Does this ring a bell? Last week while scrolling through Facebook I saw that Mariachi El Bronx was playing the Belly Up on Cinco De Mayo. Perfect. Any tickets left? Nope… but you can buy them from scalpers on StubHub at three times the original price. Whether you’re a fan, an artist or a first run ticketing vendor like Ticketmaster, Live Nation, or AXS you know that this is a problem. So how does it happen?
The culprit is ticket buying bots. This type of bot is used by scalpers to mimic human behavior and automate ticket buying in large quantities when they become available online. They then post the tickets for resale at grossly inflated rates through sites like StubHub, Craigslist or Ebay, preying on desperate fans who were frozen out by bots during the initial release. In an article for the The New York Times, Ben Sisario reported that Ticketmaster claims more than 60 percent of the company’s most sought-after shows are purchased by bots and one of its most insistent non-human clients sends more than 200,000 requests for ticket purchases daily.
In December of 2016, President Obama signed the Better Online Tickets Sales Act (a.k.a. BOTS Act) to tackle the issue. The law “prohibits the circumvention of control measures used by Internet ticket sellers to ensure equitable consumer access to tickets for certain events”. Additionally, the law made it illegal to resell tickets that were purchased with a bot. Unfortunately, this measure has done little to prevent the problem, in fact, it doesn’t seem to have put a dent in it at all.
A quick Google search for “ticket buying bots” lists a page where you can download the latest apps (ironically just two hits above articles detailing the BOTS Act) and in a recent interview with The Globe and Mail, Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino referred to the war on scalper bots at “futile”.