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VIP fans pay very impressive prices

Music lovers ante up for 'exclusive' extras

 How much does it cost to be a VIP at a rock concert?

How much have you got?

Despite the recession, the prices – and demand – for “exclusive” VIP concert-ticket packages are climbing for shows by everyone from Aerosmith and Beyoncé to U2 and the recently reunited No Doubt.

Then there's Fleetwood Mac, which performs tonight at the San Diego Sports Arena as part of its tour of North America. Ticket prices range from $29.50 for the cheapest seat to $517.81 for a “platinum” ticket in the second row.

But for fans who really want to stand out from the crowd, there's the “five-star VIP” package.

It guarantees each customer a ticket in the first 10 rows, an exclusive Fleetwood Mac gift bag and a pre-concert party with dinner and drinks. Also included are parking, “hassle-free entrance to venue,” “crowd-free merchandise shopping” and a discount coupon to Fleetwood Mac's online store. But the big draw is the pre-show “meet and greet” and onstage photo opportunity with drummer Mick Fleetwood, who co-founded the legendary band in 1967.

The cost: a VIP-friendly $820 per person.

“It's something people do of their own free will, so I'm happy to do it,” Fleetwood said from a tour stop in Dallas. “We get to talk – they can ask any questions they want – and I get into it 100 percent, whether it's 40 people, 10 or five. It's going great, and people seem to be enjoying it. I do know they're well taken care of.”

VIP options at rock concerts date back nearly 30 years. But they have surged in popularity over the past year, despite the slumping economy, thanks to fans willing to pay whatever it costs to be part of an exclusive club, if just for a night.

The Web site ILoveAllAccess.com has VIP options for tours by such acts as Fleetwood Mac, Creed and Journey (which performs July 29-30 at Pala Casino in North County).

“The growth has been huge. We had five tours with VIP packages last summer, and this summer we have 10,” said Tamara Conniff, president of music services for Irving Azoff's Frontline Management.

Frontline, which owns ILove-AllAccess.com, oversees the careers of superstars such as the Eagles, Christina Aguilera and Van Halen, whose 2004 reunion tour with singer Sammy Hagar helped lay the groundwork for today's VIP-ticket boom. Another precursor was Alabama's 2006 tour, which – at a price of $1,000 – included a guitar for each VIP-package buyer.

“Maybe only five people in each city could afford it, but that adds up,” said Gary Bongiovanni, the publisher of Pollstar,  the concert industry's leading weekly publication.

For artists and the concert industry, the upscale exclusivity for fans buying VIP tickets provides additional revenue at a time when overall attendance is declining.

“It's not a secret that somewhere around half the tickets on our system go unsold,” said Vito Aiaia, Ticketmaster's vice president of music services.

“Not all fans are the same, so you need to offer different experiences and products to different fans. It's also a way for bands to capture more revenue and bring ticket prices for the best seats up beyond their face value, with added features for fans, instead of a ticket being resold for 10 times its original price by brokers.”

Presumably, there won't be any markups for the Chris Isaak Guitar Package being offered to just one lucky buyer on his summer tour, which stops in San Diego on Aug. 25 at Humphrey's Concerts by the Bay.

The package is $5,000 for two premium tickets, a gift bag, a photo op and meet-and-greet with Isaak and an autographed Epiphone Sheraton II semi-hollow-body electric guitar. (The list price for the current edition of the instrument is $1,042, although dealers sell it for about half that. A vintage 1950s original of the same model costs about $2,000.) Isaak fans also can get a guitar-free VIP ticket for $325.

That's $70 less than San Diego City College student Veronica Iñiguez paid for a “five-star” VIP ticket to last fall's reunion tour show at the Staples Center in Los Angeles by '80s teen-pop faves New Kids on the Block. Her package included a sixth-row ticket, a pre-show reception, a gift bag with a New Kids fleece blanket and the all-important meet-and-greet and photo op.

“My friends and family look at me like I'm crazy for having seen New Kids five times since last fall – and for having paid $395 for a five-star experience in L.A.,” said Iñiguez, 29. “I was star-struck. I couldn't believe I was finally getting to meet these guys that I had on posters on my wall as a kid. For the photo op, I stood right next to Jordan Knight, my childhood boy crush. It was definitely good value for the money.”

Veteran heavy-metal band Testament offers an even better VIP value. For $160, the package offers a ticket, access to the sound check, various keepsakes and a meet-and-greet with the band at its June 10 show at the Live Nation-owned House of Blues San Diego.

“Ticketmaster and Live Nation wanted to charge us $300 to do these packages,” Testament singer Chuck Billy noted. “But since metal-heads aren't going to spend that much, we decided to drop it. ... We limit it to about 20 people a night, and it's worked out very well.

“Obviously, it has to do with the economic climate. People don't want to spend the money, so you want to give fans more for their buck. More is always better.”

Make that more, times two, for Rachiel Fai, 33, a longtime fan. She and her husband, Nick, bought VIP tickets for a pair of recent Testament concerts in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta, at a total cost of about $700.

“We were going to go on a vacation, but we did this instead and it was absolutely worth it,” said Fai, a finance manager for a home-building company in Lethbridge, Alberta. “I would have paid $1,000, easily, just to shake Chuck Billy's hand.”

That would still be a bargain compared with what the Ticketmaster-owned company SLO is asking for its four VIP packages for Andre Rieu, “the waltz king of Europe.” Only one, the “Andre All-Access” package, includes a photo op and entrance to a post-concert party with violinist Rieu and members of his orchestra, who perform June 22 at Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre in Chula Vista.

The cost: $1,599 per person.

That's a bit higher than the $1,500 it costs to get one “Diamond” VIP package for Yanni's June 20 show at Cox Arena. The package consists of a premium reserved ticket, a pre-show reception, an “exclusive” merchandise item and a meet-and-greet and photo op with the Yanni Voices Performers.

What your $1,500 won't get you is Yanni. According to Ticketmaster's Web site, the Greek-born New Age star “will not be in attendance” at any of these pre-show activities.

Then again, the VIP packages for several upcoming shows at Humphrey's – Jackson Browne (Aug. 13, $185) and Crosby, Stills and Nash (Sept. 28-29, $205) don't include meeting the artists. Each, however, provides a “premium ticket,” a “collectible laminate” and an “exclusive merchandise item,” which – in Browne's case – is also “eco-friendly.”

Some artists, including Mick Fleetwood, U2 and No Doubt, are donating part of their VIP-ticket earnings to various charities. But even with a good cause, not every musician buys into the VIP-ticket concept, even if some of their fans and colleagues do.

“I guess a lot of people are doing it, but in my world, for my set of sensibilities, I find it a little distasteful,” Fleetwood Mac singer-guitarist Lindsey Buckingham said from Los Angeles.

“Having said that, if there's a market for it and it appeals to a certain number of people – and, more importantly, if Mick wants to go out (and do it) – who wants to say no? But there's a little cheese (factor) there.”

Staff researcher Anne Magill contributed to this report.