In the music industry, it's fairly common knowledge that most of the big money is in live events. So, it should come as no surprise that corporations will use concerts as leverage to exploit artists and take as much money from fans as they can. Still, many were surprised today when tickets for The Black Keys concert at Roseland Ballroom sold out 2 hours before they were scheduled to go on sale. It's difficult to know exactly why this happened and who was responsible, but it's left many fans disappointed and frustrated with the ticketing system. As one of those fans, I decided to investigate. Here's what I found...
Three weeks ago, The Black Keys announced that they would play a one-off show at Roseland Ballroom in New York City on the evening of Friday January 31st. Ticket sales were to be done exclusively through Citibank's Private Pass program. That means that anyone who wanted to buy tickets would need a Citi credit or debit card. At the time of the announcement, tickets were set to go on sale at 10 AM. This is pretty standard for music events these days. No big deal.
This particular event is notable because it is during the weekend of the Super Bowl, which is being hosted by New York City & New Jersey. There are lots of other concerts taking place this week, serving as entertainment for tourists with money to spend. A guaranteed sold out show in midtown Manhattan, like this Black Keys show, was a scalper's wet dream... and scalpers have certainly seized the moment. At the time I'm writing this, there are hundreds of tickets available through ticket reseller websites (who will remain nameless, because I won't give them free advertising) for sale starting at well over two times face value of the tickets, which was $66.50 including taxes and fees.
This morning, I checked the Citi page and found that the ticket sale had changed from 10 AM to 11 AM. This was strange, but I guess things like this happen sometimes. At 10:55 AM, I went to the Citi Private Pass page, and found that the time had changed again. Now it said that tickets would go on sale at 2 PM. This was more than a mild annoyance, since this had already interfered with my morning schedule and now it would interfere with my afternoon schedule as well. I've been really looking forward to seeing The Black Keys, so I scheduled a reminder for 1:55 PM so that I could get everything ready to buy my tickets.
At 12:30 PM, someone tweeted at Zumic that tickets had gone on sale at Noon and already sold out:
— Phillip Eubanks (@PhillipEubanks) January 28, 2014
— Phillip Eubanks (@PhillipEubanks) January 28, 2014
This was a shocker. The Black Keys had indeed sent this tweet at Noon, officially announcing the sale:
— The Black Keys (@theblackkeys) January 28, 2014
I went onto Ticketmaster, put in the Citicard digits I needed to access the ticket sales, and found that tickets were sold out. What a bummer!
I started calling around, trying to figure out two things:
1) Would more tickets become available at some point soon?
2) Why were the ticketing details changed 3 times on the day of sales?
As for the first point, I wasn't able to find out anything about more tickets being released. Right now, the concert is completely sold out. This left me trying to understand how fans could have been given completely bogus information, and then had the rug pulled out from under their feet.
My first call was to the Citi Private Pass phone number originally listed on their event web page. A phone representative from Citi told me that Ticketmaster had directed to Citi when tickets would go on sale. She said that her department had no control over it. She also told me that Roseland Ballroom is "a very small venue, with capacity of 3000" and that "tickets sold out in 30 seconds." At the end of the call, she gave me the phone number for Ticketmaster so that I could ask them the same questions I asked her.
I called Ticketmaster and learned a few more interesting details. As far as the time that tickets went on sale, that was up to the concert promoter. Unfortunately, the person on the phone would not disclose who the concert promoter was, saying that was private information.
After talking with Ticketmaster, I called Citi back and asked them about this concert promoter element of the equation. I was told that Citi was indeed the concert promoter, but that Ticketmaster was making all the calls on handling ticket sales and controlled the web page at citiprivatepass.com with information on when tickets went on sale because of a change in the arrangement that happened "in the eleventh hour."
