By Mike Frash //
Getting burned by a third-party ticket purchase hurts. Not only did you lose money to a greedy pig scalper-thief, but you likely missed a show or festival you really wanted to experience.
Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens) canceled his first scheduled show in 35 years over insane ticket scalping last week, taking a stand against the state of New York for not allowing paperless ticket shows — that’s when everyone has to pick up their tickets at the box office before the event. So it got us thinking — what is the best methodology for acquiring tickets to sold-out shows?
So we asked for your third-party ticket-buying tips on Facebook and Instagram and incorporated them into this here list. Follow these tips and ya might get into that completely sold-out event coming up, possibly even for face value.
BEFORE THE EVENT
1. Ask Friends First
If you have any buddies that frequently go to concerts or sporting events, check in with them and see if they have a spare. Most casual second-source-of-income scalpers will hook up a friend.
Use your social networks! And once a friend agrees to sell to you for face, “you can use the TM transfer option (if venue allows it) to transfer tickets, voiding the current bar code, & supplying a new one to the buyer.” [Brando Rich]
2. Use the Secondary Ticket Market (and Be Prepared to Get Taxed)
StubHub has taken over the secondary ticket market in the US, and Ticketmaster’s T+ is also an option. (Does anyone else see a problem with Ticketmaster linking directly to their secondary market after you buy a ticket?)
You pay a premium for security and customer service should anything go wrong. Or as Ryan Cohn put it, “using verified sources like StubHub will help weed out the dickbags trying to scam.” It’s the kind of business model that gives economics professors wet dreams — take 15% from the seller and charge the buyer about 10%.
3. Use a Peer-to-Peer Social Ticketing
One under-the-radar resource for buying tickets to sold-out events is CashorTrade.org, a website for ethically selling or trading tickets — you can’t sell tickets for over face value. The website uses a community-based model, directly connecting fans without any markup or fees.
As Steven Wandrey mentioned, “CoT isn’t verified but if someone has good rep ratings on there the chances are much higher than not that the tickets are legit.” That said, Stubhub doesn’t verify ticket sales either (but the buyer does have a credit card on file), and CashorTrade.org will assist you if any problems arise. Using CashorTrade.org can save you money compared to using the mighty corporate behemoth StubHub.
4. Randoms on Facebook
After all above resources have come up dry, try to find someone within a trusted Facebook group or message board. For example, if you’re looking for a Coachella ticket, you could look for help in a Coachella group on Facebook or hit up the Coachella community forum.
A word of advise from John Kim: “If buying on FB, make sure the person you’re buying from has a legit profile. Few friends and a private page are some things to watch out for. Also, check their recent postings and comments. If someone hasn’t posted on FB in 2 years or has zero comments on their status updates, you might want to be careful.”
5. Craigslist (If You Must)
Craigslist should be the last resort if you are buying. It’s equally as risky as buying at the venue. If you’re really worried, ask a ticket seller if it’s cool to meet them in front or near their house. Usually scammers won’t send unsuspecting buyers to their house. Also, if paying via PayPal, choose the “Items/Goods” option for extra protection.
And repeat after me: Hard tickets are safer than digital tickets, unless you’re doing a Ticketmaster transfer. Digital PDFs can be sold over and over again — first buyer to the venue wins.
AT THE EVENT
6. Don’t Buy From a Scalper
Try to buy from an event-goer instead of a scalper. Paco Martini wrote, “Don’t buy from dudes buying & selling tickets. They are usually scalper suspects. Look for someone heading in to the same show, and ask people near by if they need a ticket if you have extras.”
In similar fashion, Ben Baity advised, “I mostly go around and say ‘I need a ticket, NOT A SCALPER, just wanna go to the show’ and POOF, someone comes along and deals me in. For big shows, like Springsteen etc, it is easy as pie. Nobody goes to shows without tickets anymore. Boom, tix.”
Also Cassie Blaza L wrote, “When I do buy tickets off someone at the venue I gauge the persons’ validity by whether they look like they belong in that scene fashion and conversation wise. You can tell pretty quickly, at least in NYC, who the guys are that showed up outside exclusively to make money and leave. They aren’t dressed for a show, can’t name a song by the artist, don’t have friends with them, and generally don’t look like they belong.”
7. Check the Tickets
If buying from a scalper or show-goer, look at the tickets before you hand over your hard-earned cash. “Knowing what the ticket policy for an event is helps. Know how the tickets should look and what the event would consider an invalid ticket. Making sure all necessary barcodes are there and that none of them are repeating over multiple tickets.” [Christi Payeur]
Conor Boyland explains this concept in further detail: “What I usually do if I’m forced to buy a ticket on the street, is ask to see all of the tickets. check the numbercode (numbers above the barcode), if all of the numbers, or even a few pairs, match; they are fakes.” Also, know the the original cost of the ticket and be sure to check the one you’re buying to make sure it’s correct.
8. The First Key to Negotiation
Be willing to walk away. You have the leverage for non-sell outs and after an event starts, so don’t be afraid to negotiate. Is the event really sold out? Trust the person at the box office over a scalper.
9. Ask the Seller to Walk You to the Venue
Pete Mauch and Joel Hoffman both commented that you should ask the seller to walk with you to the venue entrance before buying. If they hesitate, keep that money in your pocket. Although, this is a slippery slope as it’s generally illegal to sell secondary tickets on venue property.
10. Let It Burn
This is pretty extreme but true. Ticketmaster tickets aren’t printed on normal paper, and if you light a small corner of a genuine ticket with a lighter or cigarette, it should turn black on the face but be completely unaffected on the back side. Also, Kevin Quandt pointed out that “most Ticketmaster tickets have a blueish layer of paper that is slightly visible, and that they are heat sensitive (also, best to not leave in hot car).”
Leave your sold-out ticket purchasing techniques below in the comments.
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When David Bennett, a passionate music fan, moved to London at the age of 25, he was desperate for any kind of break in the entertainment industry. So when a job came up with a secondary ticketing website – an online marketplace that matches fans selling gig tickets with buyers – he took it.
A few years later he had quit, disillusioned and appalled by an enterprise that lined the pockets of touts at the expense of fans. “It was my job to look after the power sellers [industry term for ticket touts] and help them get the tickets they wanted,” said Bennett, who asked for his name to be changed for fear of reprisals. “Some of these guys set up companies with eight or 10 employees using multiple credit cards to buy tickets.”
He continued: “I once went to meet a guy in a hotel who took out a stack of credit cards, there must have been 20 or 30 of them, to show how serious he was about getting tickets. I thought that was shady and wasn’t really comfortable dealing with people like that.” The last straw was when one primary ticket website wised up to the actions of one of Bennett’s clients and blocked his credit card.
The tout’s response was to use his daughter’s card instead. “That changed my mind about everything,” said Bennett. He handed in his notice shortly afterwards.
Welcome to the world of ticket touting in the UK. For as long as there have been ticketed events, there have been people trading on the fact that demand for live sports or music events outstrips supply. But the advent of the internet put rocket boosters under the trade. You can still find the old-fashioned touts outside venues, repeating their time-honoured mantra, “Tickets for the gig, buy or sell”, but these days the real money is made online by armchair touts who target the most popular events.
The armchair army will now be gearing up for the annual bonanza that is the British summer. Packed with sporting and musical events such as Wimbledon, Radiohead at the Roundhouse, the England v Sri Lanka Test series, the AC/DC tour – not to mention dozens of hugely popular festivals and outdoor gigs – the next few months will do wonders for the touts’ bank balances.
These individuals can hoover up hundreds of tickets at a time and sell them on at a huge mark-up via resale, or “secondary ticketing”, websitessuch as Get Me In, StubHub, Viagogo and Seatwave.
The mark-ups can be eye-watering. An extreme example was when a ticket for Adele at the O2 Arena in London in March was listed on Get Me In for £24,840, some 290 times face value. When Elton John tickets went on sale at the end of last year with a top price of £90, minutes later the same tickets appeared on secondary ticket websites priced at £500.
So why is it that touts are able to sell gig tickets at such exorbitant prices?
Most ordinary fans simply don’t stand a chance. Within seconds of an event going on sale, the tickets are harvested in their thousands by a small but ruthlessly efficient army of touts, many using multiple credit cards to bypass the limit on the number of tickets that one person can purchase. They make their profit by flipping the tickets they secure on to the secondary ticketing sites.
