WE’VE all been there. It’s 9am, you’ve logged onto Ticketmaster with all the hope in the world. Your dreams are pinned on getting those A-reserve seats for that concert, game, once-in-a-lifetime gig. You’ve got your credit card at the ready.
But by 9.02am your dreams are over – you can’t even score a spot up in the nose-bleed section. The concert is SOLD OUT.
Wait, how did that happen? How did tens of thousands of tickets come and go within the blink of an eye? How did you end up empty handed when you’ve been staring at the screen for an hour?
It’s an all too familiar scenario for Aussie music, sports and concert lovers. Just this week promoters announced that tickets to the sought-after Splendour in the Grass festival sold out in under an hour. Similarly all tickets to the up-coming British Lions rugby tour sold out in less than 15 minutes.
The fact is we’re all getting scammed and it’s out of hand, says Dean Budnick, co-author of Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped.
Budnick became so despondent with the sky-high prices of impossible-to-purchase tickets that he decided to investigate the inner workings of the ticketing industry, along with his Relix magazine colleague, Josh Baron.
Here, in a news.com.au exclusive, Budnick, who interviewed more than 100 people in the industry for the book, explains what’s gone wrong and why it’s almost impossible to get a ticket to anything anymore.
How does an arena that seats 80,000 sell out in two minutes?
A very small percentage of seats are available to purchase during the initial general sale.
“Before that time a lot of artists have committed their ticket inventory to credit card companies they have alliances with, to their fan clubs for pre-sale, to the promoter who has a variety of opportunities, to sponsors and to the venue,” explains Budnick. “Plus they also keep some inventory for themselves and the secondary market (more on this to come).”
At Justin Bieber’s Nashville show in February, only seven per cent of tickets to the show were available to purchase at the general sale, meaning 93 per cent of tickets had already been set aside for other partners.
At Taylor Swift’s US concerts, just 15 per cent of tickets were available at the advertised on-sale date. For Miley Cyrus’ Hannah Montana tour, the numbers were similar, about 15 to 20 per cent.
The moral of the story? “If you don’t have a ticket before the general on-sale, you’re going to find it extraordinarily challenging,” says Budnick.
But Matthew Lazaru-Hall, CEO of Chugg Entertainment, disagrees and told news.com.au that this concept was a “very American thing”.
“I wouldn’t say it’s prevalent in Australia at all,” he said. “I can’t speak for everyone else, but I would say for Chugg Entertainment, it’s always greater than 55-60 per cent in all price categories.”
What is a “secondary market”?
The “secondary market” is a term given to the online re-sale platforms such as eBay, Gumtree and StubHub in the US which allow people (or scalpers) to re-sell tickets they have already purchased.
“Because of these secondary markets there are so many people who are aggressively competing online for tickets,” says Budnick. “Some are professional ticket brokers and scalpers who know how much tickets to the really hot shows are worth. Others are mums, dads or uni students trying to make a bit of extra money.”
Budnick says artists are now even scalping their own tickets by keeping a number and re-selling them to these online platforms for inflated prices.
Artists now realise the profit that can be made on places like eBay and so as a result, they demand a certain allotment of tickets in their riders which they are then able to directly on-sell on the secondary market.
“Katy Perry is known to do this,” says Budnick. “Let’s say her tickets go on sale for $100 and then two hours later they sell for $200 – that gets pretty frustrating for the artists’ manager and to the artist, so they want a taste, too.
“The way one of the managers described it to me was ‘look, somebody is sitting in front of this computer, smoking a cigar who is not involved at all in this show, he’s just sitting there making all this money off us, we deserve a little bit of that money.”
How do scalpers get so many tickets?
Aside from everyday people buying and re-selling tickets there are professional ticket brokers and scalpers making a really good living out of writing computer programs which utilise “bots”.
“I know one individual and his team who got 700,000 tickets in 2007 through mechanisation and computer programs,” says Budnick. “There are these computer programs that are working simultaneously to try to get in and get tickets.
“They flood the website with hundreds of thousands of attempts so that even if their program fails to interpret the security captcha code, it’s all the more challenging for other people to get in and get tickets. It’s a real problem.”
Why are tickets so expensive in the first place?
Forking out $150 for a One Direction concert ticket is a big ask for a 14-year old, and Budnick says most of the blame lies with the artist.
“The price is controlled by an artist who asks for a guaranteed percentage of the ticket price, this can be as high as 100 per cent,” says Budnick.
This is why many venues add their own additional charges onto tickets and charge a fortune for parking, alcohol and food.
“A lot of people assume it’s the cost of delivering the ticket, but service fees are a profit centre for the promoter and the venues and quite frankly they’re also an additional profit centre for the artists who will not only take the money that they’re getting from the ticket, but they’ll also take a little bit of the money from that service fee as well,” says Budnick.
In October last year, Choice magazine named Ticketmaster and Ticketek in its annual “Shonky” awards for shoddy services. They cited a November Elton John concert sold by Ticketmaster and held at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. The ticket price was $119.90, but after adding the credit card surcharge of $2.64 and a handling fee of $9.50, consumers were up for $132.04.
In response, Ticketek Australia managing director Cameron Hoy said consumers often did not understand the real costs that underpinned the company’s charges, adding “our fees include labour, dispatch, handling and the cost of technology that supports the scanning of these tickets”.
So, how can you increase your chances of getting a ticket at face value price?
- Establish a relationship and a loyalty with the promoter, so you can sign up early to pre-sales and fan clubs
- See if your credit card company, such as Visa, has pre-sale tickets available
- If you’re buying online on the day of general sale, log on early and be in the system before 9am
- Follow the promoters, the venue, the fan clubs and the artists on social media to pick up on special offers
- If you are looking for a ticket in the “secondary market” – wait. As it gets closer to the show, some get nervous and drop the price. “I have a friend who went to 18 concerts in a row and he actually paid less than the ticket price because he waited and scalped the scalpers,” Budnick says.
- Consider buying on your mobile rather than your desktop, says Lazaru-Hall, as the “bots” can’t work on mobiles.
- Read the frequently asked questions on the promoter or ticket-sellers website before you buy so you understand how the sale process works
Dean Budnick and Josh Baron’s book, Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped is available through Penguin Books.