Is the Ticket Biz Out of Line?

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 9, 2007

After attending Bruce Springsteen concerts for more than 20 years, Ron Collins is facing the music: He can no longer afford to see the Boss.

When several weeks ago Collins went looking for tickets for Springsteen's sold-out shows this Sunday and Monday at Verizon Center, online resellers were asking anywhere from $400 to more than $2,000 per seat. "We were prepared to suck it up and just pay the scalpers, but I can't justify these prices," says Collins, 58, a legal writer and scholar in the District.

Collins isn't just disappointed, however -- he's suspicious. Years ago, he says, "you waited in line, you came early enough, you could get tickets at face value. . . . Now, the whole system seems corrupt."

Similar gripes have been ricocheting across the country for months, driven by soaring prices and increasingly aggressive efforts by resellers to sweep up tickets. Fans who strike out on the initial sale of seats to popular shows have found themselves confronting heart-stopping prices on hundreds of reseller sites -- often only minutes after promoters have posted "sold out" signs. Markups of as much as 10 times the face value are not uncommon for popular concerts, sporting events and Broadway shows.

The complaints became a collective shriek in recent months when thousands of tween-age fans and their parents were shut out of a sold-out "Hannah Montana" concert tour featuring Miley Cyrus, who plays the title character on the mega-popular Disney Channel show. The complaints have prompted investigations and lawsuits by officials in three states, each alleging some variation on this question:

Is the ticket market stacked against the average consumer?

The answer depends on whom you ask in the complex marketplace of ticket sales and resales. Each party blames another for manipulating supplies and pushing up prices. The major players include:

¿ Ticketmaster. The ticket powerhouse, which last year sold 128 million tickets, worth more than $7 billion, contends that the armies of independent ticket brokers corrupt its public sales. In particular, Ticketmaster claims that brokers have gained an unfair advantage over the public by using automated phone-dialer programs and software, known as "bots," that are capable of generating multiple ticket-buying requests at once -- practices in violation of the company's stated terms of use. Many of those tickets end up resold on the Internet via hundreds of ticket resale sites, the company says.

In April, Ticketmaster sued a Pittsburgh-based software company, RMG Technologies, to stop it from licensing its ticket-buying software to clients. A federal judge last month sided with Ticketmaster, issuing a temporary injunction against RMG.

¿ Ticket agents and brokers. Known more notoriously as "scalpers," professional resellers counter that Ticketmaster's claims about bots are exaggerated, if not baseless. Like all commodities, they say, the price of tickets reflects supply and demand. Brokers contend that Ticketmaster is seeking to restrict the reselling of tickets to capture more of the thriving secondary market for itself via its own resale Web site, TicketExchange.

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