Buying tickets to a Philly show? Search carefully.
As consumers flock to live events after more than a year of pandemic-related shutdowns, they could fall into the trap of paying more for tickets on resale sites -even for events that are not sold out.
When tickets for the February Boyz II Men show at the Met Philadelphia dropped last month, fans who’d hesitated just a few days to see the hometown favorites found themselves in a frustrating spot.
Orchestra seats had practically sold out on LiveNation.com, the promoter’s website. But on that same site, tickets for that section were available through Live Nation as “verified resale,” at 100% to 250% markup.
Face value for one orchestra seat cost $79.50 plus an $18.80 service fee. But buyers on Live Nation’s resale market faced paying pay twice that, or more: A single ticket bought as part of a two-ticket bundle was priced at $276 plus a $53.13 service fee.
As consumers flock to live events after more than a year of pandemic-related shutdowns, they can easily fall into the trap of paying more for tickets on resale sites — even for events that are not sold out — particularly if they don’t scrutinize their search results. Resale sites are able to attract consumer eyeballs by buying ads on Google, ensuring they’re at the top of the results when unsuspecting fans shop for tickets.
People who buy tickets for shows or sporting events on resale marketplaces often describe feeling duped by these companies: They complain how resellers scoop up so many tickets that an average fan can’t get a crack at good, affordable seats. They grouse about hidden fees and shifting cancellation policies. And they tell horror stories about excursions gone wrong, where right before the game or performance they find out their tickets are invalid. These problems have persisted even as state and federal governments try to crack down on ticket resellers.
Patsy Garber thought she was paying $28 each for two tickets to last year’s Philadelphia Flower Show through a site run by Event Ticket Sales but ended up paying $168 because of fees.
“I was stunned when I saw the higher price, but it was too late to cancel it,” she told the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office.
Live Nation often makes more profit when a ticket is resold on its platform than it made on the original sale. When The Inquirer checked the service fee for Boyz II Men tickets, they varied from 17% of the ticket’s value for high-priced tickets to 30% of ticket value for the cheapest tickets. However, every resale ticket had a service charge that equaled 19% of the new ticket’s price. Since resellers are trying to make a profit, they increase the ticket price, resulting in a double dip of service charges with the second dip being larger, and potentially more profitable.
Live Nation even mentioned this strategy in a recent filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Live Nation owns TicketMaster, and the company reported that in September, the secondary ticket market on TicketMaster hit a new monthly record for highest gross transaction value, which is the dollar value of resale tickets sold. They reported this growth “even as artists and content owners continue shifting more of the value to primary sales.”
Live Nation did not respond to requests for comment.
The musical Hamilton had a monthlong run in Philly that lasted until the end of November, and most dates were not sold out. But ticket resellers still put multiple seats up on the secondary market for each show, similarly jacking up prices. For the show opening night last fall, resale tickets on a site called Philadelphia Theatre, part of the London-based Theatreland Network, were available from $113 to $731. But on the site for the Kimmel Center, the actual theater, tickets for the same performance ran from $39 to $349.
Consumers might get stuck paying more if they clicked the first search results they found. Last fall, typing “Hamilton Philadelphia” led to a results page with four paid advertisements before the first organic search result. Three of the ads, including the first two, were resellers — Vivid Seats, TicketsOnSale, and SeatGeek — while one was for the Kimmel Center.
There are no price caps for online ticket resellers in Pennsylvania, due to a law passed in 2007 and signed by then-Gov. Ed Rendell. Before then, Pennsylvania law mandated that ticket resellers, colloquially known as scalpers, could only charge 25% more than the face value price of a ticket, but that law was written for those trying to sell tickets in person, say, outside a sporting event.
But the 2007 law, sponsored by State Sens. Robert “Tommy” Tomlinson (R., Bucks) and Lisa Boscola (D., Lehigh, Northampton), eliminated the caps for online resellers so long as resellers met certain criteria, such as guaranteeing refunds if events were canceled.
In 2010, Rendell also signed a bill making it illegal for resellers to use software to purchase tickets en masse — an early local version of the federal BOTS (Better Online Ticket Sales) Act passed in 2016. The Federal Trade Commission issued its first BOTS enforcement action last January, resulting in three Long Island ticketing companies paying a $3.7 million penalty for using automated software, known as bots, to purchase tickets and resell them at higher prices.
There have been no enforcement actions of the Pennsylvania ticket resale law, which are enforced by the Attorney General’s Office and other law enforcement, said Joe Kelly, chief of staff to Boscola. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has reached settlements with two ticket resellers since 2020, citing the state’s Consumer Protection Law.
In an agreement last year with Nebraska-based Event Ticket Sales, Shapiro’s office found the company, which does business as Box Office Tickets and Secure Box Office, was charging consumers hidden fees and had also changed its refund policy during the pandemic. As part of the settlement, the company had to honor its original refund policy and issue refunds to consumers.
From a performer’s point of view, the resale market isn’t all bad — it can reveal what fans will pay to see a concert, said Jeff Apruzzese, director of the music industry program at Drexel’s Westphal College of Media Arts and Design and former drummer of the band Passion Pit. But, he said, some artists aren’t comfortable charging a high ticket price, even if they find out their fans are willing.
“They don’t want to feel like they’re gouging their fan base,” Apruzzese said.
In complaints to the Better Business Bureau, some fans report organizing special trips only to arrive at their destination and find out they don’t have the tickets they’d bought on the secondary market.
Jeff Trinder planned to catch a flight to London to watch his beloved Eagles play the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium three seasons ago. But a week before he left, he got a message from the reseller that made him nervous.
A customer service rep from Vivid Seats told him he needed hard copies of his tickets because it was an international event and if they didn’t arrive in the mail before he left, he might need to pick up them up in London. Trinder, a 49-year-old consultant in Washington, D.C., didn’t want to fly without tickets in hand. But in October 2018, when it was time to depart and the tickets hadn’t come, he had no choice.
In London, his tickets, a pair that cost $444 total, were not at the UPS Access Point where he was told to collect them. Over the course of the next few days he spent hours on the phone in vain.
Finally, a customer-service rep told him that actually, his tickets were unavailable. She wouldn’t explain further. And she couldn’t find him other seats.
Furious, Trinder went on StubHub and bought two tickets for the game for $1,400.
A Vivid Seats spokesperson said that the company was “deeply sorry” Trinder did not receive his tickets on time and that it offered him extra store credit, on top of a refund. It was something like $25 store credit, Trinder said, and he never got it.
Even though he eventually got a refund from Vivid Seats, he said it wasn’t enough to make up for all the grief the transaction had caused him in London.
“I was like, ‘How can they do this?’ Say I have tickets for six months and just not provide them to me?”