in town is jumping ship from Ticketmaster.
Rose Presents founder Randy Levy, who oversees the Canterbury Park concerts as well as other festivals and theater shows, just renewed his contract with Ticketmaster in January.
He pointed to the trouble that the Minnesota Twins have encountered using in-house ticket sales for why he is skeptical of the competition.
"I don't want my customers to have to sit in a virtual waiting room for half a day," said Levy, who often negotiates cheaper fees with Ticketmaster (something he said other promoters could do, but don't). "At least with Ticketmaster, I know the system isn't going to crash."
The company's TicketWeb subsidiary only sells tickets for general-admission venues such as Canterbury or the Cedar Cultural Center, thus justifying cheaper fees vs. what its mother company charges for reserved seats.
"It doesn't make sense for these smaller club shows to pay the big Ticketmaster fees," said Jonathan Randall, who used TicketWeb to see a sold-out Cedar show last weekend.
Still, some smaller venues are sticking with Ticketmaster. Fine Line Music Cafe booker Kim King said she would worry about confusing customers or sacrificing efficiency.
Staffers at First Avenue and the Cabooze had the same concerns, but haven't encountered any problems. "Most tickets are sold online through a link off your website," Aukes said. "One link is as good as the next."
Most clubs also sell their tickets the old-fashioned way: in person at their own ticket counters or local record stores (where the fee is typically $1).
The Varsity Theater's manager, Josh Lacey, believes there will be an adjustment period, but the competitors are here to stay: "Ticketmaster is certainly looking at a greatly changed landscape, at least in the Minnesota market."
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisRstrib