Trying to rain on the bots’ parade isn’t shorting the system


Everyone hates ticket bots, right? They ruin the morning, if not the full day, when big concerts go on sale, swooping in the millisecond tickets are available and taking the vast majority out of the general sale pool.

Need proof: Look at recent near instantaneous sell-outs for Elton John, Radiohead, Celine Dion, U2’s tour dates in Spain, the list goes on.

Some artists are taking matters into their own hands. Arkells, for example, set up a lottery for pre-sale tickets for their June concert in Hamilton, Ont., which the band says is their only summer show in the Toronto area. Those pre-sale tickets went quickly, but fans who were selected were texted an individual code for their use. Don’t know if bots are to blame there. General sale tickets are still there for the grabbing.

For what it’s worth, even the guy who invented ticket bots sees the error of his ways…and has developed a ticketing method to make things better (just don’t expect him to apologize for his sins).

Booting the bad apples — with mixed results

Country singer Eric Church famously cancelled some 25,000 tickets on his tour in early 2017 because his team developed and deployed methods to catch bots and scalpers. Those methods found some really shady practices, so they cancelled the tickets, gave the bad actors back their money and sold the tickets back to fans using even stricter procedures.

It doesn’t always make fans happier—just ask Taylor Swift.

In 2017, she announced her new tour would be sold using Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan program, in which “in-house technology (is used to) identify actual fans and determine which of them should have access to fan-only presale tickets, based on their devotion to Swift as measured by their willingness to buy albums, sign up for a newsletter and watch her music videos.”

As a result, the people who bought tickets were more likely to be fans—but they probably saw ticket prices go up as a result. After all, that technology isn’t free or cheap. And because of that, not a single show on the first leg of her tour sold out, at least not right away.

Bots don’t like to pay more for tickets either, it seems.

High-tech hoops for a historically unplugged festival

But these intricate methods do seem to work, and in some cases, they further enrich the relationships between the venues, shows and fans.

Take, for example, the Newport Folk Festival.

A few years ago, fans bought tickets on the secondary market only to be told they’d been duped into purchasing fakes. As a result, the festival’s management started working with Eventbrite and Lyte to create a system to nearly eliminate scalping and price gauging while doing all they could to make sure the people walking up to the summer festival’s gates were there for the right reasons.

Further, they created a roll-out system in which the dates for the festival are announced months before a single performer is announced. Astonishingly it has not decreased demand or ruffled any feathers.

There’s also a triple-verification process in which people who buy tickets are checked to ensure they’re not bots. Any tickets purchased by shady-seeming actors are refunded and the tickets put back into the pool. Finally, information is scrubbed in the weeks leading up to the show to make sure, once again, the tickets purchased by real people.

They’ve also developed their own secondary market for reselling tickets if a fan can’t attend the concert, another way to make sure the person holding the ticket is, y’know, a person.

Legal action? Meh.

The US has legislation in place designed to minimize the damage bots can create, but it’s imperfect. Most of the bots are located offshore, so even the federal charges that could be filed against them pose little actual risk.

Canada is considering its own legislation that would clamp down on bots. Its effectiveness remains to be seen. Radiohead fans in Toronto certainly didn’t feel protected or all that thrilled after Saturday morning’s general sale sold out within minutes.

There’s always the secondary market, but that’s messy too.

Buyer beware. And concertgoers? Stock up on patience. Sometimes it pays off.

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