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It’s Not You. You Really ARE Screwed When It Comes to Buying Concert Tickets

Here’s a typical scenario. One of your all-time favourite bands announces a concert date in your city and are booked into a typical 18,000 seat arena. Word goes out that tickets go on sale at 10am Friday.

You prepare to purchase. Computer synced to UTC within less than a millionth of a second? Check. Credit card information programmed into auto-fill in your browser? Check. Finger poised above the “enter” key, knowing that it will take precisely .023 seconds for you to fully depress it? Check.

After an interminable wait, the appointed second comes. You hit “enter” and…you’re greeted with a message that says “SOLD OUT.”

What the f*ck? What the f*cking f*ck?

This is more-or-less what Pearl Jam fans faced last week when the band announced two shows for the Air Canada Centre. How could so many tickets be sold in seconds? 

One word: bots. Goddamn ticket-buying bots run by brokers and ticket resellers.

In milliseconds, they elbow their way to the front of the line and scoop up the tickets you and thousands of others were hoping to buy. The Pearl Jam incident was particularly galling considering that the band once risked its entire career by going against The Man (i.e. Ticketmaster) to make ticket-buying more fair. If you need a history refresher, they eventually threw in the towel, even after testifying before government committees.

Rage against the machine all you want, but you’re screwed. Totally, utterly screwed. Technology has stacked everything against you. You will lose. Every. Single. Time.

Amber Healy from sister site Geeks and Beats breaks it down.

Late last summer, like countless other people, I sat at my desk at work and frantically tried to get tickets to Paul McCartney’s tour. The show I was desperately hoping to see, in Buffalo—the former Beatle’s first concert in that city ever—sold out in under five minutes, much to the dismay and confusion of people stuck in Ticketmaster’s online waiting room, to say nothing of those lined up outside the venue with fliers that, they assumed, guaranteed them tickets after waiting in line for hours.

This is hardly an isolated incident. Just this week, people were lamenting their poor fortune in trying to buy tickets to Pearl Jam’s upcoming North American tour and coming up empty handed. The same goes for sporting events, too: Big events are selling out faster than ever, and while technology was supposed to make it easier for fans to have access to their favorite performers or teams, it’s technology that’s ruining the fun for everyone.

New York State Attorney Eric Schneiderman has decided to do something about it. In a damning report released Jan. 29, he calls services like Ticketmaster, StubHub and other online sellers and resellers out for their ability to be compromised and outsmarted by bots.

Read the report here. (.PDF)


“Consider, for example, that on December 8, 2014, when tickets first went on sale for a tour by the rock band U2, a single broker purchased 1,012 tickets to one show at Madison Square Garden in a single minute, despite the ticket vendor’s claim of a ‘4 ticket limit.’ By the end of that day, the same broker and one other had together amassed more than 15,000 tickets to U2’s shows across North America.

Naturally, those brokers resold the tickets at prices far beyond face value.

“Consider that brokers sometimes resell tickets at margins that are over 1,000% of face value. Consider further that added fees on tickets regularly reach over 21% of the face price of tickets and, in some extreme cases, are actually more than the price of the ticket. Even those who intend their events to be free, like Pope Francis, find their good intent defeated by those who resell tickets for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.”

F*CK your bots. But like I said, it’s us who are f*cked. It’s all fixed and there doesn’t seem to be a damn thing we can do about it.

Question: If I’m in Pearl Jam and I know that ticket resellers are making money off the public’s demand to see us, shouldn’t I be pissed that I’m not getting a cut of that extra margin? Or is there something else going on that we don’t know about?

Get The X-Files on this one. The truth is out there.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37441 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

8 thoughts on “It’s Not You. You Really ARE Screwed When It Comes to Buying Concert Tickets

  • I started buying concert tickets in the 1970’s , we used to buy them at the jewelers at Applewood plaza. We didn’t have a shot at the best seats then either.Mind you we DID get tickets and even good ones. Just not the best as in front row floor etc.

    Then the forerunner of ticketmaster showed up BASS. Computerized “Best available seating system” or something like that. We still got good tickets but we were moving up the sides of the gardens and onto the second balcony at Massy.

    Ticketmaster eventually took over and as for me things stayed relatively the same except that my concert going declined significantly as i have aged.

    Now it looks like we can’t even get tickets , at least for the most popular shows. I did buy tickets for one show last year ,The Hip at the ACC and I got through and my seats were ,good but not on the floor 🙂

    My point (if i actually have one) is that i don’t things have changed all that much. I suspect it was Harald himself getting the best seats into the hands of scalpers ( ViA CPI) back in the day at a healthy profit. Now having the whole world on ticketmaster means the scalping is corporate and probably wholsale.

    Corporate management of the concert business was always going to end up here and short of a world wide boycott of scalpers and ticket master it will no doubt only get worse. and there’s never going to be that boycott.

  • What bugs me as well is the fact that unless you are a Super Fan Club member ($50 per person) or a Mega Fan Club member ($30 per person) or any one of 5 or six special categories of people who can get advance access to tickets, the pot you are playing for is already been picked through by the time tickets actually go on sale so you have less than a full complement of seats to choose from anyway. I tried to get tickets for a smaller show recently and tickets were sold out BEFORE they went on sale.

  • I’m surprised that a Dutch auction model hasn’t been tried out. When tickets first go on sale, price them at a ridiculous level – something like $5,000 each. You won’t sell many at that price (maybe none), but then the price gradually drops over time, at non-fixed intervals, and by non-fixed amounts. (Some smart analyst can figure out the right algorithm.) Buyers get their tickets when they drop to an acceptable level, or bite the bullet when they see supplies running out. This way, any extra margin goes into the pockets of the artists, and taking a position as a scalper becomes much less appealing, maybe not worth it at all.

    Does this mean cheaper prices for the buyers? No. There is still going to be a market price for tickets that has to be paid. But at least the profits go to the people that deserve them,

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