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Ticket scalpers are way better at buying Olivia Rodrigo tickets than the rest of us

Kai Ryssdal and Sean McHenry Sep 29, 2023
Heard on:
Scalpers have "basically figured out every restriction that Ticketmaster has and then have figured out a way to circumvent it," says Jason Koebler at 404 Media. Above, Olivia Rodrigo in performance. Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

Ticket scalpers are way better at buying Olivia Rodrigo tickets than the rest of us

Kai Ryssdal and Sean McHenry Sep 29, 2023
Heard on:
Scalpers have "basically figured out every restriction that Ticketmaster has and then have figured out a way to circumvent it," says Jason Koebler at 404 Media. Above, Olivia Rodrigo in performance. Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

Ticketmaster announced last week that anyone lucky enough to get tickets to Olivia Rodrigo’s “Guts” tour would have to wait until 72 hours before the concert to receive their actual ticket. The reason? In a statement to “Good Morning America,” Ticketmaster said the policy will help ensure that “all ticket purchasers have adhered to ticket limits and terms.” In other words, Ticketmaster wants to clamp down on scalping.

This is far from Ticketmaster’s first effort in this vein. In 2017, it launched the Verified Fan program, a lottery system that was intended to limit how many tickets scalpers could buy up. But according to reporting from Jason Koebler at 404 Media, an independent tech news publication, the opposite happened: Scalpers learned how to work the lottery to their advantage.

“If you are an industrial-scale scalper, you buy hundreds or thousands of Ticketmaster accounts,” Koebler said. “You enter that same lottery, but instead of entering it one time, you enter it thousands or tens of thousands of times.”

Koebler spoke to “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal about the industry behind ticket scalping. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Kai Ryssdal: Let’s, let’s establish sort of a little ground truth here. If I want to go buy a concert ticket nowadays for Olivia Rodrigo or Taylor Swift or whoever, what do I have to do?

Jason Koebler: You have to enter a lottery and pray. Essentially, you need to preregister with Ticketmaster in order to be entered into something called Verified Fan. And then Ticketmaster uses an algorithm to essentially determine how big of a fan you are. Like if you’ve previously purchased tickets to Olivia Rodrigo or Taylor Swift, it might take that into account. If you live close to the venue, it might take that into account. And then you get a code, and then you try to buy tickets along with millions of other people.

Ryssdal: Right, and I pray. Exactly. Now, if I am an industrial-scale scalper, what is my role there? What do I do if I want to get a bunch of tickets to sell?

Koebler: If you are an industrial-scale scalper, you buy hundreds or thousands of Ticketmaster accounts on these gray market websites that sell “legitimate” verified Ticketmaster accounts. You enter that same lottery, but instead of entering it one time, you enter it thousands or tens of thousands of times. And then when the on-sale comes around, you use a special browser that can cost $500 a month.

Ryssdal: I’m sorry, an internet browser that costs $500 a month?

Koebler: An internet browser for ticket scalpers that cost $500 a month that allows them to enter what’s known as the virtual waiting room thousands of times in order to basically have more bites at the apple than any fan ever would.

Ryssdal: Explain the browser thing to me because I go on, you know, Chrome or Safari and I open a window and try to get Olivia Rodrigo tickets. That’s great and fine, but these special scalper browsers do something different?

Koebler: You can only open up one of these rooms in a Chrome browser. If you open a second tab on Chrome, Ticketmaster will detect that you’re the same person because you’re using the same IP address, you’re using the same browser, so you only get one chance at that waiting room. These ticket scalping browsers are programmed so that each individual tab is detected as a separate browser. And so to Ticketmaster, it looks like thousands of people are all entering the waiting room, but in actuality, it’s just one ticket scalper using the special browser that’s designed to make it seem that way.

Ryssdal: You know, it’s funny, not funny ha-ha, but funny sort of interesting the way scalping has evolved. I was talking about this with my boss the other day. It used to be you would go to an event or whatever it was, a Dodgers game, Taylor Swift, take your pick, and there would be people walking up and down outside the venue going, “Hey, hey, I got two. Who needs some?” Right? And now it’s all online, faceless and industrialized.

Koebler: It is, although I have seen people selling tickets outside of Dodgers games still, but they are getting it through these industrial processes.

Ryssdal: Oh, so it’s a secondary-secondary market?

Koebler: It is. And so I mean, I don’t want to liken it to the drug trade, but it’s something where there’s, like, a big supplier who buys the tickets and then distributes them to sort of middlemen, although, like you said, most of this activity is happening on StubHub. A lot of it is happening on Ticketmaster’s own resale market, which is important, you know. Ticketmaster kind of gets additional fees, both when it sells the ticket to a fan but then also when a broker resells the ticket on its ticket marketplace, it’s getting a fee a second time.

Ryssdal: This might be a silly question, but for the scalpers who are buying these dummy Ticketmaster accounts — “dummy” is probably the wrong word because they actually work, right? But if you’re buying a hundreds, thousands of them, who’s selling them?

Koebler: So in our reporting, we have seen some of the accounts are hacked, like they’re literally stolen. But then there’s also people who just create Ticketmaster accounts with the intention of selling them later. And they do this process called aging, where you create a Ticketmaster account and then you hold on to it for a few years, and you sell that “aged” account years later because some people have figured out that newly created accounts are less likely to win the lottery.

Ryssdal: So there’s forethought required, right? It’s premeditated.

Koebler: It’s premeditated for sure. It’s a huge industry. And so yeah, they’ve basically figured out every restriction that Ticketmaster has and then have figured out a way to circumvent it.

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