Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Who's scalping who? Artists tout their own tickets

Something to remember the next time you see artists and promoters getting upset about people flogging tickets on at inflated prices: some artists are doing the scalping themselves:

Less than a minute after tickets for last August's Neil Diamond concerts at New York's Madison Square Garden went on sale, more than 100 seats were available for hundreds of dollars more than their normal face value on premium-ticket site The seller? Neil Diamond.

Ticket reselling -- also known as scalping -- is an estimated $3 billion-a-year business in which professional brokers buy seats with the hope of flipping them to the public at a hefty markup.

In the case of the Neil Diamond concerts, however, the source of the higher-priced tickets was the singer, working with Ticketmaster Entertainment Inc., which owns TicketExchange, and concert promoter AEG Live. Ticketmaster's former and current chief executives, one of whom is Mr. Diamond's personal manager, have acknowledged the arrangement, as has a person familiar with AEG Live, which is owned by Denver-based Anschutz Corp.

So, it's absolutely fine for artists to deliberately hold tickets back, in order to flog them at artificially-inflated prices. But somehow, it's wrong for ordinary people to sell on tickets they no longer need at slightly higher price, and photographic IDs must be used when buying tickets to stop this practice.

The artists sales are done through Ticketmaster's official scalping site, with - as the Wall Street Journal points out - usually no indication that the sales are coming from 'official' sources rather than a selling-on by fans. Indeed, lengths seem to be traveled in order to make it look like it's coming from fans:
Tickets for a March 27 Britney Spears concert at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh were priced earlier this week at $39.50 to $125 apiece on But some of those same classes of seats were being offered at the same time through the "TicketExchange Marketplace" for as much as $1,188.60. The link to the Marketplace page was marked, "Browse premium seats plus tickets posted by fans."

Ms. Spears' spokeswoman declined to comment.

The ticket listings are offered in small batches, each at a price, such as $1,164.01, that mimics prices set via online auctions. After inquiries from The Wall Street Journal, the "tickets posted by fans" message was removed from the TicketExchange Web site. Prices also fell, narrowing the gap between Ticketmaster and TicketExchange Marketplace.

That this is all unethical is beyond question; perhaps more pertinent is the question of if it's entirely legal?

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