Although secondary tickets are often advertised at a huge mark-up, there are usually enough devoted fans willing to pay what it takes to be there.
The tout makes a quick and easy profit, while the resale website takes a commission of anything up to 25%, or sometimes more.
Even more egregiously, secondary sites Get Me In and Seatwave are both owned by Ticketmaster, which ends up getting paid twice over. Everybody wins, except for the fans.
The Observer spoke to one seasoned tout, who has built a business worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, thanks to the secondary ticketing world. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said that the use of multiple identities and credit cards – to circumvent limits on the number of tickets one person can buy – is commonplace.
“Yeah, that’s standard,” he said. “You can use multiple credit cards, multiple identities … it bypasses the ticket limits.”
Savvy touts, he said, will pay to join fan clubs in the knowledge that bands sometimes release tickets early to their most devoted followers. Even if they have to pay a subscription fee, the profit margin on the ticket easily covers the cost.
“You can make a lot of money,” he said. “If somebody buys £50,000 of tickets, they should be able to make £12,500 out of that.”
A few key players appear to play a pivotal role in the secondary ticketing game. Andrew Newman, for example, is just 25 years old but has built a business, Newman Corporation, worth £1.6m from his home just outside Glasgow.
He declined to comment on how the company operates or the methods he uses to get tickets.
One rung below Newman is Peter Hunter, who runs and part-owns TicketWiz, one of the UK’s most successful secondary ticketing businesses. The company has not published accounts since 2014, but these show a business whose assets increased in value from £157,000 to £270,000 in a year.
Another big player is Norfolk-based Maria Chenery-Woods, owner of Ticket Queen. Companies House filings show that the business had assets totalling £543,000 as of March 2014, up from £395,000 a year before.
Raymond Sullivan owns Double 8 Tickets, a firm with assets of more than £405,000 as of November 2014.
Asked how they got their tickets, one such individual simply said: “Front door, back door, side door.” An investigation by the Observer revealed at least 10 businesses of similar scale, although the likelihood is that there are dozens, if not hundreds, more.
Whatever one makes of the morality of the ticketing money-go-round, some experts believe that the rules and regulations governing the system are routinely flouted. “There is no lawful way to harvest tickets in bulk,” argues Reg Walker, Britain’s leading ticket fraud expert and a director of ticket security firm the Iridium Consultancy.
He points to the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading regulations 2008, which prohibit “falsely representing oneself as a consumer”. Anyone masquerading as different people to get hold of multiple tickets for the purposes of a sale risks breaching these regulations, he says. As for selling the tickets on, the Consumer Contracts regulations 2013 say that any trader using online secondary ticketing platforms should provide their identity and their address or contact details.
But punters will struggle to find an event on one of the secondary ticketing websites with information about who the seller is.
Last year measures were included in the Consumer Rights Act 2015 that require anyone who resells an event ticket via a secondary market website to provide details of the seat row and number, as well as the face value. Critics say that the secondary sites are routinely ignoring this requirement, too.
In November consumer group Which? said it had spent eight weeks investigating and had found that the rules were “being repeatedly flouted on all the major secondary ticketing sites”.
Often there is very little information provided about where someone who buys a ticket will end up sitting. Campaigners say such information would make it easier to cross-check whether tickets were being sold by genuine fans or touts in it for the money.
“It does appear that some secondary ticketing companies are breaking the law in the course of their business,” said Nitin Khandia, director at BTMK Solicitors, a legal adviser on consumer-related problems. These regulations are supposed to be enforced by local authorities, but with central government cuts biting they lack the resources to police the existing law.
It is not in the interests of resale websites, which make commission on every ticket sold, to crack down on touts who flout the law. And the touts themselves certainly have no interest in derailing the gravy train.
Another tout, who declined to give his name, said: “The whole system works to the detriment of the consumer. But what does taking the moral high ground mean for touts? It means bankruptcy.”
One measure of the power that touts wield is the extent to which they are not just tolerated by secondary websites but courted by them.
According to industry sources, back in 2011, before launching in the UK, StubHub threw a lavish party for some of the UK’s biggest touts at the Radisson Blu hotel in London’s Fitzrovia. Unlike Ticketmaster, which can boost secondary sales on Get Me In and Seatwave by redirecting fans to those sites, StubHub needed the touts on board – after all, they had the tickets.
