Why it’s so hard to get Tragically Hip tickets
Tragically Hip fans across Canada are up in arms after they tried — and failed — to get tickets to the band’s farewell tour this summer.
Tickets were being pre-sold to members of the Hip’s fan club on Monday and Tuesday, ahead of what will likely be their last tour ever, given lead singer Gord Downie’s recent cancer diagnosis. But tickets sold out just minutes after they were made available.
Emotions are running high, said music journalist and radio host Alan Cross.
“I can’t remember people being this upset about a ticket situation ever,” he said.
“I guess it can be summed up like this: we have a beloved Canadian band that’s been around for 30 years, that has a very large, very protective, very loyal fan base. They are going out on what appears to be one final tour, and their frontman is dying from incurable brain cancer. So the amount of emotion attached to this tour is beyond anything we’ve ever seen. And the fact that fans haven’t been able to get tickets that are supposed to be reserved for fans is driving them absolutely crazy.”
And it’s not just the fact that they can’t get tickets that’s bothering fans, it’s that many of those same tickets are quickly popping up on resale websites like StubHub and eBay – often at inflated prices.
On StubHub Tuesday afternoon, Hip tickets started at about $94 for a July show in Edmonton, and went up to $5,000 each for floor tickets in Kingston, the band’s hometown.
Cross thinks this points to “bots” – automated computer programs that can make many transactions per second, snapping up tickets for resellers before fans have a chance to reserve them.
“There’s no way that that volume of tickets could disappear that quickly,” he said.
He doesn’t specifically blame ticket retail company Ticketmaster though. “They have enacted security measures. But they don’t seem to be working. Somehow these bots are managing to defeat the security measures and as a result, Ticketmaster is getting the blame for that.”
Rise of the machines
Bots are a big player in online ticket sales. A January 2016 report by New York’s auditor general found that a bot was able to buy 1,012 tickets in a single minute for a U2 show at Madison Square Garden in 2015.
Two bots scooped up 15,087 U2 tickets in a single day for that same North American tour.
Bots’ authors have been able to get through security measures, like ticket limits and CAPTCHA (where you copy text from a photo into a box), said the report. Bot operators buy many IP addresses and use multiple credit cards to disguise their programs’ identities, according to the report.
Once purchased, the tickets can be re-sold at a profit on other websites. While a scalper in the past might have had to hire people to stand in line at a venue, and then would have had to meet people in person to sell the tickets, now it can all be done online.
Despite fans’ hand-wringing though, one fact remains: somebody is buying these tickets, whether at inflated prices or not.
To Pascal Courty, an economics professor at the University of Victoria who has studied ticket sales, this suggests that bands are selling tickets for far less than their actual market value.
“It’s not uncommon that they underprice,” he said, whether it’s to make sure that they have a full venue, or because it looks bad to sell their tickets too high.
“The best seats in the venue are never priced at market price and the top events of the year are never priced at market price.”
What this means is that bands are leaving money on the table, he said, money that resellers are only too happy to grab.
Ticket resellers, or “brokers” are especially active at high-demand events, like the Tragically Hip tour, he said.
Cross agrees. “This is cold-blooded capitalism, supply and demand, market forces working exactly as they should. If you take the emotion out of it, this is no different than surge pricing for Uber, or how airlines manage their seat inventory with pricing. It’s the way it is.”
“There are always tickets available to a show. You just have to mention the right number.”
In this case though, because the singer is dying, he thinks fans are disturbed and disgusted by people making lots of money from reselling tickets to the concerts.
But not all resellers are in it for the money. Courty’s study, examining 56 concerts by top artists in 2004, found that about half of re-sold tickets were sold by ordinary consumers who for whatever reason were simply unable to attend the show.
“We change our mind, we want to pass the ticket on to a friend,” he said. It’s just when it’s being done for a profit, or at a large volume, that people get upset.
To Courty, the problem is the industry’s opacity. If a band was up front that there were 5,000 tickets for sale and they all cost $100 each, he said, then people would realize that ticket sales are essentially a lottery, “And the odds in lotteries are pretty low.”
The current system, where some tickets are for pre-sale, some on regular sale, and all with different prices, leads to a lot of confusion for consumers, he thinks.
And the scalpers? Cross isn’t sure what can be done about them. “We’ve been trying to defeat scalpers for decades. We’ve never found a way to keep them out 100 per cent.”
Tickets for the Tragically Hip’s tour go on sale to the general public this Friday at 10 a.m. Tickets will be available on StubHub minutes later.
© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.