Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> Ringer > Nathan Hubbard > Why You Can't Get a Ticket to the NB
nettime's_velvet_rope on Sun, 5 Jun 2016 17:26:03 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Ringer > Nathan Hubbard > Why You Can't Get a Ticket to the NBA Finals

< https://theringer.com/ticket-industry-problem-solution-e4b3b71fdff6#.9vp1o7qox >

Why You Can't Get a Ticket to the NBA Finals ...

... and every other major event on the planet. This is a fan's
guide to why you're totally screwed.

[Nathan Hubbard]

Back in January, Eric T. Schneiderman released a report on the
inequities of a steadfastly dysfunctional ticketing business. Even
if it wasn't technically part of his job description, New York's
attorney general produced a remarkable study--mainly because it
was accurate.

Fans have known for decades that, whenever they buy tickets for
concerts or games, the deck is almost sadistically stacked against
them. But those same fans have been inundated by nonsense from
stakeholders in the ticketing business, and at this point, they
don't know what to believe. Those stakeholders refuse to admit
that most government efforts to intervene haven't just
misdiagnosed the problem, but prescribed "solutions" that made
everything worse. (Note: I worked as CEO of Ticketmaster from 2010
to 2013.) Schneiderman and his team--seizing on an issue that
smart, aspirant politicians know is a no-brainer for their
constituencies--finally stopped doing ear transplants to treat
heart disease; in other words, they conducted a reasonably
thorough analysis of the industry, correctly identified the
salient problems, then proposed some common-sense solutions that
might improve it.

Just last week, a British government commission released its
findings on the ticketing market, which paralleled where the
Schneiderman report landed. These documents are usually
NFL-responding-to-its-latest-self-inflicted-scandal-level dense,
and thus difficult to read (despite valiant efforts) if you're
just a newbie to the situation. I still purchase tickets myself,
and I'm possibly more obsessed with this topic than Bill Simmons
is with Deflategate. So I thought I would create a fan's guide
that explains why you're screwed whenever you buy a ticket for
anything--whether it's for Hamilton, Adele, Oldchella, or the
Super Bowl.

### Reality no. 1: Tickets never go on sale when you think they do.

The most thoughtful and analytical part of the Schneiderman
report? All the work they did to examine not just how many tickets
actually get put up for sale, but how they actually get sold. The
on-sale process is like a mysteriously devastating airplane
farter: tickets leak out little bits at a time, nobody can figure
out where they're coming from, and the whole thing reeks. Presales
are privately and inconsistently announced to smaller groups of
people who usually paid for access (like American Express
cardholders or radio stations, for example). Then fan clubs, venue
email lists, promoter email lists, and others usually get a chance
at decent seats before the "general on-sale" happens. The problem,
of course, is that these lists and clubs have been infiltrated by
ticket brokers, many of whom use fake names, fake addresses, and
multiple credit cards to steal tickets out from under an even
smaller subset of real fans. The brokers are the young Kardashian
clan rolling past crooked bouncers at a trendy nightclub, and
you're the hundreds of guys with no dates standing in the line for
normals. None of it makes any rational sense, but here we are, and
you're left out in the cold.

### Reality no. 2: You probably can't even get a whiff of a good seat.

Even before that sham of an on-sale happens, a big chunk of the
best seats are held back from ever going directly on sale.
Schneiderman's report found that on average, less than half of all
tickets go on sale to the general public. For specifically cited
Katy Perry and Justin Bieber shows, no more than 15 percent of the
tickets were made available to people like you. So what happens to
those special tickets? Some are held by the artist or team for the
Penny Lanes (or modern day Gigi Hadids and Orlando Blooms) and the
rest of the band/athlete's family and groupies. Some are held
surreptitiously by other stakeholders in the event--the promoter,
venue, band manager, team president, and record label all have a
claim. And while some special tickets are used to reward
employees, grease the palms of key partners, and (God forbid)
admit fans who actually deserve to be at the show, a significant
portion not-so-magically find their way into the hands of
secondary market brokers.

This happens in two different ways.

### Reality no. 3: You DEFINITELY can't get a good seat.

First, principals--including, yes, teams and the artist (not you,
Pearl Jam!)--may take tickets and sell them directly to brokers.
They do it because most teams and artists are either hypocrites or
excellent brand managers, depending on your perspective. Artists
in particular have two conflicting objectives: (1) make a Pablo
Sandoval's-pants-load of money, and (2) stay relatable so you'll
continue to feel connected to them (and spend money on them). They
check Twitter. They read their press clippings. They're sensitive.
And they're terrified of getting criticism from you for the price
of their tickets, even if the price is exactly what the ticket is
worth on the open market.

