Times have been hard in the world of ticket buying. Many of us concert lovers are left stranded on the metaphorical island of hopelessness — that one that probably looks reminiscent of Fyre Festival’s Great Exuma. Red Rocks tickets are selling out before fans even get a chance to see them in the first place. Not only is Denver facing these problems, it’s become worldwide. Though some of us are just noticing the problem now, there has been a nearly two-decade long fight led by consumers and musicians alike in the world of online ticketing. The business of re-selling tickets has become an estimated $8 billion industry and only continues to grow as your chances of getting tickets to your favorite shows shrink. But how did this happen? How did we get here and where are we headed? Here’s everything you need to know about the complex, often frustrating, world of ticket sales.
Point blank — fans can’t buy tickets to some of their favorite shows. And if they want to, they need to break their banks on secondary ticketing sites like StubHub or sacrifice their first borns to that creepy neighbor who somehow got 20 tickets to Gorillaz at Red Rocks. Many of us have experienced the frustration of sitting in a waiting room 30 minutes before tickets go on sale just to get through to a sold out landing page. But wait — tickets are already available on secondary ticketing sites like StubHub? Thousands of them, at extensively marked up prices. And some even say “presale” on them or are designated for disabled concert-goers.
“This here is just to say that we were more than taken aback and surprised about the speed of ticket sales, as well as the effectiveness of scalper pieces of fucking shit at getting their hands on said tickets before fans could, and it’s knocked us on our asses.” James Murphy, LCD Soundsystem
How and Why is This Happening?
Scalpers are Taking Advantage of the Market
Scalpers are like hitchhikers. We see them and wonder, “Wait, is that legal?” In the city limits of Denver, it is illegal to sell tickets above face value. Section 7-294 of the Denver Municipal Code says, “(a) It shall be unlawful for any person to sell or offer to sell at a premium, or at a higher price than the price printed thereon, any ticket of admission to any lawful exhibition, athletic event, theatrical entertainment, motion picture theater or any other lawful show, amusement or performance to which the general public may gain admission by the payment of a fee or charge therefor.” However, it also states that this rule does not apply to tickets purchased online. Though scalping is illegal, what is legal in Denver is for scalpers to remain silent if ever asked about their intentions or what they’re doing. The Constitution guarantees us this right so if police approach a scalper, the scalper doesn’t have to say anything at all making it difficult for law enforcement to do anything about it. With all of that being said, it seems pretty darn easy to get away with scalping tickets.
Ticket Bots & Resale Sites are Taking Over
Scalpers are no longer just that guy on the side of the road shouting, “Tickets!” anymore. They have evolved and taken on robot form as well. Rather than bore you with talk of ticket bots, I’ll let Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda take it away:
“The issue is the widespread use of special automated software called ‘ticket bots’ by third-party brokers… Brokers who buy tickets using bots substantially mark up the prices — sometimes by more than 1,000 percent — yielding enormous profits,” Miranda via the New York Times
Ticketing bots have become so sophisticated, they’re hard to do anything about. An estimated 60 percent of all tickets sold on Ticketmaster are purchased by these bots and the scalpers who run them. In an interview by Noisey, “the most infamous ticket scalper,” Ken Lowson, said this in regards to U2’s 2006 tour,
“When the sale dropped, we took 496 [tickets] in New York, 492 in Boston, 496 in LA. They apologized on the Grammys because of us, and then they had a second round of sales to make up for it. We took all the good tickets in that second round, too.”
The Music Industry Has a Web of Partners and Sponsors
Now, what about the music industry itself? In a report released in early 2016, New York’s attorney general partly blamed promoters, venues and artists who reserve 46 percent of New York’s event tickets for “industry insiders.” The executive director of the National Association of Ticket Brokers Gary Adler said, “They [promoters, venues and artists] don’t want the public to know so few tickets are available.” A lot are sold to insiders in pre-sales where ticket bots have an upper-hand because they can get access to codes — while some fans struggle to locate one — and buy up all of the pre-sale tickets. Tickets are also “put on ‘hold’ for promoters, advertisers, radio stations, venues, VIP packages and corporate sponsors, or sold directly to scalpers by venues themselves” (Motherboard @ VICE). Many of these holds revolve around corporate sponsors such as CitiBank, AmericanExpress or Chase who have negotiated agreements with the promoters. These credit card pre-sales end up contributing to the problem because scalpers know which banks get these codes, get credit cards with those banks and as a result, get the pre-sale codes. However, in some cases, like this extensive study done in New York, these holds only account for 16 percent of ticket sales and are, for the most part, passed along to card holders for pre-sale.
