When concerts are sold out minutes after going on sale, primary ticket sellers like Ticketmaster and artists themselves have been quick to point the finger at the secondary ticket market for buying the best tickets and pricing them above face value. They have even supported legislation in attempts to limit secondary ticket websites’ influence in the market. But a recent story in the Huffington Post pulled the curtain back on a little known fact in the live entertainment business; many artists are scalping their own tickets.
That’s right, when the general public cannot buy that ticket to the hot concert, it is more than likely due to the fact that very few of the seats are actually sold to the general public. After providing tickets to credit card and fan club pre-sales, to the artists, promoters, venues and other VIPs, a small fraction are available to the regular fan. Some tickets are even sold by the artists’ management on the secondary market for well above face value.
One stark example was a Justin Bieber concert in Tennessee, for which only 1,001 out of 13,783 seats were sold to the general public. In this case, almost 6,000 tickets went to American Express customers through an AmEx presale, and another 3,000 went to paying members of Bieber’s fan club. Ticket industry expert Dean Budnick, who wrote the book Ticketmasters, said “I think there is no question when one looks at the document that Bieber is scalping his own tickets.” Documents also show that Bieber’s tour held back 500 tickets to be sold at marked-up prices as part of Ticketmaster’s Platinum Exchange program, along with 900 seats reserved for various programs labeled as “VIP” tickets. Bieber is by far not the only artist snatching up all the good tickets, at a recent Taylor Swift show regular fans only had access to 1,600 seats, while Keith Urban left many of his fans out in the cold with just 389 out of 15,000 seats available for purchase.
Don Vaccaro, CEO of TicketNetwork, a leading online secondary marketplace for tickets, says that “we have been the scapegoats for high ticket prices for many years. But in the end the facts show that the artists and venues have been holding back the best tickets, therefore causing the prices to rise. And it doesn’t take a genius to guess who the main beneficiaries of rising ticket prices are.”
Elizabeth Owen, former head of consumer affairs for the state of Tennessee and currently a consultant for the Fan Freedom Project, says that most consumers “are set up for great disappointment.” In her opinion, it is even a violation of the law for artists to sell such few tickets. “No business can advertise something for sale…at a certain price unless they have enough of that product or service to meet reasonable public demand,” she explained, referring specifically to a Tennessee law.
Blogger Steve Pociask believes that many of these artists are pulling the old “bait and switch” tactic. He says that “consumers have a right to know” when tickets are not available and why, and argues that the ticket industry should be subject to the same consumer protection laws that other retailers face and should do more to protect consumers.
In the end, many artists claim they are trying to stop scalpers from exploiting customers, when they are in fact profiting on the secondary market.