Local music fans compete with high-speed bots for concert tickets

Jeff Kurtzman set up four separate computers signed onto to a concert ticketing website in hopes of buying two tickets to Bruce Springsteen's upcoming concert in Atlanta. (Photo: Jeff Kurtzman)

Authored By Mary Barnett

When 1,500 tickets for Jack White’s solo concert at Track 29 went on sale last Friday afternoon at 1 p.m., officials with Ticket Biscuit, the venue’s online ticketing agent, said they were gone in 10 seconds.

“We saw between 50 and 100 times the demand per ticket based on the Web traffic monitored on our website,” Ticket Biscuit CEO Jeff Gale said.

That means every person who tried to get a ticket to White’s concert in Chattanooga had a 2 percent chance of actually scoring tickets, according to Gale.

“You are really entering a lottery, but people don’t see it that way,” Gale said.

And White’s fans in Chattanooga certainly did not.

Soon after the on-sale started and quickly ended, the venue’s Facebook page was filled with comments expressing anger and disillusionment from fans who were unable to get through to the ticket site to purchase tickets.

Many blamed the venue, but the numbers paint a different picture.

According to Gale’s calculations, there were at least 75,000 Web hits competing for the 1,500 tickets available, and all at the exact same time.

Within minutes of the show’s rapid sellout, online ticket seller StubHub already had 30 tickets, originally priced at $33, available for purchase with asking prices from $139 to $279 per ticket.

StubHub, which calls itself a truly open marketplace, has a stated mission to “provide fans a safe, convenient place to get tickets to the games, concerts and theater shows they want to see and an easy way to sell their tickets when they can’t go,” according to the site’s home page.

Real fans competing with robots
Industry professionals wonder how many of the instantly available tickets on StubHub come from actual fans.

“Scalpers are exploiting ticketing websites and fans with their use of sophisticated computer bots [automated purchasing software technologies],” said Jacqueline Peterson, Ticketmaster media relations manager.

In other words, concertgoers are not only competing with each other for a limited number of tickets to any given show or event but are also going up against super-efficient Web robots that can initiate transactions far faster than is humanly possible.

In an effort to ensure real fans have equal access to face-value tickets, Peterson said Ticketmaster spends millions of dollars on technology to remain one step ahead of the scalpers.

“We fully support efforts by artists, sports teams and venues to combat scalping. That’s why they sometimes choose will-call only or paperless ticketing for some of their tickets,” she said.

Jeff Kurtzman of Chattanooga is an avid music fan and concertgoer who said he spends well over $1,000 each year on concert tickets, often traveling out of state to see his favorite performers.

“It is a big issue, no matter the safeguards. The scalpers find a way around it and immediately put the tickets back on the open market. Just like anything else, when people can make money on it, they will find every loophole they possibly can,” Kurtzman said.

Kurtzman often uses multiple devices simultaneously to increase his chances of getting tickets, planning ahead to make sure he has time for the extra effort.

Although he admits to getting pretty excited when his transactions go through, making him one of the lucky ones, he is also realistic when he is not so lucky.

“I know it’s not the venue’s fault. The system has been manipulated by people who are sophisticated at making money. The artists are upset about it too, so I hope there can be a system one day that serves the fans better,” he said.

Local frustrations are small part of bigger problem
Technological problems are beginning to plague the concert-ticketing industry, with several recent “on-sales” being highjacked for a variety of unnamed reasons.

In January, an overwhelming demand for tickets to Bruce Springsteen’s spring tour created traffic-related issues for Ticketmaster, according to a report in Rolling Stone.

“We have been experiencing highly abnormal traffic patterns on our site this morning that have impacted the fan buying experience for some customers,” Ticketmaster told their customers after the incident.

Nooga.com asked Peterson if the investigation into the cause of the glitch had revealed anything, but we did not receive comment.

Closer to home and more recently, the Bonnaroo Festival halted ticket sales entirely last weekend because of “technical problems that sabotaged last Saturday’s on-sale.” A message posted on their Facebook page this week said the problem had been identified and corrected and that ticket sales would resume this weekend.

Tickets.com’s ticketing system was forced offline in January after tickets for Brad Paisley’s Wrigley Field concert were put on sale.

“While this error only affected the website, it kept the ticketing system offline for roughly 45 minutes,” the company said in a prepared statement.

Supply, demand and the blame game
Beyond competing with sophisticated scalpers, sometimes it is just a simple matter of supply versus demand.

“When we bring national artists like Avett Brothers or Jack White, there is pent-up demand in the city for people to see those artists. Some people in this city just aren’t used to having shows here that sell out so quickly,” Track 29 owner Adam Kinsey said.

Although some disgruntled patrons lashed out at the venue for not immediately releasing 300 more tickets after the sellout to take advantage of Track 29’s full capacity, co-owner Monica Kinsey said it just isn’t that simple.

“Even though we would love to, there are contractual things [with the artist] that we cannot do. If there are opportunities to release more tickets, it is strictly up to the artist and the label,” she said.

Although many disappointed Jack White fans also blamed the ticketing system’s ability to handle the extra load, Ticket Biscuit’s Gale said the abnormally high demand for the relatively small amount of tickets last week did not overload their system.

“We have invested enormous amounts of money to deal with demand. We prepare for high demand by load-testing the system before tickets go on sale. We are able to see if and where there might be a breaking point, which is much, much higher than the Jack White on-sale,” Gale said.

Gale did admit to one mistake that they are already working to correct.

“Some customers were led to believe they had tickets reserved in their virtual hands before that was actually true. It appears they had tickets in their carts, and a few customers thought they had the tickets before the purchase was complete. It is our responsibility to control customer expectations. No. 1 on our priority list is correcting this [checkout process],” Gale said.

No matter what, Kinsey said staying calm and patient when buying tickets online is always helpful.

“And if it doesn’t go through the first time, try again. Keep refreshing and good luck,” he said.

Super fan Kurtzman agrees and said he would much rather wait online than in line.

“I’m not going to stand in line all night at a box office, so this is better than that. I won’t complain too much. It could be worse,” he said.

Updated @ 8:56 a.m. on 02/23/12 to correct a grammatical error.