The nation’s largest promoters are Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) and Live Nation who do most of the promotion here in Denver. Both Live Nation and AEG have connections with ticketing sites — direct, not secondary (though Live Nation has loose connections with secondary sites — we’ll get to that). Live Nation merged with Ticketmaster in 2010 and AEG created AXS soon after in 2011 to combat Ticketmaster.
Now, Ticketmaster isn’t exactly squeaky clean when it comes to helping out the ticket-buyer. The platform owns TM+ and TicketsNow which are secondary ticketing services. Secondary ticketing services are digital platforms like StubHub or VividSeats that allow people to re-sell tickets at marked-up prices. Most of the time, the service takes a cut of the sale, which is probably why Ticketmaster has even encouraged artists to resell their own concert tickets on TM+ and TicketsNow (Neil Diamond did this in 2009 and faced scrutiny for it). This can bring conflicts of interest to light. For example, in 2009 in what was called a “glitch,” Bruce Springsteen fans were redirected from Ticketmaster to TicketsNow when buying tickets to Springsteen’s tour. The problem: tickets were still for sale on Ticketmaster at face value. Now, we should note that this was before Ticketmaster merged with Live Nation — a merger of which Springsteen condemned. But Live Nation advertises jobs for Ticketmaster’s U.K. versions of these secondary sites. The one silver lining here is that Ticketmaster’s secondary sites only resell verified tickets so consumers don’t get scammed.
Now, what about StubHub? StubHub is simply a secondary ticketing service dedicated to reselling. Well, up until recently. The eBay-owned business has started reaching out to artists directly to sell tickets on their platform. This means StubHub has the potential and is utilizing such potential, to become a primary and secondary ticket seller.
Neither AEG or LiveNation responded to our request for comment.
Denver’s Population is Growing
In addition to scalpers, the secondary market and bots, let’s face it — Denver is growing. This isn’t always a bad thing for music lovers because bigger shows are coming to Denver. But our venues, on the other hand, are facing larger capacities, and we can’t exactly expect Red Rocks to build another 20 rows of stairs.
What’s Being Done to Fix the Problem?
What’s the government doing?
Outside of the world of music, laws have begun circulating to fight ticket bots. New York pioneered the trend, outlawing ticket bots entirely. The federal government followed suit at the end of 2016 when then-President Barack Obama signed the Better Online Ticketing Act. Ironically abbreviated BOTS, the act expanded the ban New York set in place, making the use of ticket bots illegal nationwide. However, these laws seemingly aren’t helping. In New York, criminals that use these bots and software yield such high profits that they’re willing to take the risk.
What are the musicians doing?
Right now the burden is on the fans and the artists. Musicians who care enough to do something about this have been putting themselves out there financially, legally and politically.
This year Chance the Rapper bought back about 2,000 tickets from scalpers and sold them back to his fans. Some of those tickets were hundreds of dollars more than face value. Odesza has done the same for their Red Rocks shows the past two years, and we’ve seen this from other artists as well. Though beneficial to fans, buying back tickets is detrimental to the musician.
Adele went with Ticketmaster’s paperless system for her most recent tour which was supposed to be a convenience for the fan in order to fight fake tickets and secondary sales. But it backfired. Since ticket-holders couldn’t print tickets at home, they reportedly had to wait in a will call line for hours. Granted, Live Nation posted earlier on that tickets could be picked up the day of the show anytime after 10 a.m.
Adele has also worked with SongKick in the past for ticket sales. SongKick allows artists to sell tickets directly through their website. Fans had to make an account on Adele’s website for presale access which gave the company an opportunity to weed out scalper profiles. Though some fans noted technical difficulties and glitches with SongKick, it’s estimated 53,000 tickets were prevented from getting into the hands of scalpers and Adele fans saved a total $6.5 million not having to buy from the secondary market.
