BALTIMORE, Md. - When it comes to buying tickets for your favorite singer, show, or sporting event, the odds are stacked against you.
“You have someone who just comes in, snatches up all the seats, sells them for triple and none of that goes back to the original people who produce the show,” said Ron Legler, president of The Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center.
It cheats consumers out of a fair price. but it also costs the event venue.
Legler sees it every show.
“So if a ticket at this theater starts at around $45 to $47, they can be up to $200 for the same ticket on a secondary site,” said Legler. “We only see the original ticket price, so everything above the original ticket price goes to someone who doesn't live in this state, someone who doesn't work in this state.”
Ticket brokers are using online robots or bots to do their bidding. These bots are software applications that find a way to circumvent ticket limits that websites like Ticketmaster try to enforce. The practice, even though it was made illegal in 2016, happens every day.
“They’re going to continue to do it because there's no repercussion,” said Legler.
Ticketmaster is now taking some cases to court.
A recent lawsuit filed against Prestige Entertainment alleges that the company used bots to buy 30,000 tickets to Hamilton, Broadway's hottest show.
Meanwhile in Maryland, the electronic armies are showing no signs of surrender.
In addition to competing with bots, consumers are also being duped into buying from resellers instead of the actual venue.
“Now, more and more, the top search results that come back are not for the venue and concert, instead they're for sites that look like and try to deceive the consumer into believing they're the actual venue. They're just ticket brokers trying to resell tickets that they've already purchased for above face value,” said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice, an association of online businesses that supports e-commerce and consumer choice.
The Hippodrome only sells tickets through two sources – Ticketmaster and Broadway.com. However, when you do an online search for a coveted seat to the Lion King, four other websites appear before the Hippodrome's actual site. All four are resale sites.
“The names of the sites and the way that they use names, logos, and images would fool a consumer into believing they're looking at the actual venue with unsold seats but they're not,” said DelBianco.
This practice was also outlawed, and yet the deceit presses on. Aside from the financial impact on consumers, the practice hurts venues’ reputation.
If the tickets turn out to be fakes, customers are shut out and stiffed.
“David Copperfield, they were like $75 tickets and someone paid $600 a ticket. A family of four, so you're talking about $2,400 and they weren't real and it was sold-out and there was nothing we could do,” said Legler. “We want them to come back. I mean this building is 104 years old, and you know what happens when people don't come back, the building doesn't stay open.”
To avoid overpaying, make sure the website you're on is affiliated with the venue. The Federal Trade Commission mandates sites not affiliated must provide a disclaimer.
Ticketmaster is also working to beef up security protocols through their Verified Fan Program. Fans have to register ahead of time and those who are verified receive a code that allows them to purchase tickets. The system vets applicants to make sure they're real fans and not bots or scalpers.
And if you feel you've been deceived, file a complaint with the Maryland Office of the Attorney General.
Maryland passed a law in 2014 banning bots and deceptive trade practices, but so far there's been zero complaints.
ABC2’s Mallory Sofastaii reached out to the lead sponsor of the 2014 legislation. State Senator Brian Feldman was unavailable for comment.
Several U.S. Senators are also bringing these issues to the attention of the FTC. ABC2’s Mallory Sofastaii contacted the FTC for comment on this story. She is waiting to hear back.
If you have a Matter for Mallory, email her at Mallory@wmar.com.