New Jersey Congressman wants crackdown on computerized ticket bots
TRENTON, N.J. >> Tens of thousands of fans will crowd into MetLife Stadium this week to watch Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, some because they acted quickly enough to buy tickets at face value — and others because they were willing to pay more on the secondary market.
U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey has been seeking for seven years to solve the frustration shared by most people when they try to buy tickets to popular concerts, Broadway shows and sporting events through Ticketmaster.
He first introduced the Better Oversight of Secondary Sales and Accountability in Concert Ticketing Act — called the BOSS Act in homage to Springsteen — in 2009 after the New Jersey rocker complained fans were directed to a website owned by Ticketmaster where tickets were being offered at more than four times their face value.
The law would crack down on the use of computerized bots used by ticket brokers to snap up tickets, and also force Ticketmaster to disclose exactly how many tickets are on sale for each show to cut down on some of the mystery.
"This is a disaster. We all know what they're doing. It's the fans vs. the brokers. I stand with the fans," the Democratic lawmaker said. "I'm going to keep on exposing these people and little by little we're getting to the promised land, as Bruce would say."
Why is it so hard to buy tickets?
More than half the tickets for many events are held for industry insiders or otherwise unavailable to the general public, according to a report by New York's attorney general released in January.
Investigators in Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office found that third-party brokers resell tickets on sites like StubHub and TicketsNow at average margins of 49 percent above face value and sometimes more than 10 times the price. Some brokers use illegal specialty software, called "ticket bots," to quickly purchase as many desirable tickets as possible for resale at significant markups, they said.
The report cited a single broker buying 1,012 tickets within one minute to a U2 concert at Madison Square Garden when they went on sale on Dec. 8, 2014, despite the vendor's claim of a four-ticket limit. By day's end, that broker and one other had 15,000 tickets to U2's North American shows.
Regular concert fans also lose out when tickets are released to artist fan clubs or sold ahead of time to certain credit card holders.
"The battle is an uphill one for fans. It's obviously galling that you can be first online or be at the box office or the computer terminal and you realize you're closed out of getting tickets and they're already popping up for sale on some secondary site; it's just maddening," said Russ Haven, legislative counsel for the consumer advocacy group NYPIRG.
Boss vs. bots
Pascrell isn't the only member of Congress looking to address the issue. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, and Rep. Paul Tonko, a Democrat from New York, introduced the Better Online Ticket Sales Act in April.
The BOTS act would make the use of the computer hacking software an "unfair and deceptive practice" under the Federal Trade Commission Act.
Pascrell said that legislation wouldn't deal with the transparency issue he believes needs to be addressed.
His legislation would also require them to list all-in prices, so people waiting a half-hour just find out if they're getting tickets know exactly how much they'll cost before being surprised at the checkout.
"I think there's a mounting sense among the ticket-buying public that something has to get done," Haven said. "When that anger will actually translate into political pressure to get something done, I think we're closer to it, but it's still probably going to take more work."
Ticketmaster says it is "at war with the bots." The company says it wants "stronger laws and greater enforcement to punish those who want to deny real fans the opportunity to get tickets."