Fixing the Tragically Hip’s Concert PR Stumble

What should have been a fitting farewell tribute to a band that has become as synonymous with Canadiana as a May long-weekend, has become something that’s threatening to mar the Tragically Hip’s legacy.  No one would question the motives of the Band.  I find it difficult to assess how I’d react if I were in Mr. Downie’s place.  They handled the announcement of his medical prognosis with tact and aplomb.

However, those positive feelings toward the final shows from a few days ago seem to be quickly fading in many quarters.  Fans eager to snap up tickets to the final concerts continue to be met with ‘sold out’ signs through official channels, with concerts appearing to sell-out in nanoseconds.  That disappointment has been quickly followed by outrage as hundreds of tickets immediately pop-up for sale on secondary sales sites – albeit with enormous premiums.  One Kijiji ad boasted a pair of tickets – floor seats – to the final concert in Kingston for the eye-popping price of $2,500 per ticket.

What was initially an almost unprecedented outpouring of sympathy and goodwill toward the band, is quickly turning into a major reputational issue for them.

While no one can honestly fault the band for what is increasingly being termed a fiasco, they certainly are at risk of having to bear the full brunt of disappointed fans who have been met with the musical equivalent of war profiteering from ticket resellers.

So what can be done to turn this situation around for the band?

The first thing that has to happen is the band has to say something. Their silence in the face of the increasing discord among their most ardent supporters risks compounding the problem. Every moment they wait it gets harder to rectify the situation.  They don’t have to have all the answers immediately, but they need to comment.

Part of the problem is not of the band’s making.  It’s Ticketmaster.  One doesn’t have look far to find critical media about the company that’s often the only game in town when you’re looking for tickets to a sports event or show.  Ticketmaster has signed many of the biggest and best concert venues to long-term deals, making it extremely difficult for others to break into the market.  In retrospect, the band should have worked to develop an alternative – a lottery or some other format that would have avoided the current situation, but it’s probably too late to revisit this.  Two rounds of shows have been announced and all the tickets are sold.

The solution here is a bold step – end-run the system itself.  Faced with a major public relations stumble, much goodwill can be regained by deciding that the band is going to quietly stage a handful of free shows in the summer.  Sure the crowds will be crazy, but that can be sorted out. Fans want to make that final connection with a band they feel are part of their youth and the country.  Outflanking the ticketing-industrial complex would give them the opportunity to do that, and the band can give the fans what they really only wanted to provide in the first place – one last good time.

John Perenack
Twitter: @room40

UPDATE: June 8, 2016
Now that’s an interesting idea…

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