Graham: A ray of light in the cloudy world of ticketing

Secondhand ticketing has become the norm for concert fans, but at least one artist is stepping up to stop the madness

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

You can’t get the good tickets.

You know the drill: You’ve got your phone, iPad and laptop all ready to go, all synced up for the morning’s big concert on sale. The clock strikes 10 a.m. You search for tickets, and like the Oscar hopes for “Collateral Beauty,” nothing’s there. You check your phone, same deal. Ditto on the iPad. But it’s only been 19 seconds! How can they already be gone?

The game is rigged. Tickets have already been snatched up through pre-sales, by ticket scalpers and in some cases by the artists themselves. Oh, you can still get a ticket, just not at face value. Anymore, that price printed on the ticket is just a starting point for negotiations.

Welcome to buying tickets for any big event in 2017. It’s been this way for awhile. But this week, country star Eric Church took a big step that shows there’s still some hope out there for concert attendees.

It used to be if you wanted tickets to a show you’d prove your dedication by camping out overnight in line: first come, first served. That gave way to ticket lottery systems, where a random draw would determine the first person in line. Now, in a world of smart phones, it’s the digital Wild West and ticket buyers — or, in many cases, would-be ticket buyers — are the ones being shot down.

It happened with U2’s summer stadium tour, where tickets were gone in seconds (and are now available for upward of double and triple their original prices on the secondary market). Want to see Bruno Mars at The Palace in August? Tickets sold out in November, but upper-deck seats that originally cost $49.50 are now going for $140 and up, and that’s through resales on Ticketmaster’s site. Kid Rock’s six shows at Little Caesars Arena are all officially sold out, but on Stubhub, there are hundreds of tickets available, from $65 for a single to $10,000 for a pair — and that’s just for the first night.

Now it’s possible that hundreds and hundreds of Kid Rock fans bought tickets for opening night at Little Caesars Arena, all remembered they had plans that night and then put the tickets up for sale on Stubhub to try and save face. More likely is the tickets were acquired by ticket bots, automated programs that game the online ticketing system and flip those tickets on the secondary ticket market, which accounts for some $8 billion annually.

It’s tough to beat a bot. Efforts have been made in recent years to curb those automated programs, which according to reports sometimes snag up to 60 percent of the best tickets for the hottest shows. Last year, after Lin Manuel Miranda fought against the wildly inflated prices of “Hamilton” tickets online, President Obama signed the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act of 2016 into law, which makes using software to purchase tickets to popular events illegal.

But that law has not had immediate, obvious repercussions, and in the world of ticket sales, it’s still same old, same old.

In some cases, demand simply far outweighs supply, which naturally drives up ticket prices. It was estimated that when tickets to Adele’s 2016 North American tour went on sale, 10 million fans were fighting to get their hands on 750,000 available tickets. That’s a success rate of less than one in 10, and left a lot of people feeling like an Adele ballad.

So you pay the extra costs, because the experience is worth more than the money. You can always get more money, but if you missed Prince the last time around, well, that was it. Especially in today’s world, where our phones have us all living in our own bubbles, people crave communal experiences, and seeing pictures on Instagram can’t match the feeling of being there live. But there needs to be some balance.

How do you fight the system? Some have taken matters into their own hands.

This week country star Church, who plays The Palace of Auburn Hills on Saturday, canceled 25,000 tickets to his current tour that he and his team had determined had been bought by scalpers and released them back to fans. They didn’t have any fancy bot system to rely on to do the dirty work; Church’s manager tells Billboard a team of employees and interns meticulously combed through sales reports looking for irregularities — out-of-state ticket sales, multiple orders on a single credit card — and canceled those questionable orders.

Yes, the system is still rigged. But the Church situation acknowledges there are problems, and shows that with hard work and willing parties, balance can be restored. And maybe fans can get a fair shot at the good tickets again.

Twitter: @grahamorama