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Ticketmaster US continues to push back following touting exposé

By | Published on Wednesday 26 September 2018


Live Nation’s Ticketmaster in the US continues to push back against criticism over its involvement in the secondary ticketing market Stateside following last week’s exposé by the Toronto Star and CBC. In a new post on the company’s corporate blog, the ticketing giant’s President Jared Smith insists that at least some reporting and commentary around last week’s revelations are based on a misunderstanding of what the firm’s TradeDesk product does.

The Toronto Star/CBC report centred on a trade fair in Las Vegas for ticket brokers – aka touts or, given we’re in North America, scalpers – where Ticketmaster was promoting its TradeDesk service, which helps touts manage and organise tickets they have acquired for resale. Ticketmaster, of course, operates both primary and secondary ticketing platforms, and although it is now closing down the latter in Europe, it remains active in both in the US.

In last week’s report, a Ticketmaster employee is seen candidly discussing how he knows that users of the firm’s TradeDesk product routinely break rules on the main primary site in order to access larger quantities of tickets for resale. Primary ticketing set-ups routinely limit how many tickets any one customer can buy. In the conversation filmed by the Toronto Star and CBC, the Ticketmaster rep discusses how his TradeDesk clients therefore have multiple accounts so to hoover up more tickets.

The Ticketmaster employee is very blasé about all this, noting that a tout couldn’t make a living if he or she only had the six to eight tickets for in-demand shows that his own company’s primary site allows them to purchase. He also insists that the TradeDesk side of the Live Nation business won’t share this knowledge with the primary side of the company, which is meant to be cracking down on touts buying up large numbers of tickets to shows.

In a subsequent interview with Billboard, Smith conceded that last week’s report shows “there’s clearly some things that we’re not doing well enough”. However, he also insisted that the Toronto Star/CBC story was “predicated on misinformation and a misunderstanding”. In the new blog post, he says that he feels many people have inferred that TradeDesk is a tool to help touts actually access tickets, which it is not. Rather it is a platform that helps them manage tickets they have already acquired elsewhere.

There are reasons beyond the bad PR caused by last week’s exposé for why Ticketmaster is keen to communicate precisely what services TradeDesk provides. In 2016, a law was passed at a federal level in the US outlawing the use of special software to hoover up tickets from primary ticketing sites. The banning of such software, usually referred to as bots, is generally seen has the most basic of ticket touting regulation, and such bans are usually supported by most of the secondary ticketing companies, including Ticketmaster.

Following last week’s report, the senators who led on 2016’s Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act in Congress – Jerry Moran and Richard Blumenthal – sent a letter to Live Nation chief Michael Rapino. The letter stated that “given our ongoing interest in protecting consumers from unfair and deceptive practices, we seek clarification on the use of [the TradeDesk] program”. It then asked four specific questions about the TradeDesk service and how the company enforces the ticket limit policies on its primary site.

In his blog post, Smith states: “Let me be absolutely clear and definitive that Ticketmaster does not have, and has never had, any program or product that helps professional resellers gain an advantage to buy tickets ahead of fans. Period. We would never make anything like that, which would go against the very core of who we are and what we do”.

As for what TradeDesk does, Smith says it is simply “an inventory management tool for professional ticket resellers (brokers)”. Name-checking the competition, he goes on: “Like StubHub’s product called Ticket Utils or Vivid Seat’s Skybox, TradeDesk is used by brokers to manage tickets they already have”.

Adding that “these tickets could have come from Ticketmaster, from other ticketing systems or could have been purchased directly from a team, a venue or another reseller”, he then adds that “TradeDesk is overwhelmingly used to manage season tickets for sporting events”.

Although TradeDesk is just another inventory management tool like those offered by StubHub and Vivid Seat, Smith adds that – because it is linked to the main Ticketmaster platform – his product can validate some of the tickets uploaded to it, meaning it provides some protection for resellers and the people they resell their tickets to. Which is why it’s a good thing that Ticketmaster is in the secondary game, he implies.

Continuing on that theme, he writes: “We are aware that many people don’t believe we should be working with ticket brokers at all. But as long as there is a massive disconnect between supply and demand in live event tickets, there is going to be a secondary market. Choosing not to participate would simply push resale back to those who care less than we do about artists and fans”. Lawyers might call that the ‘Viagogo defence’.

As for the bloody bots, of which TradeDesk is not, remember, Smith then writes: “The frustrating thing about this article is that Ticketmaster is by far the leader in fighting for fans and against scalpers using tools that let them cheat. We have invested more than anyone else in an arms race against the use of bots. We have also worked with multiple regulatory and law enforcement bodies to protect real fans, pursued lawsuits against abusers of our systems and fought hard to help enact the federal law banning the use of bots”.

Concluding Smith states: “Nevertheless, we agree these are important issues that can be complex and confusing. We are committed to helping create more understanding and to building products to do what we can to improve the ticket buying process for all fans”.

Of course, what’s interesting is that while some of what Smith has been saying in the last week relates to the specifics of the American ticketing market, a lot of it echoes arguments previously presented by Ticketmaster in Europe. In particular the line that if a good guy like Ticketmaster isn’t involved in the resale market, it would be dominated by all the bad guys.

That didn’t stop Ticketmaster Europe ultimately bailing on traditional resale declaring: “That’s right, we’ve listened and we hear you: secondary sites just don’t cut it anymore and you’re tired of seeing others snap up tickets just to resell for a profit”.

It remains to be seen if Ticketmaster can weather this storm Stateside and then carry on working with the touts in peace, touting being generally less controversial over there than it has been over here (beyond a little bots bashing). Although if there are anti-touting artists and promoters in America who would like to put the secondary market there under pressure, as has happened in Europe, now might be a good time to rally the troops.

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