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Undercover reporters expose Ticketmaster resale activities

World News
September 28, 2018

NORTH AMERICA             

Undercover reporters posing as ticket touts/scalpers at a resale convention in Las Vegas have opened up a hornet’s nest for Ticketmaster (TM), involving US senators, a government watchdog, class action lawyers, outraged event-goers and widespread international media coverage.

In a joint operation by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the Toronto Star newspaper, two journalists posed as ticket traders to investigate Ticketmaster Resale’s TradeDesk facility, which the company brands as “The most powerful ticket sales tool. Ever”.

TradeDesk (TD), which allows professional sellers to upload tickets and manage their inventory on TM’s secondary platforms – TicketsNow in the US and TicketExchange in Canada –  had an exhibition stand at the Ticket Summit event in July.

A TD representative told the reporters that the company works with touts/scalpers who use multiple accounts, selling hundreds of thousands of tickets every year, which is a direct violation of TM’s terms of service, which limits individuals to one account.

A video of the encounter, broadcast on national television, shows the reporters being offered professional reseller software, with the TD representative saying, “I have brokers that have literally a couple of hundred accounts. It is not something that we look at or report [back to TM].”

He says it is TM’s primary ticketing division that counters the use of robotic software (bots) that harvest tickets for resale. “We have no involvement with it. We do not share reports, we do not share names, we do not share account information with the primary side, period.

“I cannot think of any clients that are not using multiple [accounts] …  I mean you have to because you want to get a good show [on the platform] … the ticket limit is six or eight [and] you are not going to make a living on [reselling] eight tickets.”

Politicians step-in

US senators Richard Blumenthal and Jerry Moran – who sponsored the Better Online Ticket Sales Act 2016 – have since written to Michael Rapino, president and CEO of TM parent company Live Nation Entertainment. They say the CBC/Toronto Star report reveals that TM, “recruits and employs professional ticket scalpers to circumvent the ticket purchasing limits on its own primary ticket sales platform in an effort to expand its own ticket resale division.”

The senators point out that the Act prohibits the use of computer software in the “circumvention of an access control system” or methods used to limit sales to individual buyers, and prohibits selling or offering to sell a ticket obtained through such a violation.

Among questions asked in the letter is, “What role does Ticketmaster’s Professional Reseller Handbook play in deterring its resellers from engaging in illegal purchasing activities?”

TM president Jared Smith hit back immediately, telling industry publication Billboard, “We absolutely do not turn a blind eye to the misuse of our products.

“The story is predicated on misinformation and a misunderstanding that paints the company very differently than it actually is. That is frustrating. That being said, there is clearly some things that we are not doing well enough. We will learn from it, and we will make some changes.”

Smith emphasised, “We do not provide preference in any way for any group of people, professional or otherwise, nor do we provide tools or programmes that allow them to buy tickets in bulk or gain an advantage over fans.”

ATM spokesperson tells Audience, “It’s clear from the senators’ letter that the CBC’s reporting has left the impression that Ticketmaster provides brokers with ticket-buying software, which is categorically false.”

Navdeep Bains, Canada’s federal minister of innovation, science and economic development, told CBC that he is looking into revelations from the CBC/Toronto Star investigation.

“We want to make sure that consumers are protected and so we’re going to look into this and find out what are the next steps to address this issue in a meaningful way.”

Watchdog investigates

TM and LNE are already under investigation by Canada’s Competition Bureau, which initiated legal action against the companies in January, over allegations that they “employ deceptive marketing practices”, including “drip pricing” — that can inflate the face price of a seat by more than 60 per cent.

Competition Bureau spokeswoman Marie-France Faucher says, “We are looking into the matter, and examining whether this type of conduct could fall within the Competition Act.”

Meanwhile, the Toronto Star reports that a city law firm has launched a C$250 million (US$191.4m) class action suit against Ticketmaster Canada, alleging the company engages in
“false or misleading misrepresentations” that violate the Competition Act”.

Back in the US, consumer class action law firm Hagens Berman in Seattle has set up an online form for aggrieved event-goers who may have purchased resold tickets at inflated prices

It was undercover reporters in the UK that exposed the nefarious activities of resale sites such as Viagogo and the then independent Seawave (now LNE/TM-owned), working directly with some promoters and artistes. Channel 4’s Dispatches: The Great Ticket Scandal was the catalyst for an anti-touting campaign that led to the formation of artiste manager-funded FanFair Alliance and changes to consumer law.

Last month TM announced it would be closing its resale sites Seatwave and GetMeIn across Europe.

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