Why It’s So Hard To Get A Concert Ticket — And What We Can Do About It
By Kathleen McGee, Chief of the Bureau of Internet and Technology, and Aaron Chase, Assistant Attorney General
When ticket sales opened for a U2 concert at Madison Square Garden in 2014 and fans across the state rushed online to buy their seats, a ticket broker named Prestige Entertainment, using a bot, snapped up 1,012 tickets in one minute. By the end of the day, that same broker and one other had together amassed more than 15,000 tickets to U2’s shows across North America.
It’s hard enough competing against other fans for concert tickets in New York. You shouldn’t also have to compete against lightning-fast bots. But ticketing, to put it bluntly, is a fixed game.
Five of the companies violated New York’s ticket laws by using ticket bots to gain an advantage over ordinary New Yorkers and purchase hundreds of thousands of tickets to concerts and other events across the city. Five of the companies illegally sold tickets without obtaining the required license — one which would have provided greater oversight and helped protect customers from any misconduct. And one of the companies developed software enabling ticket bots to get around the tests websites like Ticketmaster have developed to determine if customers are human — ensuring that the system stayed rigged.
These settlements come out of a longstanding investigation by the Office of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, where we work. For years, we’ve received complaints from customers frustrated as events they’ve anticipated for months sell out within moments. No one had done a comprehensive investigation of why it has become so hard to buy a ticket at face value. So we did.
Here’s what we found:
The General Public Loses Out on Tickets to Insiders and Brokers
- Holds and pre-sales reduce the number of tickets available to you.
Before a member of the public can buy a single ticket for a major entertainment event, on average, up to half of the available tickets are either put on “hold” and reserved for a variety of industry insiders including the venues, artists or promoters, or are reserved for “pre-sale” events and made available to non-public groups, such as those who carry particular credit cards. If you’re not an insider, you may be out of luck.
- Brokers use insider knowledge and illegal ticket bots to edge out fans.
When tickets are released, brokers buy up as many desirable tickets as possible and resell them at a markup, often earning individual brokerages millions of dollars per year. To ensure they get the tickets in volume, many brokers illegally rely on bots to purchase tickets at high speeds. As the New York Times reported, Ticketmaster has estimated that “60 percent of the most desirable tickets for some shows” that are put up for sale are purchased by Bots.
Our research confirms that at least tens of thousands of tickets per year are being acquired using this illegal software. Brokers then mark up the price of those tickets — by an estimated 49% on average, but sometimes by more than 1,000% — yielding easy profits. In at least one circumstance, a ticket was resold at 7,000% of face value.
Finally, some brokers sell “speculative tickets,” meaning they sell tickets that they do not have but expect to be able to purchase after locking in a buyer. Speculative tickets are a risk for consumers and also drive up prices even before tickets are released.
Remember: under current law, a professional broker is required to post their license information anywhere they sell a ticket. And, you have a right to know what fees are included in any ticket sale, whether it is on a retail or secondary sale site. We also strongly believe consumers should be able to know how many tickets are actually on sale for a show and to know what the fees they are being charged are for.
Making Ticketing More Transparent and Fair
Since releasing our report on the concert and sports ticket industry in January 2016, we’ve taken aggressive action to create a fair and transparent ticketing marketplace.
- We’ve secured $7.1 million in settlements with 15 businesses involved with the illegal ticket trade. These businesses include brokers, facilitators, and software developers.
- New York’s legislature enacted new legislation, called for by Attorney General Schneiderman, adding criminal penalties for bot use to the existing civil penalties. The law took effect in February 2017. Those who break the law to gain an edge over ordinary New Yorkers can now go to prison for their actions.
- Our investigation, and our work on this issue, is still ongoing. We’re not finished working to unrig the system.
We’re interested in hearing from you. So if you have a tip about a company using ticket bots, an unlicensed broker, unreasonably high fees, or a floor being set on the price you can resell a ticket, get in touch.
This is a problem we can only solve together.