Basically, Citi was blaming Ticketmaster and Ticketmaster was blaming Citi. I was getting conflicting information from the two companies about who was responsible for changing the time around. This made me think that maybe Live Nation was pulling the strings here, because they own Ticketmaster and they also manage the Roseland Ballroom (which is set to close in just a few months). Consumer advocacy groups have long complained about Ticketmaster and Live Nation independently. The merger between the two companies has created a beast of a monopoly in the ticketing industry that has made a science out of ripping off fans. By the way, the "Event Insurance" option they give you when you buy tickets is a complete rip-off too.
I called Live Nation and basically got the same information I got from Ticketmaster. They told me that I could call the Roseland Ballroom box office. A call to Roseland Ballroom revealed that the venue was rented out for the evening by an outside company who is handling everything on their own. This is private information, so I wasn't able to find out whether this was Citi or another company working with Citi.
At this point, it seemed more likely that someone at Citi was telling Ticketmaster to change the sales time without telling other people at Citi what was going on. This would be the perfect way to deceive fans and open the flood gates for scalpers to buy tickets with inside information before regular consumers knew what was going on. It's possible that this was the result of something less sinister, like common miscommunication of lack of communication. Either way, this momentary confusion allowed professional ticket resellers to buy out the tickets, leaving fans like myself completely shut out.
It should also be said that some fans signed up for a Citibank credit card or debit card just so that they could participate in this exclusive ticket sale, and inevitably they were unable to buy tickets because the concert sold out so quickly. This seems like truly fraudulent dealing by the bank, in a classic bait and switch move where instead of getting an opportunity to buy tickets, the new cardholders actually got nothing!
After many phone calls trying to figure out who was responsible for giving incorrect information for ticket sales, I gave up. This isn't the first time something like this has happened, and it won't be the last. Here at Zumic, we've had fans connecting with us through our website and social media, voicing their own frustration over not even having an opportunity to buy tickets. That's why I have decided to do this research and write this article to make a case for fair ticketing.
How to fix the problem of ticket scalpers:
It seemed like this concert actually had a couple of safeguards against ticket scalpers. There was a maximum order of 2 tickets per customer, and tickets will not be delivered until just one day before the show. However, it's obvious that these precautions were not enough. Here are 3 proposals that would make the concert industry much more fair and fan friendly:
1) Concert tickets should be sold for fair market value.
When The Black Keys played at Madison Square Garden two years ago, floor tickets cost about $100. The general admission tickets for this Roseland Ballroom concert were supposed to go on sale for just $66.50. This is obviously undervalued. If tickets were sold for a fair value, scalpers would make less profit on reselling tickets and they wouldn't have the incentive to dominate the market like they do now.
While bands maintain their sense of inclusiveness and some fans might have gotten a good value, it's extremely unfair to the many more fans who took time and energy out of their day to buy tickets and were left with nothing. I can say from personal experience that the same thing is true of Phish concerts in the New York City area.
2) Regulate websites that resell tickets.
If a performer and/or concert promoter set their concert tickets at a certain price, they should retain control over that price - even on the resale market. It's understandable if someone wants to resell their ticket because something came up and their schedule changed, but it isn't fair that professional ticket resellers buy up tickets and charge an absurd commission just because they weaseled their way to the front of the digital line. Ticket resellers create no value whatsoever, and the nature of their business opens up more possibilities and incentive for corruption and fraud from the original ticket vendors. I propose that ticket resellers should be allowed to sell tickets for no more than 150% of original face value.
3) Experiment with different ways of selling tickets.
Some events like music festivals do rounds of ticketing, where "early bird" tickets are cheaper than later rounds. This is a way of rewarding the most passionate fans, while also gauging interest before all tickets go on sale. Perhaps this should be a standard for regular concert ticketing, as well. Another system that might be more fair is a lottery type of system. Another system might be an auction system. Ticket vendors like Ticketmaster should be looking into these other methods, because it will be a better experience for fans and it could also mean better profit margins for themselves.
The ticket resale market as it exists now is blatant abuse of the system, and it must be changed one way or another.
Editor's note: The original article said that Live Nation owns the Roseland Ballroom. In fact, they do not own the venue but they do manage it. We apologize for our mistake.