Ticketing Is Broken

SOLD OUT shows & the new age of digital scalping

If you are a music fan, it’s likely that have been disappointed with the current state of ticketing – you’re left wondering why ticket prices are so high, why fees are unexplained, and why there never seems to be tickets available.

In Canada, it’s difficult to get tickets for a popular concert. Canada is HUGE, long distances between major cities and relatively small population create a difficult climate for touring artists. The distance means to tour Canada you need additional time & resources, so artists only visit 3 or 4 Canadian cities per tour.

This led me to investigate the ticketing industry in an effort to find the best tickets at reasonable prices. The journey was not easy, quality information is scarce and ticket vendors don’t exactly want to divulge their secrets. This is what I learned along the way.

My ticket buying process

Presale codes, if you are lucky enough to find this magical password – you have a chance to get tickets. Without one, it’s almost impossible to get a ticket at face value. (we will get into that in a second)

When I hear a band is coming to town and immediately start searching the internet for presale codes and move through a series of logical places to obtain them.

  1. Google, they are the world’s top search engine for a reason.
  2. Visit the bands website and sign up for their email newsletter, this is usually the best pace to get a presale code. You may already be too late to get one, but if you click the “Can’t see this email? Read a copy on the web.” or similar link you may be able to access their newsletter archive.
  3. Visit the sponsoring radio stations website and join their fan club, and/or sign up for their email newsletter.
  4. Visit the venue website and sign up for their newsletter.
  5. Ask friends that are likely to have access to a presale code if they would share it with you.

If at this point you still don’t have access to a presale code you will have to wait for the public sale in the hope that tickets are still available, frantically call radio stations or start saving your pennies for an aftermarket ticket deal.

Where did all the tickets go?

Records are broken everyday for concerts selling out. When it was announced that Garth Brooks would be playing the Calgary Stampede’s 100 Year celebration this year people were thrilled… then shocked when it was reported that the show’s 15,322 tickets sold out in 58 seconds.

There were rampant accusations that Ticketmaster had diverted a large block of tickets to a subsidiary site (we might as well call it what it is: digital scalping tool) TicketsNow. Seconds after the concert was sold out you could purchase tickets on TicketsNow, some with a $10,000 price tag for a ticket with a face value of $65. Ticketmaster of course denies this, and I believe them, but they didn’t take the time to explain how this could happen – because they don’t want you to know.

Where did all the tickets go? How could they possibly sell out that fast? I mean there is no way I can get through Ticketmaster checkout labyrinth and enter my credit card in 58 seconds.

The truth is they didn’t, and at the time of public sale there were very few (if any) tickets to sell.

The core issue boils down to venue and partner exclusivity contracts. If a venue uses Ticketmaster for an event there is a good chance they have signed a contract, and that contract states that all events at the venue, regardless of the type of event or the promoter must be ticketed by Ticketmaster. In return Ticketmaster offers validation equipment and certain loyalty perks to the venues patrons.

One of these perks is venues that offer season tickets to get to offer first right pre-sales to all major concert events as a perk to season ticket holders. This is a great perk for season ticket holders, and an uphill battle for music fans.

In the case of the Calgary Flames, season tickets sell out year to year. With approximately 7,000 season ticket holders, accounting for 14,000 seats. When the presale is offered season ticket holders have access to purchase 4 tickets (sometimes more depending on the event contract) per season ticket they own.

Lets do the math, if all season ticket holders purchased the maximum amount of tickets.

14,000 season tickets seats x 4 tickets per seat = 56,000 tickets

The event only had 15,322 tickets, so its pretty easy to see why high profile events sell out, but it doesn’t stop there. If tickets remain you have the Calgary Hitmen Hockey & Calgary Roughnecks Lacrosse season ticket holders, radio stations, corporate partners, partner presales (credit card companies, band fan clubs), and lastly public sale.

The new age of digital scalping

It’s hard to find real figures but from what I understand an executive level season ticket costs approx $9,000 for 45 games. That is a huge chunk of change, but if you roll the dice and resell concert tickets can also be a gateway to profit.

There are a few exceptions but for most concerts you can purchase your tickets from Ticketmaster, and without even collecting them post them on TicketExchange for whatever price you would like. They do the rest for you, broker the deal, collect payment, print and ship the tickets. They collect commision (again) and you pocket the profit. If you don’t like TicketExchange you can also post them on TicketsNow, StubHub, Ebay, or a large list of others. For popular concerts tickets 4-5 times their face value, not bad for 10 minutes work.

Yes, but Ticket scalping is illegal right?

Well no… Not really… In Canada there are no laws stopping a ticket retailer from selling bulk tickets to a secondary retailer, and with the exception of Ontario & Quebec there are no rules on ticket resale.

In Ontario offers some legislated protection, making it illegal to sell a ticket for more than the face value.

Every person who,

(a) being the holder of a ticket, sells or disposes of the ticket at a higher price than that at which it was first issued, or endeavours or offers so to do; or
purchasing as a speculation or at a higher price than advertised.

(b) purchases or attempts to purchase tickets with the intention of reselling them at a profit, or purchases or offers to purchase tickets at a higher price than that at which they are advertised or announced to be for sale by the owner or proprietor of any place mentioned in section.

In Quebec the laws have been put in place to protect the ticket retailer and not the consumer.

Quebec put into law “Bill 25″ in June 2012, making it illegal for ticket brokers to resell a ticket for more than the face value of the ticket without first obtaining permission from the ticket’s original vendor. Brokers reselling tickets are required to inform consumers the tickets are being resold, and must tell consumers the name of the ticket’s original vendor and the original face value price.

Bill 25 affords protection to the ticket retailer allowing them final say on ticket resale and a chance to collect commissions once more. The only consumer protection offered is that it must be known that the tickets is being resold at a higher price.

Retailers in the end easily circumvent that law by dealing online, as none of Canada current ticketing laws (that I can find) mention dealing online, and if the transaction happens on a server outside of the province of legislation no law has been broken.

Alberta, the wild west.

In Alberta (where I live) it is the wild west, and there are no protections offered. Where most provinces have laws against physically scalping tickets, in 2009 the Government of Alberta repealed the “Amusements Act” making is perfectly legal to stand outside the stadium and scalp tickets.

From what I see the only real avenue for prosecution of ticket scalping in Alberta is to be fined by the venue operator for trespassing (which lets face it would never happen as they profit from even butt in the stands), or through municipal bylaws for operation without a municipal business licence (although there is nothing stopping you from obtaining one)

How do we solve this?

Self Regulation — The best solution would be a honest ticketing market that puts measures in place to protect its own consumers.

The retailer could put in place policies that:

  1. Restrict ticket transfers to one or two tickets a month, eliminating bulk tickets sell offs and personal reselling for multiple events.
  2. Place restrictions on the percentage of tickets that can be reserved for venue, sponsor & season ticket holder perks.

I realize that in an currency driven endeavor this does not seem advantageous to corporations, but there is definitely room for some honesty in the industry.

Ban Ticket Transfers — We the consumer could fight to ban all ticket transfers. Yes, on some occasions we would be out a few bucks on an event we could not attend because of unforeseen circumstances… but we would all be richer in the end.

Support Honest Retailers — We as artists, promoters, venues & consumers can support the efforts of honest ticket retailers and shake up the industry. They might be giants, but we cast a mighty stone.