Fans getting 'fleeced' in scoring Tragically Hip tickets, experts say
Published Wednesday, June 1, 2016 4:28PM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, June 1, 2016 9:16PM EDT
There is possibly as much anger out there about prices for The Tragically Hip tickets as there is hunger to see the band’s historic summer shows.
Fans have been fuming for days about presale tickets turning up on ticket reselling websites seconds after they went on sale, selling for as much as 20 times face value.
It’s becoming a familiar tale. A big show is announced – Adele, Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber among the recent ones – and fans hopefully hover on the Ticketmaster website as the seconds tick down to sale time.
Then, what ensues is a maddening loop of watching a seemingly arbitrary wait time inexplicably double and endlessly hitting the refresh button, hoping the news will be different.
But it’s not. Tickets are gone in just minutes.
Public tickets for the 15 Tragically Hip shows go on sale at 10 a.m. EST Friday.
Of course, The Hip’s upcoming tour has an enormously sad note to it, with the news that popular frontman Gord Downie has terminal brain cancer. That is likely what is fuelling the rage about landing tickets for this tour.
Shouldn’t this show somehow be above the blind pursuit of profit? Shouldn’t it be about the celebration of this man, this band, their music? A chance for true fans to pay tribute to what many think is the quintessential Canadian rock band?
It used to be that you had to line up at a box office, for hours or even days, to grab a ticket. It was a lottery then, too. But at least it seemed you had a chance if you put in the effort.
Now, many fans feel like they have no chance when a whole bunch of invisible buyers muscle their way to the front of the electronic line.
So, instead of the $55 to $170 ticket price for the Calgary show or the $60 to $130 in Kingston, fans are looking at prices of $69 to $2,000 for Edmonton and $333 to $3,000 in Kingston on StubHub. And the resale prices are in U.S. dollars.
One solution, says University of Victoria economics professor Pascal Courty, is to stop the practice of releasing tickets to resellers and simply charge face value prices that reflect true demand.
He says artists and tour promoters worry about looking greedy or exploitative, so some play this game of setting ticket prices but selling very few at that price.
Courty says the real trouble is that there is no transparency around the number of tickets that are actually available at the stated face value.
“There is a face value, an official price, but it’s clear upfront that a large fraction are not sold at that price. There is a bit of deception there,” he said.
“When it comes to consumer benefit or welfare, nobody says how many tickets are sold in a fair way in the primary market.”
Ticket brokers have sophisticated software and powerful computers that bombard Ticketmaster with thousands of transactions in seconds and scoop up the best tickets before ordinary people can even get started.
These scalpers use automated scripts called bots that are able to make it look like they are coming from multiple web addresses and provide multiple payment methods, says CTV’s tech expert Carmi Levy.
Some artists, Dave Matthews Band, The Grateful Dead and Pearl Jam among them, have gone to extraordinary lengths to defeat the scalpers, but Courty says many others are part of the problem.
“It doesn’t seem anyone is making a genuine effort to prevent the bots from getting the best tickets.”
Levy says existing safeguards, including IP address tracking, credit card number validation and captchas that force users to prove they are human, don’t seem to have worked in the case of The Hip tickets.
“No one takes accountability, and fans are left with a difficult choice to make: Either refuse to pay inflated prices or break out the plastic and pay through the nose.”
He said Ticketmaster needs to do a better job of thwarting the scalpers and explaining to consumers what it’s doing to ensure the availability of tickets at or near face value.
“It's hard to disagree with average fans who feel they've been fleeced.”
It’s also time, says Levy, to update scalping laws for the digital age. While the sellers hawking tickets outside venues can be charged under municipal bylaws, nothing is being done to address the online practice. In fact, in Ontario, laws were changed last year to allow for any markup on online tickets as long as they are authentic and come with a money-back guarantee.
But now Ontario’s attorney general says The Hip situation is worth investigation.
A New York State inquiry concluded in January that ticket selling is a “fixed game” in which consumers are regularly prevented from buying tickets at reasonable prices.
And Ticketmaster was ordered to pay $850,000 in 2013 after a court that considered a class-action lawsuit launched in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba found the company held back tickets and sold them for a markup on TicketsNow, a resale site it owns.
There is a clear need for reselling sites like StubHub, says Courty, because plenty of people buy tickets and then discover they can’t make the show. He says about half of the tickets available on eBay or StubHub are individuals looking to get their money back on a show they can’t attend.
It’s better for the venue and the artist to have those seats occupied come concert time, he says.
Research shows that few individual ticket-buyers decide to resell to make a profit, says Courty. But when it’s a prime ticket at a large markup, that’s a sign you’re dealing with a bot sale.
“This is cold-blooded capitalism. The system is working exactly as it was set up to work,” musicologist Alan Cross told CTV News. He points out that it’s really no different than selling shares on the stock market, buying a plane ticket or getting into an Uber car, all cases where prices fluctuate based on a demand.
But some are calling for an outright boycott of ticket resellers.
“Don’t buy resale tickets. Don’t do it,” John Karastamatis, director of communications for Mirvish Productions told CTV’s News Channel.
“If you don’t do it, the industry will disappear. There won’t be any money to be made. But as long as people are willing to pay $2,000, $3,000, $4,000, $5,000 a ticket, this industry will be there.”
How can you score tickets?
Short of arming yourself with bots, IP-spoofing software, loads of credit cards and enormous bandwidth, Carmi Levy says consumers can’t guarantee they’ll nab a ticket at face value.
Ahead of time, join your favourite artists’ fan clubs so that you get notice of upcoming tour dates and codes to gain access to presales.
When ticket sales open, the best you can do is have all your personal information ready to go, pre-load the website ahead of on-sale time and get yourself to the fastest, most reliable network connection available to you.
And don’t give up when you can’t score a seat right away. The inflated prices on StubHub often come down closer to show time and there may be people in your social networks who end up not being able to go and may sell you their ticket.