Trans­parency is the ticket buyer’s best friend

THE SPEC­TA­TOR’S VIEW

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - Gra­ham Rock­ing­ham

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.”

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