Kelly Bailey was so blown away by Pink's recent Chicago concert that she hopped online to nab tickets to the star's Wednesday show at Rosemont's Allstate Arena. But the 30-year-old speech pathologist couldn't stomach paying scalper markups online — again.
Elmwood Park Mayor Skip Saviano didn't have that problem. Saviano, a longtime friend of the Rosemont mayor's family, landed two face-value Pink tickets for someone else just by reaching out to village hall.
Also scoring tickets from the village was Isaac Degen, a construction contractor who helped build most of Rosemont's ventures.
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6920 Mannheim Road, Rosemont, IL 60018, USA
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Ridgeland Avenue & Flossmoor Road, Tinley Park, IL 60477, USA
And it is not just Rosemont that gives special access to tickets for the well-connected, a Tribune investigation of suburbs with major concert venues found. A village trustee in Tinley Park tapped the town's connections at least a dozen times to buy seats to shows at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre. In Bridgeview, the mayor's office hands out free tickets to events at Toyota Park.
"That's not right," Bailey said when told of the Tribune's findings.
It may come as little surprise that entertainment industry types and high-level politicians get special deals to hot shows. But the Tribune's examination reveals special access also is available to local officials and their friends.
In many cases, special access to tickets is considered a long-standing courtesy extended to public officials by venue operators, or as a privilege that comes when a town owns its own concert venue. The perk has become even more valuable as the prices of concerts and events have increased and the online scalping market has exploded.
The Tribune reviewed ticketing practices at the suburbs' largest concert venues through contracts, policies and emails. Three suburbs — Tinley Park, Bridgeview and Rosemont — stood out in how local politicians and insiders were able to cut in line ahead of regular fans for major draws, from Baby Boomer stars such as the Eagles to boy band sensation One Direction.
In most cases, the officials and insiders are paying for tickets but are still getting a benefit, especially for sold-out concerts. That's because their tickets come from a pool not available to the general public. The tickets are often for good seats and come without the luck-of-the-draw frustration of buying like everyone else or the steep markups on the secondary market.
"I would imagine those folks from the public, who have paid for their tickets and more, would think it is very unfair when they show up to an event and see a mayor and his friends in the best seats," said Maryam Judar, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center, an Elmhurst-based legal aid and watchdog group.
The ability to get tickets for friends and insiders can serve as political currency for suburban mayors.
When an act comes to town, the venue contract typically sets aside tickets to be given away for free, often for marketing efforts and media. (Tribune critics, entertainment reporters and editors do not pay admission to shows the newspaper attends as part of its coverage. They also sometimes bring a guest.)
The contracts also can set aside what are typically called "house" or "hold" tickets for seats scattered throughout the venue, including some of the best seats. Those tickets are to be sold at face value but kept out of the pool available to the general public.
Both pools of tickets exist for most shows.
Rosemont is one of the top suburban entertainment hubs, boasting a convention center, two concert venues and a recently added sports dome and softball stadium. A previous investigation by the Tribune showed that the village has long had deals that benefit members of the Stephens family, whose patriarch, Donald, founded the suburb.
Requests for tickets had gotten so disorderly that Mayor Bradley Stephens decided this year to write a policy for face-value tickets and keep a log of who got them.
The village also gets free tickets to give away. A village attorney said no record is kept of where they go, though he said they are given only to promoters, advertisers or charities.
The policy for face-value tickets allows village employees and anyone who can "enhance business and operations for the Village of Rosemont" to get them. The mayor's office has the final say.
Stephens' ticket log tracks requests for at least 166 tickets this year, including more than a dozen each to popular shows including the Eagles, Selena Gomez, country star Hunter Hayes and the upcoming Pink show.