“These sites are protecting the identity of the touts, and they’re doing it because they need them,” said Labour MP Sharon Hodgson, who is co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse. “Nobody’s policing this. I would say that the secondary market, and especially touting, is a parasitical business. They’re making money off the backs of other people’s hard work.”
The ticket sites have developed sophisticated lobbying efforts to support their opposition to any measures that might curb touting. Fan Freedom UK is a website that casts itself as a grassroots organisation for fans, battling against plans that might prevent ordinary people from selling on their tickets.
Only a prolonged look through its US parent website reveals the truth of who is behind it: “Initial funding for Fan Freedom and Fan Freedom UK was provided by StubHub, an eBay company.”
Gone in 20 minutes: Radiohead tickets for the Roundhouse, an impossible mission
So why, with all this apparent evidence of dubious practices, is the government not doing more to crack down on ticket touting via resale sites? One of the reasons is that not all MPs are as anti-secondary ticketing as Hodgson. In a debate on secondary ticketing, Conservative MP Philip Davies branded fellow MPs trying to curb touting in the secondary market as “socialists”.
One of the arguments deployed by Davies is that curbing ticket resales would disadvantage the ordinary fan who simply wants to recoup money for a ticket he or she can no longer use.
But according to Reg Walker, legitimate resellers are very much in the minority on the major websites. “There was a WWE [wrestling] event in September where there were only 14,000 tickets released and 1,346 advertised on Get Me In the next day, so 10% of tickets have appeared immediately on the secondary sales.
“Are those people who had bought tickets and immediately decided they couldn’t go? Of course not. The overwhelming majority of tickets on resale platforms are being sold by traders.”
Now, however, the government has a new opportunity to tighten the law on secondary ticket sales.
Last October the government launched a long-awaited review of how the secondary ticket market was working, and whether consumers were sufficiently protected by the new rules. The review panel, chaired by Professor Michael Waterson, is due to release its findings in the next 10 days.
A number of politicians and music industry representatives are calling on the government to enforce the provision already made in the Consumer Rights Act and, ideally, go further by requiring ticket resellers to reveal their identities. “I’d like to see some form of enforcement,” said Hodgson. “The regulation and the laws that we have should be upheld.”
But those who will perhaps have more clout are the growing number of artists, including Elton John, Adele, Mumford & Sons, Little Mix, Royal Blood and Coldplay, who have become increasingly vocal in the past few years in their opposition to the way touts are allowed to use secondary sites. At the end of last year, Chris Martin, lead singer of Coldplay, co-signed a letter to the government with a number of other high-profile musicians calling for changes to the law to prevent ticketing resale sites from “ripping off fans”.
There are also now alternatives emerging to the secondary sites such as mobile ticket exchange app Twickets, which allows fans to offer tickets at face value or below for events they can no longer attend. Its founder, Richard Davies, is fed up with the greed of touts impinging on the rights of music and sports fans, and rejects the notion that touting is simply the free market in action.
Mumford & Sons join the fight against the ticket touts
“The argument that a crackdown on secondary sales is dangerous because it infringes people’s rights and could drive touting underground is nonsense, because we are already witnessing illicit behaviour,” he said. “Profiteering and deception are rife on the secondary platforms. Those selling through these channels are regularly breaking the law and the platforms themselves do very little about it.”
Ticketmaster failed to answer when asked to respond to this article, and StubHub declined to comment.
Before and after… what they cost when they first go on sale and what they cost when they land on secondary sites
O2, London, 21 March 2016
Face value: £85
Price on Get Me In: £22,000 - or £24,840 when fees are included
Albert Hall, Manchester, 14 May 2016
Face value: £40
Price on StubHub: £900
Roundhouse, London, 28 May 2016
Face value: £65
Price on Viagogo: £3,934
Wembley Stadium, London, 15 June 2016
Face value: £50
Price on Seatwave: £549
Wembley Stadium, London, 2 July 2016
Face value: £50
Price on Get Me In: £825
DAVID BOWIE PROM
Royal Albert Hall, London, 29 July 2016
Face value: £20
Price on Viagogo: £250