How does a country superstar like Eric Church invalidate 25,000 tickets he believes are being resold on secondary market sites? By going through hundreds of pages of sales reports and weeding out scalpers, one ticket at a time.
Church will kick off a 63-date tour across North America on Thursday (Feb. 23) at Bankers Life Arena in Indianapolis and has released 25,000 tickets to fans that allegedly had been bought by scalpers.
“We’ve been doing this for a while, but not quite on this scale,” Church’s manager Fielding Logan with Q Prime South tell Billboard. Working with a team of employees and interns, Logan looked for purchase patterns that matched scalper buying habits. That included multiple purchases on the same credit card or out-of-state ticket buys—like a purchase for a show in Lincoln. Neb., from a credit card tied to a buyer in New York, Las Vegas or Southern California.
“Occasionally we catch someone who we thought was a scalper, but turned out to be a dedicated fan,” Logan said. When that happens, Logan instructed the buyer to show up in person and pick up their tickets at will-call with a valid ID.
“When most of the big brokers heard about those in-person requirements, they just walked away,” he said.
It’s unclear how the cancelations will impact secondary ticket sales on sites like StubHub — company officials wouldn’t tell Billboard how many Eric Church tickets had already been sold on the e-Bay owned platform.
“In the rare occurrence a buyer runs into an issue, StubHub will find replacement tickets or offer a full refund,” StubHub spokesman Glenn Lehrman told Billboard. “We are confident in our ability to get people who bought tickets on StubHub into his shows.”
The attempts to circumvent the secondary market certainly haven’t hit StubHub’s bottom line. In January, the company released its Q4 earnings showing record revenues of $279 million, up 20% from the same period last year.
Much of that revenue came from Major League Baseball and theater including record ticket sales for the smash hit “Hamilton: An American Musical” which drew a flurry of secondary market activity and complaints that many Broadway ticket fans were unable to purchase tickets at face value. The show’s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times on June 7, urging Congress to “Stop the Bots From Killing Broadway” and called for anti-bot legislation. In December, former President Barack Obama signed the Better Online Ticketing Sales Act into law, banning bots and tasking the Federal Trade Commission with enforcing the law.
Church isn’t waiting for federal authorities to fight resellers and has invested in proprietary software to flag suspicious sales.
“This is the most resources I’ve ever seen dedicated to fighting scalpers,” explained tour promoter Louis Messina with The Messina Group, who is promoting Church's “Holdin’ My Own Tour”
“They manually have to go through each transaction to scrub the list,” he said. “It’s a ton of manpower and money that Eric won’t recoup, but he’s doing it because he believes it’s the right thing to do.”
While the sheer volume of ticket cancelations is sure to disrupt small-scale scalpers, some in the secondary ticket community are doubtful Church’s efforts will significantly impact major brokers.
“It’s short-sighted because it drives prices up on the tickets that weren’t canceled,” explained Patrick Ryan with Eventellect, a large-scale brokerage outfit that buys and sales tickets in bulk. He also told Billboard he’s doubtful that major brokers will actually be impacted.
“The most nefarious brokers are that ones who are most able to look like a fan,” Ryan said.
Logan said the entire experience has Church and others looking at how to correctly price their tickets going forward. He said he was shocked when he discovered that even Church’s platinum tickets, which start at $260, were being marked up two to three times face value on the secondary market.
“We need to do a better job pricing all of our tickets,” Logan said.