Saturday, December 8, 2012

12.12.12 and Scalpers


           Aside from the recent Grammy award nominations, one of the hottest topics in the music industry is the upcoming 12.12.12 concert for the Robin Hood Sandy Relief Fund. The show is being held at Madison Square Garden and reads like a who’s who of pop music history. Performing is Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, The Who, Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd), Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, Eddie Vedder (of Pearl Jam), Dave Grohl (of Nirvana and Foo Fighters), Chris Martin (of Coldplay), Alicia Keys, and Kanye West. Of course, not all the attention is on the star power.

            A darker issue that has come to light is the secondary market. Like any other major event at Madison Square Garden, the event sold out within minutes. Also like any other event at the Garden, tickets began to appear on the secondary market minutes after the event went on sale. Ticketmaster actually addressed this action by posting on their blog that they were trying to take steps to combat this by cancelling orders believed to be run by scalper BOTS. Scalper BOTS are computer programs used to flood Ticketmaster.com with orders as soon as an event on sale to yield a high number of tickets. Ticketmaster also banned listings from their own secondary markets, TicketsNow and TicketExchange, stating that all the proceeds should go to the Robin Hood fund. This leaves one major secondary market selling tickets to the event, Stubhub. Stubhub has dedicated all their fees from the sales to the charity but says it has no way to make sure profits go to charity. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has alsogotten into the debate, sending letters to ticket resellers for help not allowing scalpers to profit. Right now, tickets for the event on Stubhub range from $635 up to $32,000. Then again, who knows if the tickets are real or not? This is a factor that no one is talking about. On StubHub especially, often scalpers create fake listings with abnormal prices to make the demand seem higher, yet another unsavory tactic by scalpers to extract profits.

            But are scalpers the problem? Industry pundit Bob Lefsetz recently wrote a new blog post about why most concertgoers can’t get a ticket at a fair price. He says that income disparity is causing the current ticketing crisis in the live entertainment industry. Secondary markets have high ticket prices because the rich can afford it and will pay to get into an event at any cost. He also believes that the industry executives don’t care because they’re raking in the cash. Do I agree with Bob? Yes and no. I do think that ticket prices are higher because people are willing to blindly pay through the nose to be at an event. I’ve seen friends and family do it all the time. I don’t believe the industry is turning a blind eye to it, at least not as a whole. I am a bit suspicious that most events in New York City, and Madison Square Garden in particular, quickly sell out and then are on secondary markets. I’ve been to a few events that do this; coming to mind quickly are LCD Soundsystem’s final show and Phish’s New Year’s Eve shows. Instead of calling out secondary ticket websites, I’d like to see Senator Schumer look inwards towards venue owners within New York to see if they’re having a hand how tickets are distributed. I’d also like to see New York lift its ban on paperless tickets. The state’s inability to embrace the future has made it a haven for the secondary market.