So the biggest artists sign contracts that guarantee them money
every time they step on the stage, and that guaranteed amount is
usually more than 100 percent of the revenue if every ticket is
sold at face value. Which means that if every ticket in the venue
"sells out" at the face value printed on the ticket, that wouldn't
be enough to pay the artist what they are contractually guaranteed
by the promoter for the performance.

How does the promoter make up the difference? You guessed it: by
selling some of the best seats directly in the secondary market,
so that artists don't get flack from you for pricing them high
right out of the gate. That means the artist is either directly
complicit, or that the artist is taking a massive check for the
performance while looking the other way.

Goddammit, right?

The other way these held-back tickets weasel their way into the
secondary market: The individuals who get the tickets realize
that, ostensibly, someone just handed them cash. I don't know if
you've noticed, but attending a concert or a game can be a pain in
the ass. Industry insiders fortunate enough to obtain these
tickets are just jaded enough that they don't need to go like true
fans do. And so they think about the traffic, and the parking, and
the hassle, and they check prices on the secondary market. And
they realize that whatever true fans are willing to pay sounds
better than the work of actually going to the event. So they sell

It happens all the time in music, but most famously during the
Super Bowl, in which the league uses tickets to reward partners
and players. Huge chunks of the Super Bowl seats are sold at
artificially low prices to those people (if not given away
entirely as part of a larger sponsorship contract). The worst-kept
secret in the NFL other than the blatant manipulation of
concussion research: nobody keeps their tickets. Everyone sells
them, from players and coaches (remember when then-Vikings coach
Mike Tice became a sacrificial lamb for a practice that continues
unabated today?) to the associate director of marketing for the
first-t imeout. You can make thousands of dollars selling your
Super Bowl tickets. Same goes for the intern at Warner Music
selling concert tickets. Why not?

By the time the actual on-sale happens, 90 percent of the tickets
might be gone; they usually aren't very good, and they're
distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Which is dumb for
all kinds of reasons (see: Black Friday stampedes at Walmart,
lifeboats on the Titanic, etc.). But if the distribution of 10,000
pieces of unique inventory to 10 million buyers at 10 a.m. on a
Saturday isn't insane enough...what if I told you that most of
those 10 million buyers aren't actually human beings?

### Reality no. 4: Bots are pwning you.

Even if Silicon Valley is just now falling in love with bots
(thanks to companies like Slack), they have been kicking your ass
for years. When our artificially intelligent robot overlords
arrive, they're gonna have awesome seats for Beyoncé. Their
ancestors--ticket bots--have years of experience beating you to
the punch for premium seats.

Brokers have written programs that blaze through the checkout
experience of a ticketing site faster than any human being ever
could. They grab the best seats and let the broker decide whether
to buy them. Those annoying squiggly lines you see (called
CAPTCHA)? While you're screaming that you ALREADY FUCKING TYPED
THE WORDS "TORONTO NINJA GLOCKENSPIEL," the ticket bot has already
surfaced that puzzle to dirt-cheap labor sitting in front of a
computer terminal in another country, or to some frustrated,
unsuspecting free online porn watcher to solve. Oh, and they've
basketed the tickets you wanted and posted them online for as much
as 10 times the face value.

These same bots hammer ticketing sites with searches, doomed to a
life of infinitely combing for new inventory in case any quality
seats held back from the on-sale get released to the "general
public." Once they're released, guess what? They're scooped
immediately by the ticket bots. It's like your dog sitting
underneath the table waiting for a little bit of your sandwich to
fall. It's gone before it hits the ground. You don't have a

### Reality no. 5: You can't win.

This shouldn't be a zero-sum game, but it is. And you already

The good news: Some common sense solutions could be implemented by
various stakeholders in the live event business. Do they care?
Unclear. But these solutions must treat the actual disease instead
of merely the symptoms. And at the core of the issue are two
things: the pricing/transferability trade-off, and the dearth of

As Charles Barkley always crows, Father Time is still undefeated.
But despite their longevity, it's pretty hard to find a blemish on
the record of the laws of supply and demand. When hordes of people
want a limited number of tickets, the price goes up. When a team
or artist prices tickets at less than what people are willing to
pay, in walk ticket brokers, and the secondary market materializes
from thin air. It's just good old-fashioned capitalism at work (or
alternatively, it's just stealing from kids and soccer moms). You
can't stop capitalism, but you can hope to contain it.

