Tuesday 1 September 2015


If you’re wondering why tickets for Paul ’s Oct. 22 show at First Niagara Center sold out so quickly Monday or how they were being offered for sale even before the official American Express pre-sale last week, you’re not alone.
On the other hand, if you are satisfied with the way this process plays out, you might be alone.

 Many fans eager to secure a golden ticket for this highly anticipated event – the Beatle’s first-ever appearance in Buffalo – felt something was amiss when tickets that were supposed to go on sale to American Express Card holders Thursday morning appeared via secondary ticketing sites the night before. That feeling re-emerged Monday when many fans found it impossible to buy a ticket, online, in person or by phone. Social media was rife with complaints that the system is rigged.

Paul  fans wait in line outside the First Niagara Center on Monday.

 So what gives? Is the general public being duped?
In a word, yes. But not in the way they might think.
The rush to buy concert tickets only to be locked out is not something occasional Western New York concert-goers routinely see, but it does happen. The difference here is that this show is being called the hottest ticket in years, maybe decades. As such, it was the first time some fans were exposed to this system.
The culprit, as is often the case in the 21st century, is technology
What happened last Wednesday was an example of a practice called speculative ticketing, which is essentially a fancy way of describing an attempt to sell something that isn’t actually there. Secondary ticket agencies project the tickets they are hoping to have available, offer them via the internet as if they are already in hand, and then rush to fill their projected orders once the tickets actually go on sale.

How are these secondary sellers able to secure tickets when the average Joe and Jane can’t? It’s relatively simple: They flood the system with auto-dial “bots,” which hammer away at official sites like Tickets.com until they’ve snagged as many tickets as possible. In the meantime, “regular folks” are shut out of the process.Though many took to social media to express their ire over the way First Niagara Center handled the McCartney ticket situation, that ire is misdirected. First Niagara Center employed the same ticketing policies, including random handbills and ticket limits per customer, that it has been enforcing for at least a decade.“Absolutely no tickets were released for the McCartney show prior to Thursday’s official American Express pre-sale,” Jennifer Van Rysdam, vice president of arena events at First Niagara Center, told The News. “All of those tickets being offered on Wednesday were not actually there – they were all speculative. Some of them even had imaginary seats in sections that don’t even exist.”

 On Thursday, when the American Express pre-sale kicked off, the limited number of tickets made available to card holders was snapped up in a matter of hours, though it was supposed to run through Sunday, if the tickets remained available that long. On Monday, when the general sale took place, the balance of the estimated 16,000 tickets for the October show were gone within minutes.


It’s more than likely that some of the satisfied customers who walked away with tickets weren’t actually people at all, but were “bots.”
“This is completely commonplace these days,” said Dave Taylor, president of local independent promoter Empire State Concerts. “When we brought the Smashing Pumpkins to the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda in June, all of the tickets were gone in 11 minutes. It was almost all auto-dialing bots, too. Many people waiting in line at the box office were turned away. The same thing happened with a Disturbed show I’m bringing to the Rapids Theatre in Niagara Falls next April. Those tickets were gone in 17 minutes. It’s not a level playing field for the average customer, because the bots are completely jamming up the system. Even if there are ticket limits, it doesn’t matter – they just keep hammering away.”
That said, according to Van Rysdam, the rapid sell-out of McCartney tickets was “totally a case of incredible demand exceeding supply.”
Once these ticketing services have gobbled up the majority of the available tickets, they then re-sell them at often grossly inflated prices, via sites such as StubHub. So the now-ticketless folks who either showed up at the box office Monday, or sat at their computers waiting to hit “send” when the clock struck 10 a.m., have a choice: Pay the inflated price to the secondary ticketing agency, or stay home and wonder what happened to the good old days of “first-come, first-served.”
This is not a new development. In fact, it’s been going on for years.
In a 2012 piece, Billboard magazine interviewed a professional ticket scalper and asked him what he thought of speculative ticketing and secondary ticket services.“It’s out of control,” the scalper said, narrowing the issue to “the bots.”“I met a guy who told me he had 600 modems in his … strip mall store that generated so much heat the neighbor couldn’t get their temperature right,” he continued.
“… These guys [today] that sell to StubHub and these other sites are able to lock up the entire inventory on these screens, decide what they want and dump back the rest. Sometimes they hire some computer genius to do their dirty work: ‘Get me the tickets, I’ll make the money, I’ll take the risk and put them up on all these [secondary-market] boards.’ There’s another type of guy that says, ‘I’m going to find me a guy in India to write this program.’“… It’s definitely gotten out of hand. It hurts the guy who actually owns the inventory, but it’s just like shorting on the stock market -- as long as they cover, who really cares?”
Who cares? An awful lot of unhappy McCartney fans in Western New York care an awful lot.
The ticketing system is broken. It’s time for some meaningful change. Until the primary ticket agencies are able to find a way to block auto-dialing bots, which is reportedly starting to happen, the playing field will remain uneven. And it’s the little guy who’s getting hurt, once again.

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