Foo Fighters had a 'Beat the Bots' box office presale for their latest tour.
The internet has become a pretty tangled web for ticketing in the music industry.
Venues and artists are trying to stay one step ahead of fraudulent sellers and bots designed to buy up blocks of tickets to sell on the secondary market, while legitimate secondary sellers are fighting for their rights to provide options to concert goers.
And for music fans, web buying can be disconcerting, as those looking to score tickets must face off with websites that may or may not actually have the tickets they claim and sites that may or may not protect their vital information.
There is no easy way to make buying tickets completely safe for consumers, but venues and artists are being proactive in their attempts to make purchasing safer, while no doubt directing buyers away from secondary sellers and back to the venue.
In 2015, we may see more artists follow the path of two major acts that have taken up the fight against scalping. We may also see resolution to court battles over freedom in the secondary market.
Artists vs. Scalpers
Country artist Eric Church made headlines in September when he “declared war on scalpers,” as one newspaper in Tennessee put it. Church, who had one of the top-selling country albums of 2014, set out guidelines for venues in order to block scalpers from buying up tickets for his 35-arena tour. His stated goal was to keep tickets in the hands of “real fans” and away from those who planned to resell them at a jacked up price.
One of the venues on his tour was Target Center in Minneapolis, Minn., a 20,500-capacity arena, home to the National Basketball Association's Minnesota Timberwolves and NHL’s Minnesota Wild.
In conjunction with Church’s manager, Fielding Logan, Target Center identified 900 tickets that violated the sales limit for the event.
“We were simply acting on the request of the artist to enforce the ticket limit so that more true fans could see the show at face value, there really wasn't much more to it than that,” said Target Center Director of Ticketing David Balcer. “With regard to the identification process, we simply compared names, addresses, credit cards, email and IP Addresses.”
Balcer is a board member of a Ticketmaster-supported group of 200 or so industry members called Fan First Coalition, which states its goal is to “stand with fans against scalpers.” He said it was no surprise that he was not contacted by most whose tickets were canceled.
“Interestingly enough, we only heard from 2 people that had their tickets refunded which should tell you something,” Blacer said. “Both lived out of state and both declined our offer to reinstate their tickets and have them left under their names at will call. I also did a simple Google search on both individuals and were able to easily determine that both worked for ticket scalping organizations.”
There were reports that some of the mass-purchased tickets were being offered online for over $800.
Church is doing more than just tracking down likely scalpers, his camp is also turning toward nontransferable, paperless tickets. At his large arena shows, there are around 4,000 lower-bowl seats that can only be had via paperless tickets. Church and his team have a zero-tolerance policy against transferring those tickets.
How do companies that handle ticketing for venues such as Ticketmaster feel about artists being vigilant against scalpers?
“The people who have poured their hearts and souls into the creative process and come up with great music, they should have options on how they want their tickets sold,” said Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications for Live Nation Jacqueline Peterson.
Church isn’t the only major act that is loudly fighting the scalping industry. The Foo Fighters announced a box office only tour called Beat the Bots, which includes a poster that takes a shot at one of the world’s biggest secondary sellers StubHub, using their colors with the words “SuckHub!”
The Foo Fighters’ experiment was criticized for both making it difficult on those who wanted to buy tickets and for doing little to actually prevent scalping.
The Huffington Post wrote: “Does anyone really think that every single person who showed up over the weekend intends to use their tickets themselves? It's only been a few days, but Foo Fighters tickets – being sold online at huge markups.”
A ticket going directly from buying hand to resale online wasn’t the only issue with the Beat the Bots plan. There were also weather issues, like in Minnesota, where it isn’t ideal to stand outside in late autumn waiting to buy a seat.
Ticketing in the Courts
Regardless of the execution, the Fighters’ attempt was indicative of a fight that isn’t soon to end. In fact, it is one that is going beyond artists vs. scalpers and into courtrooms, with major companies throwing weight around in attempts to pass legislation that would make secondary selling more difficult.
In March, a proposed bill passed through a Tennessee house subcommittee that proposed ticket brokers be forced to register with the state. The bill eventually died in committee.
“The bill is about control,” StubHub’s Chief Legal Officer Lance Lanciault told Venues Today in March. “It’s about limiting competition and limiting consumer choice about where fans can resell tickets.”
Scalper-friendly laws, which sought to prevent venues from using paperless ticketing, and legislatures in Florida, New York and Massachusetts have been seeing lobbyists from both sides fight over scalper rights.
“Ticketmaster is squarely behind (the Tennessee) bill,” he said. “Their CEO has stated that their No. 1 goal is to gain share in the secondary market. This bill is an attempt to tell consumers that they have to buy tickets where Ticketmaster sells them instead of where they want to sell tickets.”
Ticketmaster has started its own resale program called TM+ to create competition for secondary sellers. The difference between a legitimate secondary seller and the TM+, Peterson said, is that there is a 100-percent guarantee that the ticket will work – as opposed to simply getting money- back guarantees.
“There are nefarious people who use practices like selling tickets online by posing as a venue or artist to trick fans and that goes even outside of the music industry,” Peterson said. “And then there are legitimate people who want the same things (as Ticketmaster), which is to provide good service to fans. So you can’t paint them all with the same brush.”
Those nefarious people are responsible for more issues in ticketing than just price hikes. Balcer said an even tougher battle may come via identity fraud. Recently in Milwaukee, 10 people who were charged with purchasing tickets with stolen credit card numbers, made more than $1.7 million in purchases of concert and sporting event tickets, then resold the tickets.
“These, unfortunately, are more difficult to identify before venues and ticketing agencies get hit with chargebacks which typically take place after the event has occurred,” he said.
Even with ever-improving tactics and technology, the battle for venues to stay ahead of fraud is far from over.
Interviewed for this story: David Balcer,(612) 673-1600; Jacqueline Peterson, (310) 867-7000; Lance Lancaiult, (540) 491-4552