It's nearing 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning, you're sitting on your couch with your laptop, your finger repeatedly clicking the refresh button of your internet browser, your credit card at the ready. Your favorite band is coming to a stadium near you, and you're ready to pay good money for a great seat up front near the stage.
Ten o'clock comes, you click refresh again and — voila! — you're in. You choose your number of seats and the price level, click "next," then frantically try to make sure you accurately type in the spurious jumble of letters to prove you're a real person, then wait impatiently as the digital blue wheel spins.
Round and round it goes, and when it stops — wait, what? Sold out? Try another price level. OK ... also sold out? But it's not even 10:01 yet!
Has this happened to you? It certainly has to me. (I long for the days when I camped out in my car outside the Macy's at the mall so that I could get in line early to buy tickets to HFStival.)
Buying tickets, quite frankly, stinks. (And when you do actually get to buy tickets, you get crushed with convenience charges and handling fees, even if you get an electronic ticket. What exactly are you paying $7.95 to "handle" and what the heck is so "convenient" about this process anyhow?)
What's happening is, despite those puzzles and wordfinds known as CAPTCHAs that you must complete to buy a ticket online that are supposed to prevent this exact sort of thing from happening, scalpers are developing software and technology known as "bots" that swoop in and purchase loads of tickets for popular concerts, sporting events and other entertainment acts that are quickly re-listed on resale websites like StubHub or SeatGeek, at an average of about 50 percent above — but sometimes up to 10 times — face value.
To combat this, Ticketmaster and event venues develop safeguards to keep scalpers from doing this, like requiring the ticketholder show the credit card they used to purchase the tickets or a valid ID that matches the name on the tickets. OK, cool.
But what happens when your jerk boss tells you at the last minute that you need to work that day, after you've spent all that money on the tickets? Or your child gets sick and you can't go?
You can't sell them and recoup your money (or, if it truly is a popular act, maybe even make a few dollars) and you can't even give them to a friend. Ticketmaster will take some of those tickets back to re-list on the secondary market that it owns, where it can charge some other poor sap with convenience and handling fees to line their pockets again.
Can we make buying, possessing and reselling or even giving away a concert ticket less frustrating? State and federal lawmakers are trying.
Maryland legislators on both sides of the aisle are working on a bill that would prevent Ticketmaster and other companies from putting such identification restrictions in place that keep ticketholders from reselling or giving away tickets, arguing that holders have a property right to the ticket and freedom to do with it what they wish. The bill had its first hearing in a Senate committee earlier this week.
In December, then-President Obama signed into law the bipartisan Better Online Ticket Sales, or BOTS, Act, which makes using sophisticated computer programs to snap up tickets illegal and fines hackers, theoretically allowing fans to buy tickets at face value when they go on sale.
Whether the BOTS Act actually does that remains to be seen. The New York Times reported in December that much of the software is being developed and operated overseas, which makes enforcement difficult.
But perhaps the best way to keep unscrupulous scalpers from flooding the secondary market with inflated tickets is for the artists to follow in the footsteps of country music singer Eric Church. Last month, the singer of "Drink in My Hand" and "Springsteen" canceled more than 25,000 tickets for his upcoming tour that were purchased through scalping software and put them back up for sale through his website and the host venues to help get them into the hands of actual concert-going fans.
According to Rolling Stone, Church's management group looked for purchase patterns that matched scalper buying habits, like multiple purchases on the same credit card or out-of-state ticket purchases.
Church told the Associated Press "We're getting better at identifying who the scalpers are. Every artist can do this, but some of them don't."
If only more artists shared this level of passion and willingness to ensure their actual fans are able to attend their shows. Until then, fans have to rely on the government legislation to ensure a better ticket buying experience. I wonder how that will work out ... .
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Wayne Carter is the editor of the Carroll County Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.