Part One: 7 ways brokers get tickets, and why you don’t have a chance

Jan 1, 2016; Pasadena, CA, USA; Detail view of tickets before the game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Stanford Cardinal in the 2016 Rose Bowl at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Part One: 7 ways brokers get tickets, and why you don’t have a chance

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Part One: 7 ways brokers get tickets, and why you don’t have a chance

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently announced an investigation into ticketing. The investigation will likely shine a light on how tickets really work, and why consumers have no chance to acquire them at a fair price for big events.

It’s 9:58 a.m. Saturday and millions of fans are ready for the on-sale. In just two minutes, they will feverishly refresh their browsers, nervously type in the reCAPTCHA code, and hope to hit the jackpot: Tickets. It doesn’t matter if it’s an Adele concert, a Seahawks playoff game or a music festival, the story always ends the same. After 10 minutes, hope evaporates as the tickets are sold out.

In desperation, fans flock to StubHub, Vivid Seats and other marketplaces finding thousands of tickets available for a significantly inflated price, mere minutes after on-sale (and some even, gasp, before on-sale!). The blame game starts. My internet is too slow. There weren’t enough tickets put on sale. Those corrupt brokers with their bots took all the tickets!

Live events are more popular than ever as proven by attendance trends, price inflation and a scorching hot live-event tickets industry. Live Nation is thriving, StubHub has grown into a multi-billion dollar venture, and even companies the mainstream hasn’t heard of yet, such as Ticketfly (sold for $450 million)Eventbrite (valued over $1 billion), and SeatGeek (raised over $100 million in financing) are major players. With this much money in the game, one would easily conclude the playing field cannot be level for the everyday fan hoping to buy tickets.

It’s not.

Jan 15, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Studio photograph of a game ticket for Super Bowl 50 which will be played on February 7, 2016 at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Garrett Reid-USA TODAY NETWORK

Credit: Garrett Reid-USA TODAY NETWORK

In this two-part series, we’ll explore what really happens behind the scenes. Who ends up with the tickets? How do they end up on the secondary market so quickly? Why do content providers allow it? And why can’t a fan get tickets at an affordable price for highly sought events?

There are seven common ways ticket brokers get tickets*:

  1. Spinning/Bots
  2. Insiders: Companies, Sponsors, Agents, Promoters, Players, Coaches
  3. Deals with team executives
  4. “Sponsorships”
  5. Buy and Hold
  6. Fan Clubs
  7. Card Deals

* We recognize there are more than seven ways and have seen most all of them, however we are focused on the seven that represent the vast majority of the tickets brokered on the market

Who are the players?

Tickets to live events are notoriously underpriced when they go on sale, and for a reason: Live events are a business and businesses need to eliminate risk where they can.

There is much more to a concert, festival or game than the fan sees or even considers. The very basics*:

  • Securing a venue costs money, whether building, renting or managing. Usually this is done through multiple forms of finance which require cash flow and predictable revenue to pay for expenses and planning.
  • Live events make money through major channels: Sponsorship, premium seating, parking, concessions, merchandise and tickets. Yes the tickets are the most important to the fans and, sometimes, to the performers, they are only a fraction of the actual event
  • Locking up predictable revenue early helps the content provider eliminate risk. Sell all the tickets and lock up the revenue in advance. To do this, tickets are priced below market to sell quickly.

*A book could be written detailing all those involved. These are the basics.

Feb 22, 2015; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; A scalper sells tickets prior to the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Who Gets The Tickets:

Once the event is a reality, the negotiations begin as to who has access to what tickets long before on-sale. Tickets are silo’d based on contractual obligations. Where they most commonly go:

  • Contracted pre-sale: Many sponsors and seat license holders, as part of buying a product and paying for it upfront, get access to tickets before the general public. Some are sponsors of the venue or team while others are sponsors of the event, league, or tour.
  • Sponsorship deals: Major sponsors get tickets in advance as part of their agreements. Brands sponsor tours and get ticket allotments. Common sponsors include the major payment providers, such as American Express and MasterCard, who negotiate a block of tickets for their cardholders as part of their sponsorship deals, and brands looking to connect to the fan base of an act or team, like Salesforce with U2 and Xfinity with Taylor Swift.
  • Fan Clubs: The performer will usually negotiate a block of tickets for their die-hard fans and distribute them through Fan Clubs
  • The Content: Tickets are always held back for the players, coaches, performers, managers, promoters, and insiders. Usually, they are some of the best tickets.

The Players Involved:

  • Content Providers: Teams, venue operators, promoters
  • The Content: Artists, players, agents, managers and their family members
  • Brokers: When demand overpowers supply, prices rise and capitalists* surface looking to benefit from the delta. It’s the simplest business equation there is: Find underpriced assets and sell them for a large profit. From this simple premise dawned a $10+ billion dollar industry employing tens of thousands which gives the common fan very little chance of getting great tickets Say what you want about ticket brokers, but we’ve met with billionaires, millionaires, tech entrepreneurs, and titans of all business in our 10+ years with StubHub and TicketManager, and some of the most savvy and intelligent people we’ve met are ticket brokers. They may not enjoy a great reputation, but they are not to be underestimated.

**In a previous life, I’ve personally sourced over 100 great tickets to a conference semifinal basketball game through head basketball coaches in the Big East conference alone.

In Part Two we will review the seven ways brokers gain an advantage.

***

Tony Knopp is CEO of TicketManager, where he is responsible for the day-to-day technology and management of over 30 million sports tickets annually. Tony previously held positions as an early member at StubHub and with AEG Worldwide, and has over 15 years experience in the technology and ticket markets. 

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