Transparency is the ticket buyer’s best friend
THE SPECTATOR’S VIEW
Recent headlines focused on the Ontario government’s pledge to crack down on ticket “bots” — ticket buying software that allows scalpers to scoop up large swaths of tickets to concerts and sporting events before the general public gets a crack at them.
It was a bold promise by Attorney General Yasir Naqvi and one welcomed by a public frustrated by an inability to purchase tickets to major events such as last summer’s Tragically Hip tour. He announced that legislation, to be tabled in the fall, would ban the use and sale of the dreaded bots.
How the government plans to do this, however, remains unclear. The online world is a global place and ticket bots don’t necessarily have to respect the jurisdictional boundaries of the Ontario government. And ticket selling companies such as Ticketmaster have admitted they are difficult to identify.
An additional promise to prohibit ticket resale of more than a 50 per cent markup may take away some of the incentive of large-scale scalping. It may also just make scalpers work twice as hard.
Perhaps more importantly, the provincial government has realized that ticket bots are only part of the problem.
The fact of the matter is that a large percentages of tickets — particularly the good seats — are already taken by what the industry calls “pre-sales” before the general public has a chance at them.
These “pre-sales” are offered as corporate perks by companies such as American Express, or by venue operators and promoters to their mailing lists, as well as artist fan clubs, which sometimes charge a fee for membership. For major events, pre-sales can take place several days before the “general public” date. A 2015 report by the New York attorney general’s office estimated as many as 50 per cent of event tickets are sold in this manner.
No wonder tickets sell so fast when half of the available tickets are already spoken for.
So it’s encouraging that the Ontario government also intends to demand more transparency on the part of promoters and venues. The attorney general’s announcement also included a promise to require primary ticket sellers to publicize the number of tickets available to the general public, as well as the capacity of the event.
There’s a huge shaming value in this tactic. Promoters won’t be eager to say “sorry, we’re only going to be selling half our Paul McCartney tickets to the general public, we’ve got a few thousand insiders to take care of first.”
Maybe concern for their public image will force promoters to scale back on the pre-sales and make a few more seats available to the unsuspecting masses. The transparency will also help educate the public, letting the average ticket buyer know about these pre-sales and how they can be part of them. Certainly scalpers know this.
If transparency is not enough, perhaps the government should simply put a limit on the percentage of tickets made available through “pre-sales.”