Scalping the scalpers

It’s so much more convenient to buy a concert ticket nowadays than it was when I was in high school back in the deep, dark, 1980’s.  I remember that I’d lie to my mom and say I was staying over at a friend’s house, and then we would all head over to the mall and camp out in the parking lot in front of the Diamond’s Box Office.  (Goldwater’s turned into Diamond’s, and is now Dillard’s.  Thank you for playing.)  Spending the night in the mall parking lot involved a boombox, lots of cassettes, a deck of cards, board games, Mad Libs and blankets.  Usually, we didn’t bring food or water, because we were stupid teenagers.

Every Saturday at 10am, the tickets for that week would go on sale.  Every event went on sale at the same time, so if there was more than one big show, you might find yourself in line behind Van Halen fans when you wanted a ticket to see Thompson Twins.  This could be a huge problem because by the time your turn came to get a ticket, it might be sold out, or all the floor seats might be gone.  My friends and I solved this problem by finding the most remote box office locations we could.  When a-ha tickets went on sale, we went two hours of of town to the Prescott mall so we could get good seats.  (THIRD ROW, BITCHES!)

While this was a thrilling adventure, it led to heartbreak more often than not.  For every time I got a seat in the first five rows, there were ten times I either got no ticket or had to sit on the lawn or in the balcony.

Nowadays, tickets go on sale at all sorts of times of the day and days of the week.  (I still think that is really weird, don’t you?  OK I am old, I get it.)  Instead of camping out in front of a box office location, I press “refresh” over and over until the tickets go on sale.  I made sure to get on as many presale lists as I could, so that I get first pick of the seats, because old habits die hard.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you plan, shows sell out quickly and you are screwed.  The most infamous and recent controversy that occurred over scalpers was the New York LCD Soundsystem farewell show at Madison Square Gardens.  James Murphy posted up a “fuck you, scalpers” blog and made sure to add more shows once he found out what happened.  The only way to get into these shows was to show your ID.  You couldn’t sell your ticket to anyone else.  The person who bought the ticket was the only one who could enter the venue. I thought this was a great idea, and was glad that some real fans got to see the shows.

Because of the prevalence of scalpers scooping up tickets and selling them for much more than the original price, the music industry is considering going paperless. This would mean that from now on, the only way to get into a show would be to show your ID or have your credit card swiped. I am of two minds in regards to this practice.

First of all, it would be great to get rid of the price gouging from scalpers. For example, I wanted to buy a ticket to see the sold-out  Adele show at Stubb’s next month, but the only way to get one was to pay almost $200 on Obviously, I don’t have the money for this, so I can’t go to the show. (Should have bought one when they went on sale, I know, I know.)

On the other hand, sometimes I like to sell my tickets. In the past year I have sold tickets twice. In both instances, I had every intention of going to the show when I bought the ticket, but ended up being unable to go. I was able to recoup my money and break even. I never sell my tickets for more than what I paid for them. Because I’m broke, I was thinking of buying a 3-day pass to Austin City Limits and selling it for a profit, but that makes me feel pretty skeevy. (Even though I’d make a nice chunk of change on it.)

What is the recourse for people like me, who just want to give their ticket to a deserving fan, and break even? There is nothing you can do if you have to claim the ticket yourself. In that case, you’d just be out the money. It would make me feel more cautious about buying a ticket to a show months in advance.

That’s another problem. Why are tickets sold six months in advance in some cases? Who knows what I will be doing in six months? It’s a long time to plan an evening out. I’m not a spontaneous person, but even I think that’s ridiculous.

I’m not sure if paperless ticketing will solve the scalping problem, anyway. There will surely be some way to work around the obstacles, and then we will all be in the same boat.

Do you agree with me that tickets should remain transferable? If not, why? I’d love to hear some thoughts on this topic, and some scalper horror stories.


