(Image: Rolling Stone)
E-commerce has revolutionized the event industry.
Just a few years ago, if you wanted tickets to a sporting event, concert or some other popular community event, you had few options. You could visit the box office where the event was scheduled, order by mail or call in advance and pick up your physical tickets at the “will-call” window.
But as technology advanced, entrepreneurs quickly caught on to the idea of selling tickets online. The result was sites like Ticketmaster, which would let you pick your seats and complete the transaction online. But this technology has also enabled a whole new generation of ticket brokers to flourish. Ticket scalping, of course, isn’t anything new. Look around at any ticketed concert or sports venue and you’ll see people waving tickets in the air for purchase. But technology has also breathed new life into this old practice.
Here’s how it works: “Ticket bot” software is designed to go into a ticket sales site, as soon as event tickets go on sale. The bot then snaps up large numbers of the most-desirable seats, making them unavailable to ordinary mortals. People looking to buy tickets find the event is sold out within seconds. A quick Google search reveals the tickets are available on StubHub or another site, but this time at huge price markups, especially for the most highly sought-after events. In 2016, the Economist reported, bots tried to buy 5 million tickets from Ticketmaster alone. Ticketmaster reported that bot operators snapped up about 60 percent of its tickets.
In response, ticket-selling sites tried installing security measures, such as requiring users to answer a simple math question or describing a photo. Although frustrating for consumers, these measures were somewhat effective until programmers started figured out how to get around them. States began enacting their own laws against the practice, and after hearing a rising chorus of complaints, Congress passed a law called the Better Online Ticket Sales Act of 2016, better known as BOTS. The law makes it illegal to use software to circumvent a ticket-sales site’s security measures. Enforcement is difficult, though, especially since some bots are controlled from outside the U.S.
Earlier this year, Ticketmaster rolled out a new program called “Verified Fan,” which allows you to pre-register, then you get first dibs (or at least get nearer the front of the line) when tickets go on sale. Participants will get a text message with a verification code just before your event starts. For popular events, you’ll still have to compete with other fans to score tickets, but at least your competition will be human.
Some artists, concerned about the trend and its effects on their fans, have taken action on their own. Earlier this year, country singer Eric Church cancelled about 25,000 tickets that had been identified as being purchased by bots and re-released them for sale to fans who could buy them through more secure websites. And rock icon Bruce Springsteen recently announced he would hold a special concert, with tickets reserved for Ticketmaster Verified Fans.
The Federal Trade Commission has these tips to reduce the risk of competing with a bot:
Get in on a pre-sale. Joining an artist’s fan club, or following them on social media, can keep you aware of upcoming events.
Look for tips on the ticket seller’s site. “Ticketmaster warns that using multiple browser windows or refreshing your screen at lightning speed could get you flagged as a bot so you can’t buy tickets,” notes the FTC’s Amy Hebert. “But using multiple devices or refreshing every two to three seconds is usually fine and might help you get tickets.”
Set up an account and get familiar with a ticket seller’s site ahead of time. That way your information is already loaded and ready to go as soon as tickets go on sale, and you know what to expect in the process.
Check back. Shows might be added, or more tickets might be made available after the initial release.