Taking Back Our Tickets

On any given Saturday, tens of thousands of fans sit at their computers, counting down the minutes until 10 a.m., when they'll start clicking desperately to score tickets to a hot concert or big game. More often than not, fans are greeted with technical glitches, a never-ending pinwheel, vanishing tickets and the disappointment of another instant sellout. To call this experience frustrating would be an understatement.

While there's some debate about where all those tickets go (and how many are ever available in the first place), one of the culprits is surely "bots" -- automated ticket purchasing programs used by scalpers to cut the line and cheat fans. These programs bombard the online box office with millions of requests, blocking every purchase point as soon as tickets are posted for sale. While fans like you and me are locked out, the bots scoop up large quantities of tickets, which are then sold on the resale market at a hefty markup.

The frustration over bots is so widespread that the issue has reached Congress. Representative Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) has said he plans to introduce a bill that would make it a federal crime to use bots and set up a Department of Justice task force to investigate these activities.

Last spring, when the "final" LCD Soundsystem shows at Madison Square Garden sold out in minutes, front man James Murphy pointed his finger (and Twitter feed) at bots and those who use them. Earlier this year, Bruce Springsteen blamed quick sellouts on bots, too. The official press response from Ticketmaster said "scalpers were using sophisticated computer programs to assault our systems and secure tickets with the sole intention of selling them in the resale market."

Ticketmaster and fans may not always see eye to eye, but we can all agree that fans shouldn't have to compete against robots to get good tickets for face value. Bots (and the shady characters deploying them) are preventing real fans from seeing the teams and artists they love, and in several states, they are also breaking the law.

Despite this area of broad agreement, ticket companies have done little to curb the problem. The cynic in me understands the reason: at the end of the day and by their own admission, it makes no difference to them whether a purchase is made by a bot or a fan; high-volume bot transactions are guaranteed sales and sell-outs ensure high profits and increased demand. We know what it will take to stop the bots and put tickets in the hands of real fans. The National Consumers League, Consumer Action and the Fan Freedom Project put forth a comprehensive plan for public-private collaboration on the matter to ticket companies Ticketmaster, Veritix and Paciolan.

The ideas are there. What's missing is leadership from the ticket industry. Absent a coordinated effort by all players in the ticket marketplace, these are just empty words. (Four months on, we are still waiting for a response on our proposed plan for collaboration to stop the bots.)

The ticket industry has a choice. It can stand with fans and help implement these recommendations or it can sit on the sidelines as it has for years, raking in dollars off the misery of fans.