Why are ticket prices so high?

Here's why you may experience some sticker shock if you purchase concert tickets for a loved one this holiday season – as well as possible solutions. 

Bebeto Matthews/AP
People line up to see the Broadway play 'Hamilton' in New York on Nov. 19, 2016.

Looking to purchase concert tickets for a loved one this holiday season or attend a Broadway show with family? Prepare for some sticker shock. Here’s what is going on, along with a look at possible solutions. 

Q: Is there a main culprit? 

Bots. The event industry has been fighting people who use these computer programs to buy, in some cases, hundreds of tickets and then resell them for much more than they paid. In 2016 Eric Schneiderman, then New York attorney general, released a report about this that said, “The problem is not simply that demand for prime seats exceeds supply, especially for the most in-demand events. Ticketing, to put it bluntly, is a fixed game.” 

New York passed a law later that year criminalizing the use of bots to buy tickets. Other states have passed similar laws, and on the federal level, the Better Online Ticket Sales Act of 2016 made reselling tickets with the help of bots illegal. However, bots are still a huge problem.

Q: What else is being done to try to fight this?

Chance the Rapper went to the scalpers and then sold the tickets he obtained to fans. And Taylor Swift collaborated with Ticketmaster so that fans who, for example, watched some of her videos or went to her website had a better shot at getting concert tickets.

Todd Herreman, associate teaching professor of music industry and technologies at Syracuse University in New York, isn’t sure that Ms. Swift’s strategy is going far enough. “It needs to be guaranteed, not a maybe,” he says of fans getting tickets after doing what the artist asks. “That has the potential to drive fans away.”

As for other strategies, Ticketmaster introduced its Verified Fan technology last year. If fans give the company information about themselves ahead of time, which is then confirmed by Ticketmaster, they get a code they can use to buy tickets.

Professor Herreman sees hope in blockchain technology, which could be used to trace the path of a ticket and prevent resellers from duplicating it. But widespread use of this “may be a ways off,” he says. “Who’s going to pay for it, and how is it going to be implemented?”

Q: Wasn’t Ticketmaster in the news again recently?

In September, CBC News and the Toronto Star had journalists pretend they were scalpers at Ticket Summit 2018, where they were reportedly told by Ticketmaster about its strategy to work with scalpers. The news outlets said that scalpers were brought into the company’s TradeDesk (a tool for those who resell tickets professionally for things like season tickets for sports teams, according to Ticketmaster). When scalpers resell tickets in this marketplace, the fees associated with the sales go to Ticketmaster as well as the initial purchase fees, according to the media report.

“The issue in a nutshell, and I’m oversimplifying it, is that Ticketmaster has it set up where basically they get paid twice,” Herreman says. “So why would they want this to go away?... It’s a huge conflict.”

Based on this, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Ticketmaster in federal court in California. This is the second lawsuit in recent years for the company, with Ticketmaster settling a case in 2013 after customers said the fees for processing and delivering tickets were too high for what it cost the company to carry out those tasks.

As for the new controversy, Ticketmaster released a statement saying, “It is categorically untrue that Ticketmaster has any program in place to enable resellers to acquire large volumes of tickets at the expense of consumers.... The company had already begun an internal review of our professional reseller accounts and employee practices....”

Q: Any tips for getting tickets?

In terms of buying tickets online, it’s usually best to do that as soon as the tickets are available. This is especially true if it’s a big event that’s expected to sell out fast. 

In some cases, there might be opportunities to buy tickets early. Some credit cards offer such an opportunity as a reward (for example, Chase has a presale program through Ticketmaster). And fans might be given a chance to buy early if they’ve signed up for email updates about their favorite artists or followed them on Instagram. 

Q: How about “Hamilton”?

The hit musical has been one of the hottest tickets around since it debuted on Broadway (and it’s struggled with bots). In addition to its run on Broadway, it currently has productions in London and Chicago as well as two nationwide tours. Still, tickets often sell out quickly.

However, tickets could still be available, possibly through Ticketmaster’s verified resale program, in which the company tries to ensure that it’s a fan and not a bot reselling (just be prepared for high prices). 

Durham Performing Arts Center in North Carolina, where the production is playing now, lists the theater box office and Ticketmaster as the only “authorized” sellers. Fans can enter a lottery online. Forty $10 tickets are being sold for each performance.

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