EDITORIAL: New regulations force scalpers to face the music

by | Oct 7, 2017 | Editorial

Imagine sitting by the warm glow of a computer monitor waiting for the exact moment to purchase a coveted ticket for the summer’s largest concert. But in the instant when thousands of fans try to do the same as are advanced “scalper-bots,” the event is sold out.

With no chance of finding a ticket first hand from the vendor, the only option left is going to a ticket resale service like Stub Hub, with a price tag several times larger than before.

This is by no means a stretch of the imagination. Last year, Tragically Hip’s farewell concert sold out within minutes and were resold for hundreds of dollars more.

These sophisticated “scalper-bots” are able to bypass commonly used security features, akin to Capthca, and buy hundreds of tickets within seconds for resale at a premium. These programs operate faster than any human could.

“Probably a third of the tickets went to bots,” Joe Berchtold, chief operating officer of Live Nation, the world’s largest tour promoter told the CBC. “Another third went to brokers who were just like fans, pounding away at the keyboard, but better trained, more aggressive at it, and maybe a third of them went to fans.”

For years now, since ticket sales moved to a digital platform, there has been a programing arms race between automated ticket buying programs and human verification security on the websites of ticket vendors.

And each time ticket scalping software takes a step forward, the average fan becomes a step further away from seeing their favorite acts.

Finally, it seems after far too long, the Ontario government is picking up the slack and getting involved. Now there is legislation on the table to tackle scalper bots by limiting ticket resale prices 50 per cent above the face value and greater transparency from both the primary and secondary ticket sellers.

When CBC Marketplace interviewed Ken Lowson, a former bot operator in the U.S., he said he had the ability to buy 15,000 tickets in just two minutes with a push of a button.

Lowson told the CBC he bought and resold thousands of tickets for more than a decade, making an average of $25 per ticket, which added up to millions of dollars.

“We continue to fight and invest millions,” said Patti-Anne Tarton, the chief operating officer of Ticketmaster Canada. “Last year, we combatted five billion bots in North America.”

One fan, who remained anonymous, expressed the frustrations that many fans feel while purchasing tickets. Ticket News reported the fan left a complaint with the New York State Attorney General’s Office (NYSAGO) with an unsuccessful customer service¬¬ experience with Ticketmaster for the concert.

Long story short, the customer was denied a refund on the tickets after finding out their last-resort seats were platinum tickets. They were told by Ticketmaster to visit StubHub for cheaper tickets for seats that were sold out on their end. The customer then contacted StubHub to ask about their resale policy, who told them that the “non-refundable, non-transferable, non-saleable” tickets could be in fact resold as long as they could receive a PDF version from the Ticketmaster.

At the end of the day, a 50 per cent markup can still generate a large profit for scalpers and lately seem to be perfectly capable of outsmarting both fans and ticket vendors, so it will be up to Ontario’s other measures to introduce transparency and keep the competition fair.