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Bot Me No Bots! - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
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Bot Me No Bots!

I posted last week about the weirdness of online voting.  Some similar shenanigans are in play when it comes to online ticketing.  There's been news in the past week about it, but I am not holding my breath about any of it being of any real use.

Before the internet became the main medium of ticket exchange, there were basically two ways to get into major music and theatrical events: the box office, and Ticketsomethingorother.  They had various names in different places- Ticketron was the one connected with Madison Square Garden in New York, while a whole generation of Western New Yorkers knew where all the "Central Ticket Outlets, States and Canada" were.   They were typically in bank branches and mall stores, and offered simultaneous access to tickets without having to wait in a single line at the box office.

By the late 80s, Ticketmaster had largely bought out these competing outfits and theirs was the name on the terminal at the Kaufmann's service desk. Eventually, though, the internet removed the need for physical presence anywhere on the day tickets went on sale.  Now you can be anywhere to have no chance whatsoever of getting a good seat.

The blame goes to the "bots"- those rapid-access computer apps which let scalpers bomb the ticket sites within nanoseconds of the opening bell.  But don't you have to "prove you're a human" with some kind of CAPTCHA?, I hear you cry.  In theory, you do- but the bad guys are always one step ahead on these things; some use technology countermeasures which solve them or otherwise mask their robotity in instants, while others simply farm out the data entry to sub-Saharan wage slaves every time one of the bots gets in to the purchase queue.

The results have been depressing: I tried getting Mets World Series tickets through a limited fansite sale, and even their allotment got botted so they were all gone in seconds. When Springsteen put the entire River tour on sale one December morning, nobody had a prayer of getting more than a random single seat (which is how I managed, secondhand, to get a ticket at face value).  In both cases, sites like StubHub already had the scalped tickets for sale before the purchase door even officially opened.

Last week, New York upped its consumer protections. Supposedly.  Bots had been banned before, but with no penalty attached; now it's a misdemeanor to use them, and there are civil penalties that will allegedly be attached to anyone who knowingly resells a botted seat.  That's not as strong as what the Ham-man himself, Lin-Manuel Miranda, had wanted to see:

Staten Island Senator Andrew Lanza's version of the bill would have made the use of ticket bots a felony, punishable by more jail time, and also would have required ticket reselling platforms like StubHub to post the price that they initially paid for the tickets, so that people could see just how much more they would be paying. But that Lin-Manuel Miranda-endorsed legislation didn't make it through the assembly.

"Unfortunately we are not fixing the market," said Brooklyn Senator Daniel Squadron, who supported Lanza's stricter bill.

And given how many of these resellers are operating out-of-state or offshore, they're probably just pissing into the ocean, anyway.  One thing New York did not do was mandate so-called ticketless entry; on the contrary, we remain the only US state which outright prohibits it.  In ticketless entry, your credit card is essentially your proof of entitlement to the seat; you present it at the venue and you and only you, as the original purchaser of the seat, gets in.  The device is not foolproof- scalpers have evaded it by using Visa-or-Amex-branded gift cards to make the actual purchases and then send them to the scalpee, and in some high-roller cases the scalper has literally accompanied his marks to the venue to get them in. And others expressed concern about lines at will-call. Still, it would seem to be a start to at least make ticketless entry an option, requiring presentation of the credit card with the original purchaser's name on it, and allowing exchange for something like a "boarding pass," say, a day or two before the event.

Also contributing to the problem is just how relatively few seats are available for public sale.  The performer(s), promoter, radio stations and "exclusive deal" clubs or credit cards often wind up with close to half the ducats for any given event.  And even though Lin-Manuel came out for the little guy in Albany, his own famed show always holds back "house seats"- so that Bernie Sanders, that famed Man of the People, could just show up at the box office on the Friday night before the New York primary and get an orchestra seat.  Yes, he paid (face value) for it; and yes, house seats often go to more deserving or underprivileged patrons, but it was an extremely tone-deaf thing to have done.


The other scourge created by internet ticketing is the monopolizing of the market and of the expenses associated with the Ticketmonsters of the world.  If you are lucky enough to "get in" to one of these events, once you select your seat, you are typically bombarded with garbage fee after garbage fee. 

Let's say you want to add Weird Al to your bucket list. He's at Fleapac- the Finger Lakes Performing Arts Center*- which has a combination of covered-reserved and lawn-general admission seats.  So far, they're only offering the ones under the roof, at $35 a pop. Not bad, right?  Next, you're offered delivery options, one of which is free. Yay! Still at 35 bucks.  But now they add a "processing fee" that takes it up to almost 45 per.  Many other venues add a "convenience fee" on top of the "processing fee," and some (including the evil New York Yankees) do not allow print-at-home ticketing, so it's not unusual for your final total to be double the alleged cost of the actual seat.

Last week, I started seeing friends posting on Facebook that Ticketmonster and Live Nation- the actual concert promoter they merged with several years back- had settled a class action lawsuit which claimed these fees were improperly calculcated or disclosed.  The headlines on last week's stories all said, Yo! You may have free tickets in your account mailbox! And lo and behold, I did!  Four pairs of general admission entry to "designated concert events at Live Nation owned or operated venues, subject to availability and limitations," along with four $2.25 discount coupons you can supposedly use on any of their events.

Just one problem: not a single event is listed on the website as being eligible.  So I tried using one of the free-pair voucher codes anyway. First, with Weird Al; maybe the lawn price would be deducted from the inside price?  Nope.  Then I found a Fleapac event that does have G.A. on the lawn for sale, for another event with bucket list potential: Bob Dylan, who I've never seen live. And still won't; it's not available, either.

Before I'm reduced to checking on Styx and Huey Lewis shows (more sandpail than bucket), I've decided to chill on it. The vouchers are good until 2020, assuming we're still allowed to assemble in public for concerts by then.  You can go on a notification list which will tell you when new eligible shows are added, and I just did. After messing up with multiple CAPTCHAs.  Maybe when something comes out, I'll actually beat the bots for once.


* They rebranded the place a few years ago, naming it after the corporate sponsor and its founding family member, who own the Canandaigua Wine Company, maker of Wild Irish Rose and other classy fortified brands. I refuse to acknowledge it.

2 comments or Leave a comment
platypus From: platypus Date: June 20th, 2016 06:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Reduced to checking on Huey Lewis? REDUCED? Hmph!

...okay, admittedly, he's low on bucket-list potential, unless you mean that you might want to see him before he kicks said bucket. He can't quite belt the songs out like he used to. But he still puts on a fun show :). I was a huge fan when I was 13 -- Back to the Future snagged me in -- and I've nostalgically gone to see the News whenever they've been in town, in venues ranging from amphitheaters to free lakeshore festivals as their fortunes have risen and fallen. They're comfortably on the casino circuit now -- small venues, pricey tickets. But I found myself up front at a show a few years back and I can say it was still an awful lot like being 13 :).

(Okay, enough teasing -- I know their music ain't great art, and I am not in fact offended if they're not high on your list. My own tastes have changed quite a bit in the last 30 years. And I must say, if Ticketmaster is obliged to make amends for their previous practices, I wish they'd do it by NOT charging me $2.50 or whatever to PRINT MY OWN TICKETS on my own printer with my own ink in the future, rather than doling out a few credits.)
captainsblog From: captainsblog Date: June 20th, 2016 06:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm actually quite fond of them- and regret not seeing them when they did an aftershow at a Mets game a couple of summers ago. He's just more likely to wind up in the Recycle Your Childhood section along with so many other interchangeable bands.
2 comments or Leave a comment