The Great Entertainment Bunfight.

Posted: January 26, 2009 in Investigative articles

©Astrid Stark

Published in The Event. South Africa’s leading business tourism industry newspaper. http://www.theevent.co.za

 

Lawsuits and accusations in the South African entertainment world has ensnarled promoters, suppliers, ticket agents, thousands of patrons, live venues, as well as local and international performers. 

It started as far back as 2006 when promoter Duncan Heafield from Kusasa promised to bring Nickelback to SA in 2007 after a cancellation in 2006.  The hard rock band named exhaustion as their reason for postponing the tour.  To date fans are still waiting, with no news from Kusasa. In 2007 the Kusasa promoted Julio Iglesias concert was postponed (which the Iglesias management blamed on the California wildfires).  One ticket holder called Pamela complained on the consumer complaints website, Hellopeter.com, that ticketing agent Ticketconnection delayed, lied and eventually avoided her when she asked for a R950 refund on her tickets. When Iglesias finally performed at the Coca-Cola dome in 2008, Grant Medcalf, Sales & Marketing Manager of the dome stated that the damage done to the dome’s image due to mismanagement of the Iglesias concert was quite extensive.  He says; ‘In build up to 2010, artists need to know that there are reputable agents in South Africa that can put on first world successful events and the public needs to know that what is being advertised and what they buy into is genuine and value for money.’ 

However, nothing could have prepared SA music lovers for the disastrous Celine Dion concert promoted by Kusasa’s Duncan Heafield.  The Dion concert at Vergelegen February 23-24 February turned into an expensive disappointment for thousands of fans with Kusasa being fingered as the culprit. To date there are 252 comments on Hellopeter.com with regards to Kusasa and Ticketconnection, of which less than 10 are complimentary.  Newspapers and radio stations were flooded with accusations against Kusasa and Ticketconnection ranging from  seats being changed at the last minute, traffic jams causing patrons to only see a few minutes of the concert, lack of toilet facilities, hugely inflated prices on drinks and snacks. The list goes on.  Vergelegen has distanced itself from any blame and stated on the Celine Dion website that Kusasa is taking full responsibility for the mess. 

Matters did not improve in Johannesburg at Dion’s Montecasino concert with patrons booked in Block L arriving to discover that it did not exist and then being pushed off to the sidelines, unable to see a thing.  Again complaints were made that tickets were changed at last minute and that the concert was outside despite being advertised as being an indoors event.  

The Kusasa disaster snowballed to the point where Josh Groban’s management at first postponed, then cancelled Groban’s tour one week prior to its commencement.  The tour was set to start on 16 March in Durban before heading to Bloemfontein, J’oburg and Cape Town. In an interview with John Robbie of Radio 702, Groban made it clear that his tour had to be postponed for no other reason than bad organisation on the local promoter (Kusasa’s) side.  Ticketconnection said that tickets will be refunded from 14 March at Mr Price shops with a turnaround time of between 7-10 days. On 4 April most ticket holders are still waiting for refunds.  One such angry person only known as nsm wrote on hellopeter.com: ‘Reputable companies such as Highveld stereo, 703 Talk Radio and Mrs Price (should) reassess who they associate their good names with if this is how Ticketconnection and Kusasa conduct their business.’   Another called dubertza wrote, ‘Kusasa I hope that this latest (Groban) failure gets noticed by international communities and that celebrities will never use you for any function ever again.’  

Following this, Lise Kuhle, Client services director for Ticketconnection expressed their determination to refund patrons, ‘Our first priority is the public and we are prepared to fight tooth and nail to get these funds back.’ Since Big concerts, who is rumoured to promote the new Groban tour, has not been in contact with Ticketconnection to be the ticketing agent, Kuhle raised a new concern, ‘are those funds going to be repaid to the promoter or is Josh going to be paid twice for this tour?  I have personally e-mailed Josh Groban’s management in respect to the payment of these funds and have yet to receive a response.’  The Event has also contacted the Groban promoters on several occasions and has not received any response.   

It is not only concert goers that are baying for Kusasa’s blood, local companies have taken action against Kusasa and Heafield’s apparent lack of organisational skills.

Veteran promoter, Hazel Feldman won back nearly R10million from Kusasa over a contractual dispute.   Attie van Wyk of Big Concerts successfully sued Kusasa after Heafield approached van Wyk as sponsorship broker and after arranging funding Heafield passed on only a portion of the sponsorship money.  Steve Haag from Durban’s limousine company, Entertainment UK, refused Heafield’s invitation to work on the Dion tour because it took too long to get his money for last year’s Westlife dates. Ivan Gray from Executive Bodyguards told Pollstar that he’s just secured a R150,000 judgment against the promoter for unpaid fees. Carol Weaving managing director of Thebe Exhibitions and Events, the company that manages the Johannesburg dome, said that Heafield’s botching of the Groban and Dion tours reflected badly on the local entertainment industries.  The list goes on.  Is it time for a regulating body to be set up to ensure that local and international artists receive professional treatment form organisers, promoters and ticketing agents? 

At the beginning of March, Pollstar commented that Gerry Hayes, General Manager of Computicket which is owned by Shoprite Checkers, said his company has outstanding legal action against Heafield because he reneged on an exclusive ticketing deal with Computicket by setting up Ticketconnection , his own ticketing company.  Client services director Lisa Kuhle stated that Ticketconnection  had neither been started by Heafield, nor was it owned, or part owned by him.  The Computicket controversy continues as the relatively new ticketing agent, Strictly Tickets takes Computicket to the Competition Commission claiming that Computicket’s behaviour is monopolistic.  TJ de Klerk from Artslink agrees.  He feels that Computicket’s exclusive deals with theatres are detrimental to audiences and venues alike.  De Klerk says that in deals with Computicket theatres and promoters are not allowed to sell tickets through other agents and that even for media, VIP or trade-off events the tickets must be purchased through Computicket incurring costs even though it is a complimentary event.  ‘Some leverage should be allowed’, de Klerk said.  The Witness reported that Computicket has allegedly ring-fenced major events, such as the A1 Grand Prix and international music acts. Computicket charges a loading fee at the outset and then takes a transaction fee ranging from 19% of the ticket price. Opposition companies take 15%.   Shoprite Checker’s Communications Manager, Sarita van Wyk explains:  ‘In the interest of the consumer Computicket insists on exclusivity as it reduces errors and increase safety for event patrons through eliminating overselling through multiple ticketing agents. It is, however, not in a position to force any promoter to partner with it.’  The Witness further reports that the Dockyard’s Stuart Mey accused Computicket of selling tickets to a cancelled show ffrom their Shoprite outlet at the Windemere centre.   Shoprite’s de Klerk told The Event that the ‘problems between Computicket and the Dockyard has been resolved and that Mr May has indicated his satisfaction’

Mr Mey however concluded that he can’t wait to get out of his contract with Computicket,”

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