From music, to theater and other live events, one of the critical issues facing the entertainment industry today is what to do about the astronomical prices for tickets on the secondary market conpounded by ticket availability, scalpers, and now automated bots that swoop in and secure tickets for popular shows before the public ever gets a fair chance at them. Billions of dollars are being funneled to ticket brokers at the expense of well-meaning fans without venues, promoters, or performers seeing a penny of that extra profit.
The issue has become so intense and widespread, it has even come into play in Presidential politics. The head of the Democratic National Committee—Debbie Wasserman Shultz—was forced to resign due to Wikileaks exposure of DNC emails, including a plea by Wasserman Shultz to secure tickets to the popular Broadway play Hamilton.
On Sunday (8-14), Hamilton creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda, along with New York Senator Chuck Schumer, announced a new bill called the BOTS Act (Better On-line Ticket Sales Act of 2016) that would fine bot users $16,000 per ticket purchased when they swoop in milliseconds after tickets go on sale. California currently has a fine of $2,500 on scalpers who use bots, and New York State has a fine of $1,000. It is estimated that scalpers made $15.5 million just off of the last 100 performances of Hamilton alone, with some seats going for as much as $15,000 on the secondary market. Estimates of how much the entire industry loses to the secondary ticketing market range to upwards of $8 billion. Of course the problem is finding the bot creators and prosecuting them when the internet supplies all manner of anonymity for the individuals behind the bots.
For musical acts, the secondary ticket market is a critical issue. Country artist Eric Church has decided to do battle with scalpers and is taking the fight personally, including cancelling any ticket sales that his team discovers were made by bots or scalpers. Even then, vetting individual tickets for each concert is a difficult task, and as long as scalpers or bots keep their purchases to a minimum and don’t buy entire blocks of tickets, they may still slip under the radar.
But all of these solutions do not address the underlying problem with the ticketing of these major shows and events. The reason so many can make so much money on the secondary market is because there is way more demand than there is supply. And by performers not ramping up their supply and only playing one, or maybe two shows in a market that could potentially support four or five, they’re allowing the secondary market to thrive.
According to some industry insiders, the solution is to start charging significantly more for tickets so the promoters and performers make that extra money, not scalpers.
“Get off your highfalutin’ college education pedestal and see when an entire industry underprices its inventory there will be those willing to move in and skim the profits,” says music industry guru Bob Lefsetz. “You can’t put billions up for grabs and expect those who are not already rich, or those who already are, the hackers and the ticket scalpers respectively, to not move in and take it.”
As for bots, Lefsetz says, “We haven’t even been able to eradicate e-mail spam, what are the odds we can mess with the bots? Low.”
There already is a movement to increase ticket prices through “Platinum” seating and other programs that bundle meet and greets, merch packages, and collectible laminates to entice intense fans to pay more for tickets. Music industry titan Irving Azoff is apparently working with Live Nation and a technology company to institutionalize high-end VIP packages to try and recuperate some of the scalping revenue for the industry. “It’s my answer to what’s broken in the system, which is what I call ‘the StubHub factor,’ “ Azoff says to Billboard. “You have lots of people with no skin in the game escaping with lots of money.”
Higher ticket prices would obviously curb demand, but they would also lock out most average concert goers from being able to see their favorite stars live. Charging higher prices only solves the ticketing dilemma from the industry’s point of view—not the consumer’s. If anything, it could put the consumer in an even worse position. Now, at least they have a chance of scooping up a ticket at a reasonable face value.
But there is another way to solve the ticketing paradigm, at least in music where supply can be scaled, and can be done in a way that benefits both the consumer, and the artists, promoters, and venues. And it has all been laid out and battle tested by none other than Garth Brooks.
Though Garth may symbolize the embodiment of the money hungry music performer to many, his comeback tour has made it possible for most all consumers to pay face value for tickets at a reasonable price, while eliminating the need for scalpers by scaling inventory to demand. When Garth Brooks announces a tour stop, he may begin with one or two shows, but if they sell out quickly, he may add additional performances, either as matinees or on additional nights. This way ticket supply stays ahead of the secondary market. It also allows Garth to book arenas as opposed to stadiums and other big venues where the sound and presentation aren’t as easily controlled.
Garth also didn’t announce all the dates for his comeback tour at once, or even separate legs of it. Instead, he announces cities he will be performing in one at a time, and as soon as performances sell out, additional ones are booked. By implementing this strategy, not only has Garth been able to keep ticket prices low for all of his fans, he also is able to rake in incredible profits, without the scalping industry skimming anything off the top due to secondary market sales.
Garth Brooks also doesn’t have what he calls a “golden bowl” at his concerts, or an area near the stage where tickets are more expensive. All tickets are of equal value, creating an even more equitable environment in the concert space. And to counteract scalpers, ticket holders all must present both an ID, and the credit card used to purchase the tickets when arriving at the venue, and all members of a party must be present and enter the venue at once. These simple procedures stop scalpers and counterfeiters in their tracks, and keeps the free flow of tickets to true fans unobstructed.
Of course, performers have to be willing to play more performances in a given city for the Garth Brooks model to work. But why wouldn’t they if it meant more profit, while incurring less revenue per performance since the concert stage and production is already constructed in a given venue. If Garth Brooks can play 4 shows in two days at age 54, most other major arena performers can too.
When Forbes released its annual list of the highest-paid country performers in 2016, it wasn’t Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan, or Jason Aldean topping the list, it was Garth Brooks due to Garth’s massive comeback tour that has seen him amass some $70 million and counting. And considering that his tour is now stretching into its second year, this isn’t just about pent up spending after his prolonged retirement, it’s about scaling to demand, and recouping the money usually surrendered to scalpers.
Going after bots and other individuals who are taking an unfair advantage in the ticket market is an important step. But significantly raising face value prices on tickets at the promoter level only limits the amount of consumers that are able to go to concerts, making an even bigger gulf between the have’s and the have not’s in music and society.
When performers and their productions roll into a town and set up in a concert venue, much of the production costs have already been incurred. Unlike sports and other events, music has the ability to book as many shows as a local population demands. Artists and promoters make more money, more fans get to see the shows, and ticket prices remain reasonable. This seems like a much healthier alternative to re-assigning the egregious profits of scalpers to fat cat promoters looking to make even more money on the backs of consumers via platinum deals and other VIP perks.