As far anyone can remember, the ticketing process for music events has long been a problematic one. Sadly, it has only gotten worse over the years, even with the available technology that, supposedly, should be able to address these issue effectively.
A recent article published in Vulture shed a spotlight on this longstanding issue and how it has adversely affected not only the ticket vendors and event promoters, but even the artists themselves. As such, the continuing debacle raises important questions that need to be addressed. Why do artists still have to comb through their own tickets sold to determine their authenticity? Who is to blame for all this mess? And what have state and federal authorities done so far to prevent behaviors that prevent actual fans from buying tickets and, more importantly, how effective are they?
The Ticketing Process and Where It Goes Wrong
When major artists decide to go on tour or stage a residency, a promoter works with them to help determine where they’ll play and how tickets will be priced and distributed, often through holds for industry insiders and presale programs for companies. This is where the majority of tickets are sold; roughly around 46 percent of the tickets are allotted to the general public. Also, event venues get a percentage of the fees tacked on to ticket sales.
There’s also the ticket vendors who earn from service and convenience fees. In addition, the ticket vendors may allow, and even encourage, users to resell tickets, sometimes on their own platforms at a price determined by the ticket sellers themselves rather than the vendor.
It’s here where the issues begin, particularly in the platforms where sellers get to sell their tickets. This is often where scalpers and brokers go to source tickets, being able to successfully bypass any security measures in place. They make a profit by engaging in price gouging, selling the ticket for much higher than face value, and gaining an upper hand on the real fans. Thus, the promoter risks getting screwed by scalpers thanks to price inflation, artists get screwed out of providing an ideal concert experience and, most unfortunate of all, fans get screwed.
In the midst of the issues, some successful initiatives have been made to curtail instances that encourage scalping. For instance in March 2017, Live Nation and Ticketmaster announced their Verified Fan presale technology where fans can register ahead of sale dates by providing personal information which is vetted by the companies. Fans then receive a code that allows them to purchase tickets and beat the scalpers. With over a million users signed up for the service to date, it has so far been an effective strategy in managing ticket sales for major artists like Ed Sheeran and Twenty One Pilots.
Another vendor, Songkick implemented its own technology to limit the number of scalpers taking advantage of the system. Working with artists like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Adele, and Jack Johnson, it has been able to save more than $50 million that would have been lost to scalpers.
Then there’s secondary market, the vendors who resell tickets. The general stance in the industry is that reselling tickets should be encouraged between fans only, with regulation in place to ensure that the ticket was legitimately purchased. But ridding the scalpers in that market takes substantial measures. In the case of one reseller, StubHub conducts regular security checks and verification as well as, in some cases, holding onto money from buyer to seller until after the event to legitimize the authenticity of the ticket.
On the part of the government, a number of states have passed various measures to curb scalping over the years, with varying degree of success. Perhaps the most significant action to improve ticket sales came from the federal level. One of President Barack Obama’s final flicks of the pen came on December 14, 2016, when he approved the Bots Act (or the Better Online Ticket Sales Act). It prohibited “unfair and deceptive acts and practices relating to circumvention of ticket access control measures,” offering criminal penalties under the Federal Trade Commission Act. It’s the first time ticketing is regulated on the federal level, and a momentous step forward for the industry, pending its enforcement.
Serious Challenges and a Need for Transparency
Still, the success rate for these measures have not always been perfect. But what is more telling is that the success of these measures greatly depend on the artist who can keep their fans’ interests in mind. Sadly, the fact is many artists could only care less as to who buys the ticket, so long as it’s sold. Not to mention there are rumors that some artists engage in unscrupulous ticketing practices themselves in order to boost tour income, while betraying fans in the process.
Then there is the problem of the antiquated system many tickets vendors still use. Such systems have not been able to handle the volume of users, leaving them in the dark with regards to ticket availability. It is such frustrating system that enables scalpers to take advantage. If you’re reading this and have tried getting tickets to shows hosted by a hosting site that crashes before showing you a “sold out” screen then you know the frustration all too well.
The key word as far as this issue is concerned is “transparency”. Transparency by all parties involved from the artists, promoters, and ticket vendors. Not to mention transparency by the ticket sale system so that it will not leave fans in the dark.
There is absolutely no doubt that if these issues in the ticket industry are to be resolved once and for all, a great deal transparency must be set in place.