Each year Consumerist.com hosts a no-holds-barred, throw down, knock-out fight to determine the Worst Company in America. 32 companies enter -- but only one leaves. For the third year in a row, three out of the four slots in Consumerist's Worst Company In America semifinals have been taken by the same three competitors: Bank of America, Ticketmaster and Comcast. Two of these companies have won the ignominious title before and it's incredibly likely that they'll all be top seeds in future tournaments. So what is it about this triad of terrible that makes them perennial un-favorites, -- and why might this year's sole newcomer, BP, possibly win it all?
When you step back and look at the original 32 companies in this year's bracket, it's easy to see that every business in the competition is plagued with at least two of the following three ailments: horrid customer service, anti-consumer business practices, and an overwhelmingly negative public image.
But what's special about BofA, Ticketmaster and Comcast that makes them shoo-ins for the Foul Four year after year? Simple. Lack of consumer choice.
Master of Tickets
In the age of the internet, one could argue that there is no reason for a company like Ticketmaster to even exist. The ability now exists for venues and promoters to sell tickets directly to customers online, thus eliminating the need for a middle man, especially a middle man who charges you an additional fee simply to use your own printer! But instead of fading into history like other painful relics of the pre-internet age, (*69 remember that?), Ticketmaster recently aligned with Live Nation in a deal that forces concert-goers to pay ridiculous surcharges (which continue to go up, in spite of the fact that the ticket-selling business now requires less overhead).
Take This Remote And Shove It
Comcast is the reigning Worst Company champ, and anyone that has ever spent an entire day waiting for a service tech to come, only to hear that familiar false refrain, "they came by and no one was home," probably isn't surprised. But what really rankles most Comcast customers is that they have few-to-no options once they've finally had enough. Unlike the cellphone business where you can always say "I'm switching to XYZ," (at least until AT&T figures out how to buy itself, too, and the world turns inside-out) cable service is often a regional monopoly. So when there's a problem -- and there's always a problem -- you're stuck taking another day off to wait for the cable guy to not show up. Meanwhile Comcast doesn't care, because you're probably not going slap a satellite dish on your roof, or heaven forbid, watch NBC on an antenna.
Bank Of Everywhere
When Bank of America swooped in to purchase a collapsed Countrywide in 2008, it probably thought it was getting a sweet deal. Instead, it bought $4 billion in bad PR and questionable mortgages. Now its customers -- many of whom didn't know they even had Countrywide mortgages at the time that company imploded -- are trapped in BofA's nightmare. The bank has repeatedly attempted to foreclose on properties that don't even have a mortgage, let alone one with BofA. Then there are the Kafkaesque feelings of utter helplessness, because while you certainly don't require concert tickets or cable TV, shelter remains a basic necessity. For many people who've woken up to find they have a BofA mortgage, it's like being adopted by abusive parents when you're already an adult, and you won't be emancipated for another 20 to 30 years.
The Dark Oily Horse
So, having gone through all this, why could a British petroleum business end up being voted the Worst Company In America? No one, excepting those who depend on the oil business for their livelihoods, likes oil companies, but that vitriol is often vague and without target. It's like a pile of kindling -- useless without a spark. Thus, when oil began pumping into the Gulf of Mexico last summer, BP's colossal screw-up gave focus -- and more importantly, a brand name -- to that anger. People no longer griped about "big oil;" they talked about BP and its then-CEO Tony Hayward, whose effete public attitude toward the mess -- he might as well have inscribed the words "I would like my life back" on his tombstone -- turned him into the perfect corporate villain for the 21st Century.
But even this laser beam of loathing may not be enough for BP to overcome the entrenched incompetence of Comcast, the avarice of Ticketmaster or ineptitude of Bank of America. Even if it does, it's unlikely that the hate will linger long enough for the oil-slicked company to return to the tournament next year. As for the other three, they seem set enough in their ways to all but guarantee them high seeds for years to come.