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Fans, Bands And The Online Ticket Scalping Conundrum

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ONLINE TICKET SCALPING
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The recent concert ticket debacle with iconic Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip has sparked nationwide outrage that's left many fans scrambling to find a way to see what's expected to be the beloved band's final tour--without having to take out a small mortgage loan.

Tickets sold out online in seconds. Scalpers and ticket bots snatched them up only to make a quick buck on resale websites like Stubhub, SeatGeek and Kijiji. Thousands of fans--loyal folks who've supported the band for decades--have been left in the dark.

It's a scalping pandemic of epic proportions. But it's not the first time fans have been shafted by fast sellouts and insurmountably inflated resale prices.

But the passionate interest around The Hip's Man Machine Poem tour--announced after the band revealed coveted frontman Gord Downie has terminal brain cancer--has at the very least brought what has been an ongoing issue to the forefront, and decision-makers are paying attention.

In light of the outpouring of disappointment around The Hip tour, Ontario Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur said recently the government is looking into ways to regulate the online ticketing industry better, despite the provincial government changing regulations in the Ticket Speculation Act just last year making it easier for scalpers to resell tickets online.

The public outcry also resulted in the CBC arranging to broadcast the final show of the tour. Local governments are opting to spend taxpayer dollars to livestream the show at public venues. It's also been announced there will be a ticket lottery that will provide an opportunity for 50 people per tour date to purchase tickets on the day of the show.

All are makeshift solutions to an issue that's spiraling out of control. Legislators across Canada must act to rein in this unfortunate conundrum.

Recently, I purchased tickets to see Dave Matthews Band at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre in Toronto on the day of the show. I was able to get them through Ticketmaster, but I wasn't able to print them out or download them to my smartphone. Instructions from Ticketmaster informed me I had to pick it up at the venue's box office will call.

It turned out I wasn't alone. Thousands of fans lined up as early as two hours prior to show time (I waited from 7-9:30 p.m. for an 8 p.m. show) to pick up their tickets at will call--a line that stretched from the Amphitheatre gates, across the Lakeshore Blvd. pedestrian bridge and into BMO Field Parking lot. (For those who aren't familiar with the area, picture the length of a football field...) It was a multi-hour lineup that caused many fans, including myself, to miss at least half of the performance.

The fallout: a customer and public relations nightmare. People were livid, posting to social media, sending angry emails, yelling at staff--some even left for home after paying at least $50 (plus fees) for their ticket.

What the crowd was told by staff, who had the unfortunate task of doing damage control among thousands of fuming fans, was the non-printable tickets came at the request of the band as a tactic to curb online scalping and keep the tickets available for actual fans.

Thoughtful gesture. Poor execution.

Reports also suggested miscommunication between Ticketmaster, LiveNation and the venue was another contributing factor for the long lines.

Fans lost out. It was bad PR for the venue, band, promoter and ticket distributor.

Like The Hip's ticket lottery, the non-digital tickets and will-call pickup at Dave Matthews Band's Toronto show were attempted answers to the beast that is the online ticket resale business.

Alas, today's ticket purchasing landscape is a classic example of how technology can disrupt business and create regulatory and ethical grey areas -- and decision-makers can't keep up with the disruption or implement solutions fast enough.

We're seeing this across multiple sectors--Uber and taxis or AirBnB and hotels, for example. The only difference is Uber and AirBnB are rooted in sharing economy and generally make consumers' lives more convenient and affordable. It's the industries, the corporations and the unions that typically struggle to adapt.

But in the case of online ticket distribution and resale, it's the consumers--the loyal fans, the passionate supporters, the people who most musicians or artists would say are the reason they do what they do -- that are on the losing end.

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