Earlier this year Eric Church’s tour manager went with the method of ticket cancellation. Church’s manager claims to have nullified approximately 25,000 tickets held by scalpers. Now, many of you may be thinking, “Awesome!” but keep in mind the system of doing this doesn’t vet out just the career scalpers. Let’s say you buy tickets for you and your friends but one can no longer make it and you sell their ticket online. That means you’re a scalper, and this system will assume you’re selling the rest of your tickets as well — and cancel them. Church’s team nearly faced a lawsuit for the method.
In July of 2016, the FanFair Alliance was created. The FanFair Alliance is a combined effort to fight “industrial-scale online ticket touting.” It’s created and funded by the managers of Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, PJ Harvey, Arctic Monkeys and One Direction. They have a four-step system to accomplish their goals and have been working towards achieving them. The only problem — FanFair Alliance is a U.K. organization. Does the US have one of these? Not that we could find. Since the fight involves the WorldWideWeb, the FanFair Alliance could still impact the US, but it isn’t likely.
What are the promoters and their ticketing services doing?
All of those little annoyances when it comes to ticket-buying are actually how ticketing services help prevent bot buying — CAPTCHA and online waiting rooms. For those of you who may not know, CAPTCHA are those prompts that make you verify you’re a human whether it be clicking on all of the photos that fit into a category or transcribing a series of letters and numbers. Though CAPTCHA has proven useful in proving identities, many bots have still found ways to get around it.
In 2015 AEG’s AXS merged with Veritix. Veritix is a paperless ticket-buying system that offers ticket-management technology aimed to help out the consumer. Many dedicated ticket-buyers have noticed the waiting room’s that goes live approximately 30 minutes before tickets go on sale. As frustrating as it is to wait in the digital room for 30 minutes just to not make it through to buy tickets, this service was actually put into effect in order to give the many early buyers a fair advantage as once ticket sales finally open up, entrance is randomized from the waiting room. AXS also claims to weed out scalpers and bots as the waiting room fills up. Additional Veritix features beneficial to the consumer include the “AXS invite” which streamlined the process for buying tickets in groups as well as FlashSeats, an e-ticketing service.
What about Live Nation? Earlier this year TicketMaster (Ticketmaster and Live Nation merged in 2010) rolled out their Verified Fan program with ticket sales for Ed Sheeran’s upcoming tour. The Verified Fan program allows ticket buyers the option to register online in order to receive a unique code for the concerts pre-sale. Ticketmaster claims to review the registrations, which include name, phone number and even social media information, in order to help vet out the scalpers. Ticketmaster’s head of music in North America, David Marcus, claimed that less than 1 percent of tickets sold through their Ed Sheeran pre-sale ended up in the hands of scalpers, which is some impressive progress. As of this month, there are over one million users signed up for the Verified Fan program. According to Rolling Stone, Marcus said that if the program works, it will be expanded to all ticketing sales and not just presale. The only problem with allowing Ticketmaster to go through your social media for verification is that some may see this as a violation of your privacy. But that’s a whole other wormhole we won’t go into.
As we all know, there are two sides to every story. So what does the other side of this argument look like? The New York Times explained, “To an economist, the very existence of scalpers and companies like StubHub proves that tickets are far too cheap to balance supply and demand.” Which makes sense — if the demand for a show is incredibly high and there’s little ticket-supply, affordable tickets will be competitive. In addition, tickets are being sold from venues for below what’s considered market value. In the words of
“Face value is the price printed on the ticket and the one used in advertisements. It’s akin to a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) on any other product. What most fail to understand is that face value is rarely the same as market value, and is often purposely set below market value to create consumer demand.” via Huffington Post
This can hurt consumers directly, too. If someone needs to sell their ticket and the show is not sold out, they could actually lose money because they’ll probably have to sell their tickets for, at most, what’s advertised — face value. It’s against the law in Denver city limits to sell tickets at a higher price than what’s printed on the ticket — which doesn’t include the fees you probably paid.
