Undercover Video Forces Ticketmaster to Answer Uncomfortable Questions About Its Resale Business

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Ticketmaster

"People know that Ticketmaster has a resale platform," one reseller tells Billboard. "How do people think the tickets got there?"

The images from the news video shot by an undercover team of reporters was jarring. Dispatched to the annual Ticket Summit conference for brokers and scalpers in Las Vegas, Toronto Star reporters captured a representative from Ticketmaster on film admitting that the company offers software that allows resellers to quickly upload and download tickets to Ticketmaster's resale marketplace with little oversight from Ticketmaster.

The software, TradeDesk, is a ticket management system that automates many of the time-consuming tasks of reselling multiple tickets — competing secondary sites like StubHub, Vivid Seats and TicketNetwork offer a similar product. When asked if Ticketmaster polices its rules against having multiple TM accounts, the unidentified employee in the video tells the reporter “Uh, no. I have a gentleman who has over 200 Ticketmaster.com accounts right in the point of sale and syncs his tickets in every day." When asked how many brokers are using multiple accounts, which would be a violation of the company's terms and conditions, the rep says “pretty damn near every one of them,” adding, “I can’t think of any of my clients that aren’t using multiples. I mean (you) have to if you want to get a good show and the ticket limit is six or eight — you’re not gonna make a living on eight tickets.”

A high level official at Live Nation, which owns Ticketmaster, acknowledged to Billboard that the company does not regularly police TradeDesk or its secondary sites for scalpers who use multiple accounts to buy up tickets. Billboard has also learned that TradeDesk allows ticket resellers to seamlessly link their primary account with the resale account, so that tickets purchased on the primary are synched with the press of a button and listed for resale on TM+. The software does allow for brokers to manage tickets from multiple primary accounts, which isn’t necessarily a violation of Ticketmaster’s terms and services. An independent ticket broker might have 30 employees, each equipped with their own TM account and credit card, allowing the company to buy 200 to 300 tickets per show without breaking any rules. TradeDesk then takes all of those separate accounts and syncs them with a single resale account.

"What is notable about the report is not that Ticketmaster is offering an auto-uploader to brokers,” said Dean Budnick, co-author of the 2011 book Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped. Budnick notes that the company acquired the uploading program EventInventory when it bought secondary market site Tickets Now in 2008.

"What is striking, however, is the cavalier attitude of the TradeDesk rep at this year’s Ticket Summit,” says Budnick, who is also a contributor to Billboard. What’s jarring is that the individual appears to give "tacit approval to brokers operating hundreds of Ticketmaster accounts, which runs counter to Ticketmaster’s terms of use.”

Patrick Ryan with ticket distribution company Eventellect said he was a bit surprised by the reaction to the story, telling Billboard “People know that Ticketmaster has a resale platform — how do people think the tickets got there? It’s a billion dollar business.”

Ryan said the TM rep who was secretly videotaped was “a bit cavalier” and offered “non-standard commentary,” telling Billboard “No marketplace has ever told our firm to disregard terms and conditions.”

“If someone blatantly violates Ticketmaster’s terms, that could lead to tickets being canceled without the buyer’s knowledge,” he said. “That buyer could then turn around and sell the ticket to an unsuspecting consumer who then shows up to an event with a ticket that’s no longer valid,” creating a negative experience that reflects poorly on the artist, the venue and the ticketing company.

“That’s the kind of outcome Ticketmaster most wants to avoid,” Ryan says.

The video also appears to cast light on the diverging interests Ticketmaster faces running a secondary market site, while also appearing to oppose the secondary market and squeeze scalpers with tools like Verified Fan. In private, Ticketmaster and Live Nation officials argue that the company has to sell secondary tickets on Ticketmaster because they don’t want fans to visit the site looking for tickets and find that there are none available because the primary tickets have sold out — that just sends more fans to Stubhub and other secondary sites.

Besides competing for consumers, Ticketmaster is also competing with other secondary sites for broker inventory. In general, StubHub doesn’t police how its sellers procure tickets and Ticketmaster officials know if they are heavy-handed in enforcing the rules they have for their primary site on their secondary platform, brokers won’t list tickets with them. One source tells Billboard that many independent brokers refuse to list with Ticketmaster or TradeDesk because of paranoia that Ticketmaster will cancel their tickets and season ticket accounts.

There are, however, some limited rules in place on TM’s secondary marketplace — brokers aren’t allowed to speculatively list tickets they don’t have or short sell tickets, a practice condemned by consumer rights groups. 

Ticketmaster has "already begun an internal review of our professional reseller accounts and employee practices to ensure that our policies are being upheld by all stakeholders," according to statement provided to Billboard. "Moving forward we will be putting additional measures in place to proactively monitor for this type of inappropriate activity,"