Your favorite band is coming to town, so you get online promptly at 10 a.m. on a Saturday to buy your tickets. But just five minutes in, you are told all the tickets are gone.
Adding more salt to the wound: You later discover that brokers and ticket exchanges like StubHub or Tickets for Less are holding dozens or hundreds of tickets to that show, including prime seats, and selling them for double or triple the face value.
“The average fan immediately assumes the fix was in,” said Sean Burns, editor of Ticket News, an online ticket-industry forum based in Baltimore. “But there’s a lot more to it.”
By the time a concert goes on sale to the general public, many of the seats in the venue have already been spoken for. The average fans are competing for a smaller pool of tickets — as little as half — and competing with more than just other fans.
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Some are withheld for sponsors, media, the venue and VIP packages; some are sold through pre-sales and fan-club sales. Those numbers vary from show to show.
“Generally speaking, the venue is provided a breakdown of the obligations of the tour, whether it’s a national sponsor or a bank-card sponsor or some other partnership that was negotiated before it gets to the venue,” said Shani Tate, vice president of marketing, communications and ticket sales at the Sprint Center. “Depending upon the artist and what particular deals are in place — there could be one, zero or 50 types of presales, fan clubs, etcetera.”
Those tickets can constitute as little as 10 percent of the available tickets or, according to some industry estimates, as many as half.
Fans are also competing with ticket brokers and bots, the electronic programs that bypass security measures at ticket sites and scoop up hundreds or thousands of tickets to be sold on the secondary market.
“I’m vehemently against third-party ticket brokers,” said Brett Mosiman of Pipeline Productions, which promotes shows at Crossroads KC and the Uptown Theater, among others. “I think it’s immoral and wrong and borderline illegal. They’re ripping off the artist and gouging fans.”
The Sprint Center is managed and operated by AEG. In 2013, AEG formed a partnership with StubHub after StubHub bought the naming rights to the former Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., which is owned by AEG.
When it was announced, Billboard magazine said the partnership “could unlock value for artists, managers and the promoter — and further legitimize secondary ticketing.”
StubHub is a ticket exchange. It doesn’t buy or sell tickets; it’s a marketplace for buyers and sellers. StubHub charges the sellers a 15 percent fee and buyers a 10 percent fee on the price of each transaction, but the sellers determine prices. That’s why you may see large disparities in prices on tickets in the same section of a venue.
For example, floor seats in row 7 for the Pink show at the Sprint Center in March are available at StubHub for $695 each. If you want to move up four rows, it will cost you $1,250 a seat. StubHub’s cut on a $1,250 ticket, by the way, would be $312.50. A floor seat a bit further back, if bought through the Sprint Center/AXS website, will cost you $195.95.
At the Sprint Center website, among the ticket-purchasing options is a link to StubHub, the “official ticket resale marketplace of AXS,” which is AEG’s ticketing platform. The same feature is available at the website for the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland, which is managed by AEG.
Tate said the feature gives fans the option of surveying the StubHub website for tickets with the assurance that any fraudulent tickets will be refunded, but the venue does not set aside tickets for StubHub.
“They (StubHub) do not get any ticket allocation,” she said. And artists and tours have the option of turning off the website’s StubHub feature, Tate said.
Tickets for Less, a broker with headquarters in Overland Park, does get tickets directly from Sprint Center as well as other venues, according to Jay Harig, the company’s vice president for sales and marketing. The company buys and sells concert and sports tickets, primarily from its own inventory, but also sells tickets from other brokers.
Harig said the company guarantees its tickets are valid by buying directly from the venue or sports team at the time tickets go on sale.
“Through our partnerships and relationships with venues and teams, we are allotted a certain amount of tickets we can purchase when tickets go on sale,” he said. “So all our tickets and all bar codes are verified through the venues. … We get them all as tickets are released to the public.”
Toby Cook, vice president of publicity for the Kansas City Royals, didn’t name any brokers but in an email he confirmed that the team has worked with them:
“The Royals have sold directly to brokers in the past. Over the past few years, that number has been significantly reduced. Last season, we sold to a partnership of two brokers but are still in the discussion stages on the plan for 2018.”
Harig said Tickets for Less markets and promotes shows and events in exchange for access to purchasing the tickets it sells.
In addition to the Sprint Center and Royals, he said, other local partners are the Kansas Speedway and the Kansas City Chiefs. He said the Sprint Center partnership started in February as part of the arena’s 10th anniversary celebration. Tate confirmed the venue’s partnership with Tickets for Less.
Other ticket companies also list their tickets on the Tickets for Less site, but all those have been validated, Harig said: “That’s where a lot of our (out-of-town) inventory comes from.”
Among the smaller venues and independent promoters, ticket sales are a different world. Pre-sales, fan clubs and venue/promoter holds are typically not a big issue.
“You get into the club level, even the theater level, and pre-sales for artists is negligible,” said Mosiman. “I’d say there is usually less than a 10 percent fan-club allotment for shows at the Uptown, the Midland and Crossroads KC. Some might sell a couple hundred, but that’s rare.”
For the independent promoters, brokers pose more of a philosophical battle and draw a line some won’t cross.
“We have no agreement with the secondary market, no relationship,” said Jeff Fortier of the concert/event promoter Mammoth.