Live Nation CEO Michael Rupino has said, “We can have the best technology, we can try to stop it, we can try to isolate it. But you can’t ever fix this when you leave that much money off the table.” In order to fight the incentive of reselling tickets, he recommends that artists simply raise their prices. According to the New York attorney general’s report, previously mentioned, one of the problems with the industry is that tickets are initially being sold below their market value. Look at Red Rocks for example — nearly every show is the same price. If tickets for the highly desired shows were priced higher, scalpers would, in theory, purchase fewer tickets, and so would the fans, making ticket buying less competitive. Critics claim that, though generous, artists who lower their prices for fans aren’t actually doing any good. We’ve noted that supply and effect must be considered, and in these instances, it’s not. President of Ticketmaster North America, Jared Smith, has said the most scalping is seen at shows where artists charge the least for tickets.
Scalpers come with their perks too. What happens when you find out you no longer have to work the night of Tom Petty at Red Rocks, it’s the day of the show, and tickets are sold out? It’s times like those where scalpers come in handy. Also, scalpers can end up being beneficial to the musicians and venues. If scalpers are purchasing tickets early on, they’re taking the risk in place of the artist. What if those tickets don’t sell?
What Can You Do?
Ticketing bots have run rampant, legally and illegally, creating annoyances for consumers, promoters and artists alike. But you don’t have to be helpless here. Here’s a list of things you can do to fight ticket bots and support live music:
Call and Email Your Senators
There are a few ways legislation can help out fans in the world of ticket buying. Steeper penalties need to be put into place for scalping and ticket bots so that it’s not happening so frequently and the high profits in the resell market aren’t as tempting when it comes down to repercussions. Also, encourage your senators to push for a “cap” percentage as to how much people can markup tickets on resale. Also, ask them to fight convenience fees without due cause. It’s unfair for consumers to pay for steep convenience fees when they don’t know what they’re for. You can contact your senator here.
Call and Email Local Promotion Companies and Venues
Part of the problem is transparency on holds and convenience fees. Venues and promoters can help fix this problem if they were more transparent on the number of tickets available to the public and what exactly convenience fees are going towards. In a world where concert goers feel that the ticketing system is stacked against them, a lack of trust has formed between the consumer and the promoters.
Email your local promoters and ask them to help address this issue and fight the use of ticket bots. Ask them to start selling and advertising their tickets at market value instead of what they consider face value.
You can call AEG Live Rocky Mountains at 303-573-0560 and AEG Live Corporate at 323-930-5700 and 213-763-7700. If pen and paper is more your style, write AEG a letter at this address. Live Nation’s customer service line is 1-800-653-8000. You can also write them a letter at the Ticketmaster address here.
Resell Your Tickets at the Price You Bought Them For
Of course, it’s tempting to make a pretty penny by selling tickets to a sold out concert you can no longer make it to. But it’s time to put that aside and start fighting the scalpers and bots by giving other fans a fair chance. Sell your tickets at face value because you would want someone else to do the same if you were in their shoes, right? It’s at no cost to you and will assuredly make someone’s day.
Don’t Spend Money On Secondary Ticketing Sites
A simple argument in favor of scalping is, “If people want to pay a fortune for tickets to concerts and sporting events, why shouldn’t we let them?” (via CNBC). We know how hard it is to resist the urge to buy overpriced tickets on StubHub to your favorite artists’ show, but it does contribute to the problem. The more we support secondary ticketing markets, the more they’ll continue to succeed. And with the success of these markets comes more bots and more scalpers.
Protect Yourself and Others From Getting Scammed
This sounds self-explanatory, but there are some things you should be aware of when buying tickets on the secondary market. First, don’t trust search engines. Many will populate ads and secondary sites (ahem, Redrocks.amphitheatremorrison.com), first before you get to the reliable ones so your best bet is to go to the artist’s website directly. If you absolutely must support the secondary market, buy tickets through services that verify them first like TM+ and TicketsNow.
Note — a previous version of this article stated the Die Antwoord Red Rocks show was sold out. It is not sold out and tickets are still on sale via AXS.