Consumers who have tuned in to any one of the stories covering ticketing issues for consumers in the last several years, it is very possible they’ve heard something about “speculative” tickets being sold. Typically, this is framed in the language of event operators, who claim that consumers are being ripped off when someone lists for sale tickets that “they don’t own yet.”
In one sense, this is very accurate – there are frequently ticket listings on ticket sales platforms that the person listing them doesn’t yet “own” by the definition that the box office wants to set: that tickets have been purchased, paid for, and are currently in the person listing the tickets for sale’s possession, physically. But there is an enormous amount of nuance in that definition that consumers would do well to have a better understanding of.
TYPES OF “SPECULATIVE” TICKET LISTINGS
TYPE 1: NOT SPECULATIVE AT ALL, BUT NOT IN-HAND
Due to ticketing companies like Ticketmaster and AXS requiring consumers to use data-grabbing and competition-stifling mobile-only ticketing system in most instances these days, consumers are often made to wait until sometimes just hours before a show begins before tickets actually become active in their account/app. For the most part, this doesn’t make much of a difference to the consumer, who only really needs the ticket available when they get to the front of the line to have it scanned by the event staff.
But in some instances, consumers who buy tickets and then have something come up, need to sell those tickets. And they have to list those tickets for sale with the caveat that they won’t be able to actually send them to the buyer until the ticketing company releases them – which again can be right up against the start of the show.
Through no fault of their own, consumers stuck in this pickle (and marketplaces through which their tickets are sold) are sometimes accused by buyers of selling “fake” or non-existent tickets, simply because the event organizer or ticketing agent hasn’t made the tickets available for transfer yet, despite their having been a) purchased validly; b) offered for sale at a price the buyer decided was fine and; c) ready to be sent on by the seller as soon as they are actually available to be sent.
TYPE 2: NOT PURCHASED, BUT LISTED WHEN SELLER HAS RIGHTS TO THE SEATS
Sometimes much is made when tours go on sale that there are “unscrupulous resellers already listing tickets for events that haven’t even gone on sale yet!” But in many instances, there are tickets listed that the seller has a right to purchase, and has opted to list for resale to take advantage of the increasingly likely scenario that the box office/artist is going to use dynamic surge pricing during the initial sale, meaning consumers are going to be paying big dollars for the event.
This group listing these kinds of tickets can include season ticket holders, people who hold a personal suite license, or others who have brokered a deal with an event promoter to list tickets for resale prior to their being put on sale to the general public. In some instances, artists or teams themselves are listing tickets directly to resale marketplaces (or distributing them through partners to do the same), in order to create the appearance of scarcity on the primary market while simultaneously reaping the benefit of the reduced risk that seats will remain unsold when the event approaches.
TYPE 3: REGULATED “ZONE” LISTINGS
The zone listing is where a ticket listing actually becomes speculative in nature. This is a ticket listing that promises the buyer that they will receive tickets in a section or row for a particular event, but the lister does not actually yet own or have a right to own.
How does one sell this kind of ticket listing legally? And how can it help a consumer to buy them?
For the legality bit, such listings are largely OK so long as it is clear to the consumer that they are this kind of listing – disclosing that the seller does not yet own them but will purchase them and fulfill them by the time the event starts.
In some instances, these “zone” listings are very expensive, as someone listing them for sale wouldn’t want to risk the possibility of losing money by agreeing to provide tickets for less than they’ll be able to purchase them for. But in many instances, consumers can score a deal on such listings, particularly with how dynamic surge ticket pricing systems work in the current ticketing landscape.
It may help to think of a ticket as a company stock. If a seller believes that the artist has told the box office to sell tickets for far too high of an amount, they might put a “zone” ticket listing out that is at 80 percent of the surged “face value” during the initial presale or onsale period. That means the consumer will have purchased the tickets at 20 percent less than they could have at the time from the box office.
Fast forward the multiple months before the show date, and now we’re two weeks out… The venue has only sold half of the tickets, because the pricing strategy was too aggressive. Now they are offering huge discounts on tickets, usually to specific groups (mailing list members of the venue, band fan club members, etc.), and the seller can now buy the tickets to fulfill the zone ticket listing.
Could the consumer have waited themselves to purchase at the lower rate? Certainly. Does the average ticket-buying consumer want to have to monitor the ticket market daily for six months waiting for the event organizer to move prices down? Probably not.
As an ancillary benefit, the existence of zone listings can also help keep the surge pricing in check by providing a counter-balance to the side surging the prices and claiming that supply is low when in fact it’s usually far from it because most of the inventory hasn’t been put on sale yet.
TYPE 4: GREY AREA
In some instances, there are ticket listings that could be speculative, but aren’t marked as such. This is tricky to navigate, but a near-impossible thing for resale marketplaces to police, as long as the seller fulfills the order.
In practice, it is impossible for a resale marketplace to fully police every listing it has to verify that the tickets have not been listed while still available from the box office.
“Identifying speculative inventory is very difficult to do, as the definition is inherently vague, and an inflated price is only one indicator of a potentially speculative ticket,” TicketNetwork CEO Don Vaccaro told the House Commitee on Energy and Commerce in 2020 . “Ultimately, our primary concern as a marketplace is that the consumer receives the ticket purchased – and that it is the ticket he or she expected to receive.”
Despite what primary ticket sales platforms may say, these types of listings are able to be found on any ticket marketplace – even their own. TicketNews found numerous examples of this kind of listing on Ticketmaster and AXS in 2020 when we surveyed the landscape of speculative ticketing during the last major bout of industry legislative scrutiny.
TYPE 5: ACTUAL SCAMS
This is the kind of thing you think of when industry executives include passages in testimony like “Speculative ticketing is plain, old-fashioned fraud.” That’s how AXS CEO Bryan Perez put it when speaking to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in 2020. This is when someone who doesn’t have tickets and doesn’t intend to buy them or fill an order tries to convince people to purchase them and then make off with their money.
WHAT CAN CONSUMERS DO?
Speculative ticketing may be a bit tricky, but ultimately the best thing you can do as a ticket-buying consumer is shop for tickets on marketplaces with consumer protections in place. Whether you’re buying from the event box office or a resale site, make sure you are shopping on a platform that has clear rules in place for when a ticket has to be delivered, and what kind of refund requirements are there if a ticket can’t be delivered as promised.
In the rare event that a seller can’t deliver a ticket purchased on a marketplace that guarantees refunds in such instances, consumers may even be able to score a last-minute ticket for a better deal than their original purchase.