A Brief History of Concert Ticket Scalping

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There are few things more frustrating to a music lover than being kicked out of a sold-out concert only to find tickets on sale at inflated prices on the secondary market. And how do those guys who sell tickets on the street outside the hall get their inventory?

Scalpers (“ticket sellers” to Brits and “leveraged arbitrageurs” to fiery capitalists) are as old as live events themselves. When the Greeks opened the very first open-air amphitheater in 325 BC, the doors screamed “Who has seats?” The same is said to have happened in the first Roman theater at Pompeii in 80 BCE. And I bet the same thing happens outside Shakespeare’s Globe Theater for the premiere of Dream of a summer night in 1604.

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Scalping (a term that first appeared in the 19th century and refers to train ticket brokers) has always been a problem. How could an ordinary person get into shows when there were multitudes of “ticket speculators” and “sidewalk men” who employed people to queue in front of them (“diggers”) and had secret access to box office insiders who like to tickets for them would hand over a portion of the proceeds (known as “ice cream”)?

When Jenny Lind, a singer known as “The Swedish Nightingale”, toured the United States in 1851, the best seats in the house mysteriously disappeared instantly only to reappear in the hands of speculators who bought them at considerable margins. sold. A $3 face value ticket can cost $6. Lind’s agents were rumored to be involved in the scam, something that hurt her in the public eye.

When Charles Dickens went on a book tour of America in 1867, his public readings sold out in minutes. George Dolby, Dickens’ manager, complained about a show in Boston. “[B]y eight o’clock in the morning, the queue [outside the box office] was nearly half a mile long and about the time employers of people who had spent all night on the streets began to arrive to take their places. … [T]they are horrible speculators who buy all the good tickets and resell them at exorbitant prices. In New York, fans waiting in line were offered up to $20 for their place in line by resellers seeking tickets.

Dickens resented it, especially since he and his manager were accused of being involved in the scam. He wrote to his sister-in-law: “We disagree; and how to keep the tickets out of the reach of speculators. … The young Cambridge students inform Longfellow that there are five hundred and that they cannot get a single ticket.

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Time and again, theaters, performers, managers, agents, promoters and governments have tried to suppress scalping. In 1927, the City of New York investigated the situation of Broadway theaters and local music halls. Nothing happened. Same with an investigation in 1949. And again in 1963. Nothing seemed to be done about a black market for theater tickets that totaled millions of dollars each year. It was not uncommon for a cashier to earn more than $25,000 a year and buy a new Cadillac every year. Guess where that extra income comes from?

The problem only escalated when rock concerts became big business. In the days before computers, ticket counters had shelves of printed tickets, the best of which were gone before sales even started.

Keeping an accurate number of tickets (and thus accurate revenue accounting) was impossible with the system of hard tickets sold through a box office. There had to be a solution anyway. This is where the first automated ticket sales programs were born. The first, Computicket and TRS (Ticket Reservation Services), arrived in the mid-1960s, prompting their systems to reduce scalping by tracking every ticket sold.

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Great in theory, but despite decades of advances with automated ticketing, paperless tickets, and fan-driven ticket exchanges, resellers and aftermarket companies are still getting their hands on tickets.


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The problem won’t go away. In fact, things are getting weirder and more controversial with things like Ticketmaster’s professional reseller program. “Diggers” and “ice” still exist in the digital world. Instead of bribing ticket managers and hiring people to line up, they use bots, fake identities, access compensation tickets, and infiltrate fan club sales. They are quite resourceful and tech savvy people.

Last Friday, January 20, Madonna began selling tickets for her 40th anniversary world tour, Ticketmaster’s first major sales challenge since the Taylor Swift fiasco late last year. Even though tickets were advertised for only $40, you have to wonder how many of them fell into the hands of fans for that price and how many are now also controlled by the secondary market (StubHub, SeatGeek, Vivid Tickets, etc). as individual scalpers.

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A new campaign called Make Tickets Fair was also launched in the UK and EU this week. Its purpose is to educate the public about the dangers and protocols of reselling tickets. It might help a bit, but I can’t help but think the organizers are losing their breath.

It all comes down to this: If you have a perishable item that is in high demand, like a concert ticket, someone will always find a way to monetize someone else’s desires. It’s a Whack-A-Mole game as old as live entertainment itself.

Alan Cross is a broadcaster with Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for Global News.

Subscribe now to Alan’s Ongoing History of New Music Podcast on Apple Podcast or Google Play

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