When fans buy tickets for Pearl Jam’s show in Chicago this summer–probably July 10, definitely at Soldier Field–they’ll be buying tickets through a unique computer system devised by southern California’s ETM Entertainment Network. The company says its massive automated system can handle an extraordinary 10,000 telephone calls simultaneously. Thus far, reports from the field are that the system works.

“It went great,” reports Doug Kauffman, an independent promoter in Denver. “They sold 19,000 tickets in 13 minutes.” Kauffman’s Nobody in Particular Presents, a longtime Pearl Jam ally, is handling shows June 19 and 20 at Denver’s Red Rocks, the beautiful city-owned amphitheater in the Rocky Mountain foothills. A bedeviling problem in other cities–finding a suitable venue not tied up in an exclusive Ticketmaster contract–was made easy because Denver doesn’t make such agreements. By working with Kauffman’s company, the band was also thumbing its nose at powerful western promoter Barry Fey, who’s based in Denver.

The Denver sales, however, were just the climax of the rollout, ETM exec Peter Schniedermeier says. It began last May with a Pearl Jam show at a small venue of 7,500 seats in Casper, Wyoming. The concert took 24 hours to sell out, a measure of the town’s size rather than ETM’s limitations, says Schniedermeier, who claims that no caller got a busy signal. The second sale was for the 13,000-capacity Wolf Mountain shed outside Salt Lake City last Saturday; tickets went in seven minutes. The Denver shows, which went on sale Sunday, are numbers three and four, and number five is a biggie: 50,000 tickets for an open-air show in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, going on sale this weekend.

Schniedermeier, one of a group of partners, is a Chi-cago native, a product of Gordon Tech. He left college in 1969 to program computers for a new company called Ticketron. Ticketron was eventually swallowed up by Ticketmaster, but Schniedermeier went on to help set up northern California’s BASS ticket service. Pearl Jam is ETM’s first client. The Costa Mesa-based com-pany got the contract by promising efficient service, low prices, and revolutionary technology that, on paper at least, obviates many of the bugaboos of traditional (which is to say Ticketmaster-style) ticket selling.

Schniedermeier says the heart of ETM’s appeal is its computer system. Where Ticketmaster hires a corps of often unenthusiastic phone jockeys to handle the barrage of calls when a concert goes on sale, ETM’s system is a voice-prompted interactive one. For Pearl Jam, ETM is using an 800 number, and the calls are routed to the company’s southern California computer. Schniedermeier says it should take customers an average of four minutes to select the show and seats and plug in their credit card number and address; tickets are then mailed out.

The speed with which the system can sell a major show saves fans hours of waiting in line or redialing, he contends. Per Pearl Jam’s request, each buyer has been limited to a pair of tickets–to make things a bit more difficult for scalpers–and the tickets won’t have advertising on them.

Like Ticketmaster, ETM has no alternative to the U.S. mail. Ticketmaster is perennially troubled by the loss of about 7 percent of its mailed tickets. But Schniedermeier claims ETM’s system will prove superior on this point too. Each ticket carries a unique bar code, which will be read and confirmed by handheld scanners at the venue’s gate. Customers who don’t receive tickets they paid for can have new ones issued. Their original ducats will be voided; in theory someone trying to use stolen tickets will be prohibited from entering at the gate. How this will all work out in practice remains to be seen.

Stadium concerts are a drag by definition, but one has to concede that Pearl Jam’s determined battle with Ticketmaster puts the Soldier Field show in a different light–Ticketmaster’s exclusivity contracts with the Horizon, the United Center, and the World Music Theatre put those venues out-of-bounds.

Jam won’t confirm the venue or the date, but the logistics of the Chicago appearance have reportedly been a nightmare. Jam booker Andy Cirzan told the Tribune recently, “It’s an unusually complicated situation, and that’s an understatement.” To me he said, “The band’s trying hard to play Chicago and we’re trying hard to work it out.” One source says that behind-the-scenes negotiations over the tour are “unbelievable.” All parties are operating under unusual secrecy. Milwaukee Summerfest entertainment director Bob Babish notes that the band’s widely reported July 8 and 9 shows at the 24,000-seat Marcus Amphitheater–which through a contractual quirk will be Ticketmaster shows–have not been confirmed. “If those shows do happen here,” he says carefully, “it will be a makeup date for something in the past, a confirmed date we had last year.” Since tickets for that show had already been sold, the band is contractually bound to go through Ticketmaster.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Aldo Mauro.