Event ticket sales are rigged, says attorney general

Would you pay $116K to see the Grateful Dead?
Would you pay $116K to see the Grateful Dead?

Tickets to the hottest events are impossible for average fans to get, according to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

"Ticketing, to put it bluntly, is a fixed game," said a report Schneiderman's office released Thursday.

Part of the problem are so-called computer bots, which are programs that ticket brokers use to quickly buy a large number of tickets the minute they go on sale.

Schneiderman's report cites examples such as a U2 tour last year in which a single bot bought 15,000 tickets in one day and Beyonce's 2013 concert at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, which sold 520 tickets in 3 minutes.

Measures to block the bots, are being defeated with sophisticated computer programs and low-cost overseas workers.

And most tickets to major events are never even offered to the general public in the first place, according to Schneiderman's report.

Event organizers and ticketing services such as Ticketmaster set aside large blocks of tickets for insiders like season ticket owners or certain credit card holders. Less than 20% of tickets are ever made available for the general public for the hottest events. And many of those tickets that are set aside also end up in the hands of brokers, according to Schneiderman.

Related: Super Bowl tickets heading for a record

Schneiderman recommends having vendors like TicketMaster use tougher measures to detect and prevent bot use, as well as imposing criminal penalties for anyone caught using one.

He called for greater transparency, like having ticket resale sites such as StubHub listing the original face value of they tickets they sell and also for legislation to limit the markups that resellers can put on tickets.

"Reinstating caps on markups would still allow brokers a role in the market but would also ensure that any price markups be reasonable," Schneiderman said.

Related: $17,553 for a World Series ticket

But changing the ticket-sales process market for high profile events will be hard. Price controls have never been very effective in the past, said Jesse Lawrence, CEO of TiqIQ, which tracks and facilitates the resale of tickets.

"There's a fair market price that people are willing to pay for tickets," he said.

And defeating bots has also proved difficult.

"That's a technology challenge, not a legislation challenge," said Lawrence. "It's like saying how can you stop hackers? They'll always be a step ahead."

Ticketmaster said it fully cooperated with Schneiderman's investigation and that it "looks forward to continuing to work with the Attorney General to ensure that artists can get tickets into the hands of their fans."

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