We can keep tickets completely out of the hands of scalpers in
three ways: First, artists and teams could price the ticket at its
actual worth in the open market. This leads to higher prices, but
at least the money goes to the artist or team we love. Second,
artists and teams can use technology to restrict the
transferability of a ticket, making it impossible for it to be
bought and resold. This technology, commonly called paperless
ticketing, requires that the credit card used to purchase the
ticket be swiped upon entry to the venue. Even if some clever
scalpers circumvented this by buying tickets on Visa gift cards,
then sending them to buyers to use for entry, paperless ticketing
would dramatically cripple the scalping industry.

(Quick tangent: This technology is already available but
restricted in New York thanks to--you guessed it!--the lobbying
efforts of scalpers and secondary ticketing sites. Schneiderman
rightly called for this restriction to be overturned in his
report. We'll see.)

Third, artists and teams can use technology to design a screening
system that gets below-market-priced tickets directly to
passionate fans who will use them. This is an aspirational but
unproven concept, one that seems risky to implement at scale in a
way that doesn't violate privacy or completely piss customers off.
Regardless, those are our three choices right now. It's not

So let's say you're Beyoncé. You can either price the tickets at
market value, restrict transferability, or not give a shit. As
fans, we've already dealt with the latter choice--we want those
other two options. We're OK with our idols putting their music in
car insurance commercials, and we're OK with them hawking products
in their tweets. We need to be OK with them charging a higher
price for tickets. And we need to support an artist's right to
restrict the transferability of those tickets, even if it means
fighting scalper-backed laws that would ban such technology. The
ideal scenario blends both solutions. Everyone wins (except you
know who).

And if we do that for them, artists must come clean about how they
distribute their tickets. Tell us--even roughly--how many tickets
are going on sale (and when). Don't make us wait in line with
hundreds of thousands of people for a smattering of seats. Admit
if you use brokers; they can provide a legitimate distribution
service to upper-class customers. But also admit how many tickets
you're reserving for regular fans. If you won't change the rules
of the game, give us our odds, and let us figure out how we want
to play.

While it is true that the artist sometimes abdicates control to
the promoter and venue as a part of the tour deal, it doesn't have
to be that way. Nobody makes him or her get up on stage (see:
Zeppelin, Led). The artist makes the overwhelming majority of the
money around his or her tour. And that means the artist has the
leverage to fix this. Foundationally, all the angst we read about
in the press and on social media from frustrated ticket-buying
fans comes down to this: We want our heroes to take a stand
against injustice. They have power, and we want them to use it.

Hold the promoter and venue accountable for transparency. Avoid
venues and promoters that won't provide it. Make venues sign
non-exclusive ticketing contracts so that the artist can pick the
platform that best serves the fan. Push venues and promoters--who
disproportionately charge ticketing fees on concert tickets while
sports season-ticket holders pay no fees at all--to stop taxing
music fans unfairly. If artists are willing to boycott streaming
music services to protect the 20 percent of their income that
comes from recorded music, why wouldn't they fix live music, where
they make 80 percent of their income?

So much of the modern entertainment business (and, ugh, maybe now
modern American democracy, too) rests on the purity of our
fanhood; a premise that our adoration will distract us from the
inequities of our actual condition. Nowhere is this more evident
than the world of ticketing. And so the situation must be dire if
the loudest voices of reason are coming from government efforts
like the Schneiderman report. As if in time with the music that
binds the covenant between artists and fans, they are rhythmically
and incisively urging us: wake up.

     Nathan Hubbard was CEO of Ticketmaster from 2010 to 2013, leading
     a turnaround and making the company more fan- and artist-friendly.
     He currently oversees music and sports (among other things) as
     head of global media for Twitter, and was a touring
     singer-songwriter who released five albums. He's leaving Twitter
     this month to be an unpaid intern for The Ringer and pursue his
     next venture.

     Nathan Hubbard

     Head of Media and Commerce  {AT} Twitter, former CEO of Ticketmaster.
     Songwriter, charity:water, Stanford GSB Management Board, Dad to
     3.  {AT} nathanchubbard

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: http://mx.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} kein.org
#   {AT} nettime_bot tweets mail w/ sender unless #ANON is in Subject: