Why You Can’t Get Tickets to See Your Favorite Performers

See also Why Are Concert Tickets Priced So High? here.

Bruce Springsteen is touring behind the re-packaging and re-release of his classic 1980 album, “The River.” We hadn’t seen him a few years so I thought, well, let’s give it a shot. Tickets were $150, which these days, is about average for any entertainment. (This post is about the near-impossibility of getting tickets to major concerts. It’s not about the average price of tickets per se. That’s a separate – but not wholly unrelated – topic.)

Tickets were scheduled to go on sale at 10am on Friday, December 11. Armed with this knowledge – and logged in with 4 machines (two laptops, one desktop, one tablet) –  I awaited the magic hour. (This has never not worked, even if I don’t always get the very best tickets. In fact I’ve never been closer than twenty rows back to see Bruce.)

So, the computers counted down, 10 am came and I zipped back and forth between devices to get 2 tickets. (This is what it’s come to. I used to have to stand in line at venues for hours when I was a mere youth). I entered the “I am not a bot” information… and waited. And waited. And waited. And some eight minutes later…

…Nothing. Not one ticket. Nada. I was shocked as this had never happened before. I just didn’t know what to make of it. If four computers doesn’t do it, how many does it take? Or do I need to hire a squadron of people to man the phones as well? Interestingly, a short while later, the exact same thing happened to Adele fans. No tix to be had.

I take that back. There are tickets to be had. If, say, you want to go to Madison Square Garden to see Adele and would like floor seats which are not even that close you can get them – from a reseller –  for a mere $2,000 USD EACH. There are a couple in Boston for $5,000 each.

Some people will justify it to themselves. (“It’s my vacation. It’s Adele. The brakes on the car can wait. Do the kids really have to eat?”) Well, that’s certainly their prerogative. If they have the money and want to go, then so be it. It’s not for me to tell people how to spend their money. Me, I say fuck that.

Why exactly is this happening for these superstars? I mean, on one level I know why. They’re super-popular. And economics 101 is all about supply and demand. But even with that, dedicated fans can usually always get a ticket, shitty though it may be. (I just saw U2 a couple of months ago. I got a ticket. Not great, not bad. But I got a ticket.)

Well, this article from Billboard explains it, specifically using, as it happens, these two superstars as an example. However, for the impatient, I have gone through it and summarized it below. It’s probably to some extent what you already think and maybe some of it (artist culpability) will surprise you:

1. Ticket reselling is lucrative as hell. Ironically, often it is the artists’ attempts to keep prices reasonable that create an environment that makes reselling tickets such an attractive opportunity in the first place. If the market will bear, say, a $500 ticket and the artist – wanting not to appear to be a greedy SOB – prices them at $150, the reseller market does the math and acts accordingly.

2. Speculative purchases. Brokers are so confident in their ability to acquire tickets that they’ll post them on secondary sites like StubHub, before they even have the tickets in hand or, in some cases, before tickets have even gone on sale.

3. Bots. Resellers invest heavily in technology (automated “bots”) that outmaneuver primary sellers (usually TicketBastard) by repeatedly purchasing tickets at on-sale or at the pre-sale. As soon as technology catches up with an automated tactic, the bots come at it a different way in what ticketing exec refers to as a “cat and mouse game.” Anti-botting doesn’t work anyway because it’s hard for them to tell bots from actual purchasers

4, Supply and demand. Adele put 750,000 tickets up for sale on TicketScumbag. But given the realities of the modern concert industry, probably less than one third of those tickets were available at on-sale prices, with the rest being accounted for by pre-sales, VIP, and various ticket holds for a wide range of constituents, all of which puts Joe Consumer in a “win the lottery” position when the virtual box office opened.

5. Artist dissembling. What the public does not know is that hundreds of thousands of tickets were held back by both Springsteen’s and Adele’s concerts from the public and those are mostly the best tickets. Adele was brazen enough to resell some of those $150 tickets for $700, and at the same time blame the secondary ticket market.

6. This is not in the article but I read recently that Ticketmaster had been sued by,  I believe, the Attorney General of New York for intentionally pushing tickets off to reseller so they could make higher fees.  They were barred from doing this again for ONE YEAR several years ago which means they could conceivably do it again.  Ticketmaster is effectively a monopoly and acts like one. Why is this allowed to continue? I trust this company as far as I can throw it.

If there’s any silver lining – and this may pertain to only me personally – it’s that I’ve seen just about every band I want to. At least at that megastar level. I now spend more time and money going to small clubs. I just feel bad for people who have never – and likely will never – see these artists. And all because of a completely fucked, totally rigged system that favors – wait for it – people with shitloads of money. And literally no one who could change this seems to much give a damn.

In fact if there’s one moral to this story it’s this – I either have to win the lottery. Or get into reselling. :-0


4 thoughts on “Why You Can’t Get Tickets to See Your Favorite Performers

  1. Jim, there is another way. Although it may be a near relative to being loaded, knowing the right people will get you good seats. Free. Time to make the Rolodex sing.


  2. The way of doing business with top music acts hasn’t changed since I started buying concert tickets in 1964. First ticket I bought for any well-known act was for the Beatles at the Philadelphia Convention Center in 1964.

    A group of us 14 year old’s were gathered waiting for the box office to open. At that time in Philadelphia, there were not many parents who would let their kids take off a day of school to get in line for Beatles tickets. You go, Mom!

    So there I was with about maybe 50 of us, who were waiting in line for the tickets. They opened up the box office and I was 10th in line. I wasn’t told where the seats were located and, as a 14 year old, I didn’t think to ask. 10th in line right you would think they would be great seats. Nope! Worse seats ever! Where I was sitting, you could not get any higher to see the Beatles, forget about hearing them, because my seats were right under the balcony seats and the overhang didn’t allow you to get any higher to see them. When I went down to talk to the Police about how I could not see or hear the Beatles, the Police chased me (yes, chased me) back to my seat.

    Fast forward future – I started hanging out with a crowd of women at 18 years old, who were there at the Beatles concert in 1964 and they were there front row and center. How did they get tickets? Never did. One of those girls had a father who was a Police Officer. It truly is who you know! After that I stayed away from well-known acts and went with the infamous ones, who later became famous. More room to view and groove! 🙂


  3. Good point. The only difference of course being that had there been a reseller market, my guess is none of the tickets would have cost $5,000. But to 14-year-olds it just might as well have. I happen to be reading Elvis Costello’s autobiography. (A fascinating read about, in part, life on the road). Someone had left tickets for one of his band members to see Dylan. The guy wasn’t a Dylan fan and suggested that Elvis (who, as a fellow songwriter, is a HUGE fan) use them.

    So he went to the box office. His band member’s tickets for some reason weren’t there. But on recognizing Costello they told him that Streisand wouldn’t be using her tickets so he could have them! (Is she even really a Dylan fan?) And then he sat amongst a bunch of VIP’s, none of whom cared about anything other than getting high and “making the scene.” And fans who buy these artists album and would kill to see them are out in the cold for these jerks .What a joke!


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