The Margin: The Cure’s Robert Smith gets Ticketmaster to offer partial refunds after fans revolt over high fees

United States

“To Wish Impossible Things” is how concert-goers usually feel when it comes to groaning about lower ticket prices from Ticketmaster.

But it’s also a song from The Cure’s 1992 album “Wish,” and on Thursday lead singer Robert Smith made a seemingly impossible wish come true by announcing a deal with Ticketmaster to offer partial refunds following an outcry over service fees that were more expensive than the tickets’ face value.

The hubbub started earlier this week, when pre-sales for the British goth-rock band’s upcoming U.S. tour began through Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan program. Smith said the band used the program in an effort to crack down on scalpers and ticket brokers, and to avoid hated demand-driven “dynamic” pricing (which Smith called “a bit of a scam.”)

But buyers quickly discovered that the tickets — some priced at an extraordinarily cheap $ 20 apiece — came with “service fees” and “facility charges” that more than doubled their price.

Fans of The Cure responded loudly and angrily online, venting most of their ire at Ticketmaster, the unit of Live Nation Entertainment Inc. LYV, +0.94% that holds a virtual stranglehold on major concert ticket sales in the U.S.

Ticketmaster has been under fire recently for high ticket prices for concerts, including a botched sale for Taylor Swift concerts in November. That debacle led to a hearing on Capitol Hill in which a Live Nation executive was grilled by lawmakers from both parties.

Read more: Live Nation reported record results. Investors, for now, aren’t convinced.

Smith was quick to respond, and was sympathetic to fans’ complaints.

“I am as sickened as you all are by today’s Ticketmaster ‘fees’ debacle,” Smith tweeted Wednesday. “To be very clear: The artist has no way to limit them. I have been asking how they are justified.”

But he may have undersold his power.

On Thursday, Smith posted an update, and announced Ticketmaster had agreed that the fees were “unduly high” and offered a $ 10 refund to Verified Fan accounts for “lowest ticket price” transactions, and a $ 5 refund for all other ticket prices.

“If you already bought a ticket you will get an automatic refund; all tickets on sale tomorrow will incur lower fees,” Smith said.

Ticketmaster did not immediately respond to MarketWatch’s request for confirmation or comment late Thursday.

But fans rejoiced, and the Future of Music Coalition, an education, research and advocacy group for musicians, hailed the development: “This is an encouraging precedent, even if it’s no substitute for needed regulation. Artists take heed: when you speak up (with both conviction and nuance), you can make new things possible.”