- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2000

Rising ticket prices. More advertisements. Parking fees.

These are a few of the changes Washington-area music fans have encountered in the past five years when plunking down their dollars to see their favorite artists.

Still other changes have occurred in the music business, and some can be traced to a source concert-goers rarely see SFX Entertainment Inc. The New York-based sports and entertainment management company gobbled up concert promoters and amphitheaters before it was swallowed by radio station-owner Clear Channel Communications Inc. in August.

Insiders say SFX has changed the concert industry by focusing on revenue, buying entire tour packages instead of booking artists city by city. Its detractors accuse SFX of creating a monopoly on outdoor venues and say it has driven up ticket prices.

The company controls 70 percent to 80 percent of concerts larger than the nightclub level nationwide, estimated Ray Waddell, touring reporter for Billboard magazine.

“They’re viewed with a mixture of fear, respect and disdain, depending on who you talk to,” he said.

“Everybody who started in this business 30 to 35 years ago believed in the power of music to unify people, and now it’s been subverted as a vehicle to generate cash,” said Alex Kochan, an agent with Artists and Audience in New York. But he noted that attitude has become common among promoters, not just SFX.

David Goch, a lobbyist with Webster Chamberlain Bean in the District of Columbia and “a religious concert-goer,” said he understands that the music industry wants to make as much money as possible.

“[But] when taking advantage turns into gouging … you’re injuring the people that you should be fostering and caring for,” he said.

He went to about 20 concerts this year, including Pearl Jam and Jimmy Buffett. He’s lucky enough to be able to afford it, he said.

He did opt out of the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young show, where tickets close to the stage went for $200 and higher.

If Mr. Goch attended an area show this summer, chances are it was promoted by SFX. The company owns Nissan Pavilion at Stone Ridge in Manassas, Va., and runs Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., as well as promoting shows at venues such as the MCI Center and RFK Stadium. The company also manages athletes and promotes musicals and plays.

Its recent concerts range from the “Anger Management Tour” with Limp Bizkit at the MCI Center Dec. 10 to a performance of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra at DAR Constitution Hall Dec. 22.

SFX’s parent company, Clear Channel, owns 11 radio stations in Washington and Baltimore, including country music standby WMZQ-FM and the recently reformatted WJMO-FM, which plays what it calls “jammin’ oldies.”

Clear Channel’s stock, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, rose to a six-month high of $83.81 in mid-August before falling to $48.44 yesterday. Some of SFX’s critics, most of whom are competing promoters, have pressured the Justice Department to look into the company’s practices, saying it has a monopoly on the concert industry, particularly for outdoor venues.

When Clear Channel bought another network of radio stations, AMFM Inc., the department forced it to sell off certain holdings. As for SFX, Justice conducted an inquiry several years ago that turned up no violations, a spokesman said.

One industry veteran who declined to be named said SFX’s capabilities could become even more threatening with the Clear Channel merger: Stations could use air time as leverage to convince acts to use SFX as their promoter.

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