Supply and demand
Nothing is guaranteed for brokers, who are playing a speculative game. As of Tuesday, for example, Tickets for Less showed it still held nearly five dozen tickets to the Katy Perry show, which was three days later, including nearly two dozen floor seats.
“If they get greedy, they can end up sitting on tickets,” Fortier said.
No one was sitting on tickets for the Bruno Mars show in August. The venue was out and even the brokers went dry. The few sellers on the street were asking as much as $500 for one floor seat.
Demand had skyrocketed and so did prices, which is good for all sellers but another source of frustration, anger and disappointment for fans.
Either there are no tickets to buy or they can’t afford the exorbitant asking price.
“Forty-thousand people wanted to see the show and there were 12,000 seats,” Fortier said. “People feel left out. Bruno Mars could have sold out Arrowhead but he chose to do more intimate rooms, which was great for those who got tickets. But he’s leaving demand on the table. Those cases are tricky and leave a bad taste in people’s mouths.”
Those sold-out shows can also bring out the worst in people.
Jen Butler of Olathe learned a hard lesson about buying tickets from a third party. She was so intent on taking her 6-year-old son to Bruno Mars she spent $600 on four tickets she bought from a woman she’d found on Craigslist.
Butler said she usually goes through a broker like StubHub, but even they were out of tickets.
“I met (the seller) at Crown Center the day of the show,” Butler said. “She was personable and seemed normal. I took a photo of her and hugged her. I showed her a picture of my son and said, ‘This is who you’re sending to the concert.’ The tickets looked legit.”
But they weren’t; they were counterfeit Ticketmaster tickets for a show that was ticketed by AXS, a glaring difference that would have been easily spotted by the venue or a broker.
Butler posted a photo of the woman on the Facebook page Stolen KC and filed a report with the Kansas City Police Department, to no avail. And the phone number Butler had for the woman was bogus, too.
“Craigslist is a leap of faith,” said Harig of Tickets for Less. “It’s an avenue where a lot of the scamming happens. You’re better off buying from a secondary company like StubHub or us or someone who can verify the bar codes.”
Harig said his company goes through an extensive process when purchasing tickets from a fan. And the company will refund a customer 200 percent of the cost if the ticket turns out to be fraudulent.
“We verify the bar code and take down their identification and other information,” he said.
Mosiman, a promoter, advises anyone buying tickets online to verify the source of the sale. Some websites will dupe you into buying overpriced tickets.
“The best way is to buy straight from the venue, at the venue or on its site and make sure it’s their site,” he said. “Google any show in town and you’re likely to find the first four or five things that pop up on your Google search are third parties. And it looks authentic but it has nothing to do with the promoter or the venue. And their price is likely to be two or three times the cost. And they pay like crazy to be at the top of those searches. You have to be careful.”
For example, one morning after Googling “Knuckleheads,” the first site that popped up was a link to the online broker Box Office Tickets, which was selling tickets to the Oct. 29 Poco show for $62 to $105 when tickets were still available through the venue’s website for $28.50.
And if you’re willing to gamble, wait until the day of the show, when venues often release some of those presale tickets and other holds and, in the case of a show that isn’t sold out, brokers often drop their prices.
“It can go both ways,” Harig said. “You can buy tickets from us that are 75 percent of the face value or, depending on the market, could be 25 percent more.”
Fighting the bots
Performers, promoters and venues have come up with ways to impinge on the bots and third-party sales, with varying results.
Radiohead used a paperless system for many of its prime seats at the Sprint Center show in April, requiring fans to show identification at the gate to be admitted to the show. Adele imposed a similar program for holders of the best 3,000 seats at each venue on her 2016 tour.
In 2014, the Foo Fighters launched a Beat the Bots campaign for an upcoming tour, which made tickets available only at the venues’ box offices. But results were mixed. Lots of fans had access to good seats for the $70 face value, but scores of tickets still ended up in the hands of brokers, many sold by those who waited in line.
Some promoters have responded by raising the price of tickets to cut into brokers’ profits or push the brokers’ prices beyond the market’s threshold.
In June 2016, the producers of the Broadway musical “Hamilton” nearly doubled the price of prime seats to $875, in part to fight the bots and brokers.
The show’s producer, Jeffrey Sellers, told the Chicago Tribune, “Raising our premium prices is the only tool I have to ensure that the dollars being expended on the play are going to the people who created the play.”
Some artists are employing Ticketmaster’s Verified Fans platform, which requires fans to register before the sale date and get an access code to buy tickets.
Pink used the platform before tickets went on sale to her upcoming March show at the Sprint Center as a way to funnel more tickets directly to her fans. Tate said, “We found the program to be effective.”
Nonetheless, StubHub is now offering more than 1,000 tickets to the show — seats all over the arena.
Ticketmaster has zeroed in on weeding out and nullifying suspicious transactions.
“But even if they catch 99.9 percent,” Burns said, “that still means a lot of tickets got through.”
The reality: There is consistently high demand for the best seats, especially to the rare or superstar shows, like Bruno Mars, Adele, Bruce Springsteen and “Hamilton.” And the market will decide what they’re worth.
“Really it comes down to high demand and low supply,” Burns said. “That’s the nature of economics in a free-market system.”