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Britney’s Tour Hits the Discount Market

Stop The Presses!

Britney Spears is apparently not the sure-fire concert draw she once was. Since lot of current or former fans have apparently decided not to hit that "BUY" button one more time after all, the web discounter Groupon has been selling 50%-off tickets for more than half the shows on Spears' 33-city tour. And not even all those half-price tickets have gotten snatched up. 

The tour opened Thursday night in Sacramento to what the local paper described as a sell-out crowd. But a week prior to the show, Groupon offered $59 face-value tickets for a bargain basement price of $30. Groupon's web site shows that 1,400 people took the Sacramento offer before it sold out. But since there was a maximum of 8 tickets allowed per sale, that means there could have been anywhere from 1,400 to 11,200 people getting into the arena via the last-minute half-price offer. Similar deals have been offered in 18 cities on the tour.

Is this a sign of the public's enormous Britney fatigue, a wave of the ticketing future, or both?

Live Nation, which is promoting Spears' tour, announced a partnership with Groupon in early May, and you won't hear them use words like "discounting." "Offering a deal on Groupon is not a reflection of the quality or status or sales of a show," said a Live Nation spokesperson, but rather "segmented marketing and a way to reach new and additional consumers." The spokesperson said Groupon promotions "proactively address two related issues: unsold inventory and industry awareness challenges."

In other words: Better to have a full (or near-full) house, whether or not everyone paid top dollar... plus, the promotion itself helps remind people who never go to concerts anymore that they still exist.

Offering last-minute half-price tickets for shows may be good business. But it does present a perception problem when it involves as high-profile a partner as Groupon and as high-profile a tour as Spears', since it sends out a very public "NOT SRO" message. 

And there's plenty of sitting room available at most of Spears' shows on this tour—not just the cheaper seats, which represent most of Groupon's deals, but premium ones, too. A few days before her June 20 L.A. Staples Centre gig, a pair of seats in the 12th row of the loge section could be had on Ticketmaster for $175 each, plus $18.40 "convenience charge" each, for a total of $386.80. That's an expensive date—or, more likely, expensive girls' night out, judging from press accounts of a predominantly female crowd at the shows so far.

And even the half-off deal is not enough is some cities where Groupon didn't sell out their one-day offers. In Atlantic City, only 229 people took up the half-price offer, according to the site. In Seattle, 1,211 took the deal. In Cleveland, it was 921. In Detroit, 1,877 bought anywhere from 1-8 tickets at $30 each, leaving 123 offers still on the table at day's end. In Cleveland. But in Portland, Groupon sold out all 2,000 opportunities to buy tickets at $20 each.

The news isn't any better for Spears' flailing Femme Fatale album. It came out in late March with decent if not overwhelming first-week sales of 276,000. But after 11 weeks in stores, the album has sold only 558,000 copies—meaning almost half the total to date was sold that first week. It's the 11th bestselling album of the year so far, which, in 2011, is not saying a lot. Britney may have legs, but Femme Fatale doesn't. 

If you're looking for any kind of wrinkle in this seemingly inevitable tale of commercial decline it may be this: One-time Britney fans may be avoiding the tour because of the nearly universal expectation at this point that she will be lip-synching every song and doing more of a walk-through than actual choreography. But, based on reports from opening night, everyone may have underestimated her, at least by a little.

Writing from a dress rehearsal show to which he was invited, Perez Hilton said, "I'd say Britney sings at least 40 percent of the show, which is really awesome considering the fact that at the last tour she lip-synched every single song, even the ballads. As a fan, that's a sign to me that she's trying, she's giving, and I love that." Hilton doesn't mean that to sound like damning with faint praise, so take that relative gushing for what you will.

Fan reports from the dress rehearsal and opening night have largely corroborated Hilton's estimation of what is live and what is Memorex. One commenter who seemed to be in the know said that much of the show consists of Spears singing along live with pre-recorded tracks she did especially for the tour (as opposed to the original studio vocals). As anyone who's seen one of Spears' other recent tours can attest, any overtly live singing at all is a big evolution... and perhaps a reaction to the flurry of criticism that has attended all her obviously canned TV appearances of late.

Those dispiriting TV spots also lessened expectations that Spears would be sacrificing the vocals to do what she does (or did) best, dance. But fan reports and YouTube videos suggest that Spears does participate in an extensive amount of choreography in the show, if not necessarily the most demanding moves she's ever done.

Monday morning quarterbacks in the music industry may be debating for quite a while: Did Spears sabotage her own tour with the listless, lifeless TV appearances that were done to promote the album release? Or would the syndrome of diminishing returns just naturally have left her in this position in her career anyway?

Well, those won't be the only questions. In the touring industry, expect plenty of chatter about what constitutes reasonable pricing for a tour that apparently attracts mostly girls and young women, versus guys willing to spend big bucks to impress a date. Anyway, Spears' real demographic may finally have been identified, and it's not necessarily teen girls, gays, or even the aging male critics who largely gave Femme Fatale a pass. It's... coupon cutters.

[Photo credit: AP /,Roderick Trestrail II]

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