From music to sports to theater, there’s nothing quite like going to a live show. It’s convenient to enjoy these pastimes from the comfort of our homes, but it just doesn’t compare to being there in person.
If you’re planning on buying a ticket for such an event, you generally have a few options: buying one at the box office, which has been made difficult by the second option, that is, buying through online services like Ticketmaster, or you can try your luck with a scalper (though we don’t recommend that as it’s illegal). But as it turns out, buying from Ticketmaster and buying from a scalper may not be as different as they appear…
Ticket scalping — reselling a ticket for an event — generally comes in two varieties. The innocuous version is when someone finds themselves with an extra ticket for an event that they can’t use so, in an effort to make their money back, they’ll try to sell the ticket off so some other person can enjoy the event and they can get their money back.
The more sinister form of ticket resale comes from people who are in it to make a quick buck. The idea is simple: buy some tickets for a show that you know will be sold out, then sell those tickets for a higher price than you bought them for.
In The Past
It used to be a very minor part of ticket sales, considering that if you wanted to be a ticket scalper, you would actually have to go down to the box office, wait in line for the tickets, then stand around trying to sell them on the day of the event, with no guarantees that you would even break even for your efforts.
But over the years, technology has drastically changed the way ticket scalping is done. As ticket sales migrated onto the internet — mostly through Ticketmaster — it got rid of some of the hassle of obtaining the tickets but online sales’ biggest advantage was that scalpers didn’t have to wait for the day of the event to sell off the ticket. Instead, they could post the ticket for sale online immediately after buying it, all but guaranteeing a sale if the event sold out.
As the risk of taking a hit on unsold tickets was cut down significantly, the profit margins of ticket scalping soared, meaning sophisticated groups got involved on the action. Instead of clicking and typing furiously to buy as many tickets as possible in the opening minutes that they were available, some people started employing bots — little computer programs that could buy up tickets much faster than any person could.
After bots were introduced into the game, events that would have sold out in hours online sold out in minutes and the only way for most people to get a ticket was from the secondary market. A lot of scalpers started making a lot of money and a lot of people were priced out of going to live events.
Seeing this kind of behavior that’s horrible for the consumer, ticket vendors could have taken steps to reduce abusive buying and reselling practices but aside from some token efforts, they didn’t do much. After all, they get paid the same if a ticket is bought by a fan or someone trying to make a buck. But what was even worse is that apparently, some ticket vendors were getting in on the scalping.
According to a report by CBC News and the Toronto Star, the box office giant “Ticketmaster [was] recruiting professional scalpers who cheat its own system to expand its resale business and squeeze more money out of fans.”
They sent in reporters posing as scalpers and equipped with hidden cameras who were pitched on Ticketmaster’s professional reseller program at a 2018 live entertainment convention in Las Vegas. A company representative told the “scalpers” that Ticketmaster’s resale division turns a blind eye to the use of ticket-buying bots and fake ids used to get around per-customer limits and rapidly buy bulk tickets before selling them at an insane markup.
We Won’t Stop You
In fact, Ticketmaster was incentivized to allow such behavior since, when a scalper resold a ticket through their website, the pricey resale tickets came along with extra fees for Ticketmaster, which actually pay the company more than the initial sale. “I have brokers that have literally a couple of hundred accounts,” a sales rep said. “It’s not something that we look at or report.”
If true, this policy would be a complete reversal from Ticketmaster’s stance just a few short years ago when Former CEO Irving Azoff said before US legislators “I believe that scalping and resales should be illegal.”
Even beyond turning a blind eye to big-time scalpers’ actions, it seemed Ticketmaster was doing its best to make things easier for them. At that same convention, Ticketmaster’s Resale director Casey Klein held a closed door session just for scalpers outlining why they should choose them over other vendors.
Klein told the audience that Ticketmaster had developed a professional reseller program that included TradeDesk, an online inventory management system for scalpers, bragging that it was “the most powerful ticket sales tool. Ever.” TradeDesk allowed scalpers to upload bulk quantities of tickets purchased from Ticketmaster’s site and list them for resale within minutes.
Have No Fear
Another presenter explained that while Ticketmaster has a “buyer abuse” division that looks out for blatant suspicious activity, the resale division doesn’t regulate TradeDesk users. “We don’t share reports, we don’t share names, we don’t share account information with the primary site. Period,” he said.
After news of Ticketmaster’s alleged abusive behavior became public, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before there was intense backlash. In addition to the obvious anger from customers, the box office company would be facing a class action lawsuit.
The law firm Hagens Berman filed a suit against Ticketmaster and its parent company Live Nation Entertainment for “unlawful and unfair business practices” that have “unjustly deprived live events fans and enriched scalpers.
Black Market Buddies
Steve Berman, a partner of the firm representing the suit called Ticketmaster’s program to allegedly aid scalpers a “highly controlled black market scheme.” They proposed class for the suit included anyone in the US who had purchased a ticket from a professional reseller associated with Ticketmaster’s secondary market.
We Want Answers
Even lawmakers were piling on the ticket company, with Senators Jerry Moran and Richard Blumenthal sending a letter to the Live Nation CEO, demanding that he clarify the specifics of Ticketmaster’s resale program. They noted in the letter that the “allegations of harm to consumers” were “serious and deserve immediate attention.”
“When you think of ticket buyers being swindled by scalpers,” Berman said in a press release, “you likely imagine last minute sales outside venue doors. You certainly wouldn’t assume the company selling the tickets — Ticketmaster — to be the ringleader behind massive price hikes spanning millions of tickets.”
For their part, Ticketmaster denied any wrongdoing whatsoever. They issued a statement to CBC News after the story broke saying it was “categorically untrue that Ticketmaster has any program in place to enable resellers to acquire large volumes of tickets.”