3 thoughts on “Scalping the scalpers

  1. kylie

    I do think tickets should be transferrable. I have gotten tickets from scalpers and/or resellers for LESS than they were selling for on Ticketbastard, because the demand wasn’t as high as they expected, it didn’t sell out, or there were more scalpers than people willing to pay for scalped tickets. I wouldn’t have been able to go see certain shows (Morrissey, Happy Mondays, The Hives) without these deals, simply because the cost was too damn high to begin with. In addition, I have had extra tickets to shows that I’ve sold for face value. That being said, I was there to claim my tickets so it wasn’t a problem, but I do like knowing that if I change my mind on a show I can always sell the ticket and get my money back.

    Another problem is this: when I was younger (say, 14, 15) I would use my mom’s credit card to buy tickets for shows because I didn’t have one, but she didn’t come with me to these shows. And I’m sure she wouldn’t have wanted me to take her credit card to the show to prove the ticket was mine. One way of fixing this problem is being able to choose a different name for the tickets than what is on the credit card. If you were only able to do this at the time of purchase rather than later, nobody could scalp them, but someone else’s card could be used to buy tickets, in the case of presents or someone not having a credit card or being busy when they go on sale and having a friend buy them.

    Honestly to me the problem is Ticketmaster. Radiohead sells a large portion of their tickets through their own store, WASTE, and scalping those tickets is very difficult. But buying them for friends for face value, returning them, or trading them is fairly easy, because they have a customer service team that works with genuine fans to make it possible. And because they often don’t announce the sale time in advance, the people attempting to buy tickets are hardcore fans who don’t mind staying up all night refreshing the website to get them. Scalpers wait until the Ticketmaster sale. If more bands sold tickets (especially if those tickets are the good seats) through their individual sites, I think scalping would be less of a problem.

    1. mekkalekkah Post author

      You’ve brought up some really excellent points. I hadn’t even thought about the fact that the tickets might be bought by someone else – either as a gift or because the person who wanted to attend the show didn’t have a credit card. How would that work?

      Also, I have seen tickets being scalped for lower than face value as well, and it is great when that happens. I have taken advantage of that a few times, myself!

      I’ve been really lucky because ever since I moved to Austin, I haven’t had to buy any tickets through Ticketmaster or Live Nation. All of the shows here have their own ticket sales companies. (They still have big old fees attached, though) Because the tickets are sold locally, I don’t have to deal with the horrors of the Ticketmaster presales. I remember dealing with those in Phoenix and sometimes everything would be gone in 30 seconds.

      There has to be a better solution. I think your suggestion of having bands set up their own ticket stores is a good one. If not the bands, then maybe the record labels. It would be a good way for the labels to get more revenue, and that can’t be a bad thing these days.

      1. kylie

        Well, you’d have to have the credit card used to purchase the tickets. So I guess you’d have to take a friend or family member’s credit card to the show with you, which is nuts.

        You should also look into buying tickets at local record stores or the venues directly. There are fewer fees when you do that, sometimes no fees at all if the show is small enough.

        As for your suggestion, most labels would charge those fees, too. For smaller labels, it’s hard to say if they would actually make more revenue, given the costs required in maintaining a ticket store (bandwidth, staff, etc.) For major labels, they probably get a kickback from Ticketmaster anyway; why would they bother? I really think the solution is that the best seats (in the case of seated, non-GA shows) be sold by the bands themselves, via a fan club presale or something similar. The remaining seats could be sold without any restrictions because nobody would pay top dollar for nosebleeds, unless the show sold out… in which case, IDK, pick a bigger venue or add a second show!

        I guess I’m somewhat lucky in that this isn’t a problem I face with most bands I love. The only bands I’ve seen whose tickets have been scalped are Radiohead and Morrissey. With Radiohead I never have to worry because I buy fanclub presale, which aren’t scalpable. With Morrissey, scalpers buy tickets and find that nobody will buy them, so they’re outside the day of the show trying to unload them for $10, $20, anything they can get, which is fantastic for me. Of course, other shows I considered going to, like Guided By Voices, were being scalped for hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars, but I don’t love them enough to be super upset. I’m also lucky that the venue most larger bands play is General Admission, so the seating thing is not a concern until the day-of.

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