If you’ve ever wondered why you can’t get a decent seat for a concert or major sporting event when you pounced onto Ticketmaster — or any other ticket-selling site — seconds after tickets went on sale, you need only talk to Ken Lowson. He’s the guy who bought them.
He’s a ticket scalper who uses bots to scoop all the good seats.
Motherboard provides a profile of the man today because now he’s trying to stop the very thing of which he was guilty.
You can’t compete with a bot — a computer program. It can buy thousands of tickets in the time it takes you to click the drop-down menu to say how many tickets you want.
Even the CAPTCHA system — the squiggly numbers and letters you have to repeat to prove you’re a human and not a bot — didn’t work. He and his company — Wiseguy –figured out that Ticketmaster only had 30,000 possibilities (all stored as images) and so he downloaded them all and programmed the bot to respond to them properly.
Wiseguy began to completely dominate the ticket market. When tickets for the 2006 Rose Bowl National Championship game went on sale, Wiseguy bought almost all of the tickets offered to the public. The company’s purchase reports show it bought the best tickets for AC/DC’s reunion tour, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, playoff sports games, Wicked on Broadway, and most likely any show you wanted to go to in the mid 2000s that you weren’t able to get tickets to.
“We’d buy all the good seats so quickly the fans would have to buy our leftovers and throwbacks,” Blake Collins, who worked for Wiseguy for nearly a decade, said.
Lowson had so many tickets, he didn’t bother to sell to individual fans.
Guess where they went.
“We made a decision early on to be the best ticket buyers, not necessarily the best ticket scalpers,” Lowson said. Rather than deal with individual fans, Lowson sold directly to independent ticket brokers, who then sold the tickets to fans on StubHub, or other online or brick-and-mortar ticket marketplaces. By doing this, the company completely eliminated inventory risk—the tickets were usually sold before Wiseguy even bought them, and the company had a rule that every single ticket they had bought on any given day had to be sold before anyone could go home for the night.
The bot was so good that brokers further down the food chain would put in orders for specific seats with Wiseguy before Ticketmaster had even put them on sale.
Here’s the shock: This isn’t even the main reason you can’t get seats.
The game is rigged, Motherboard says, by the venues and promoters themselves.
Fewer than half the tickets in a venue ever reach the possibility of public sale. When a Taylor Swift concert was held in Nashville in 2009, 11,720 of the 13,330 tickets were gone before the public got a crack at them, distributed to brokers and radio stations and big shots and advertisers.
Meanwhile, efforts to crack down on scalpers — limiting the number of tickets per credit card, for example — don’t work and only make more tickets off limits to the public sale.
And the one solution that seems to work doesn’t feel particularly comforting: Raising the prices of tickets so scalpers sit a sale out. But artists don’t want to do that.
“There’s an emotional aspect to what artists do, which is to say ‘I’m not willing to charge $500 even though clearly the market value is $500. I’m going to charge $100, and at the end of the day someone else is going to make that money,'” Rich Holtzman, head of StubHub’s music business development, told Motherboard. “The marketplace will always exist as long as artists won’t increase their ticket prices.”
Congress passed a law banning ticket bots but it hasn’t worked.
Brokers used humans to snatch up the tickets instead.
Eventually — in 2010 — the FBI kicked down Lowson’s door, charging him with several computer crimes. Forty-two counts against him and his colleagues were plea-bargained down to one.
They got probation.
He tells Motherboard he’s uniquely qualified to help solve the problem.
“The game is rigged, and this secrecy can’t survive in a WikiLeaks world,” he said. His new venture, TIXFAN, is a consultancy firm that will work directly with teams and artists to plug the holes he exploited. Published ticket limits will be enforced. Presales will be microtargeted at specific groups in hopes of keeping scalpers out, and tickets won’t be sold to known scalpers.
“I have hundreds of ideas,” Lowson said. “And now that bots have been made illegal, I’ve become a hot commodity. It sounds good, right? ‘We hired the ticket bot king to work for us to make sure the other ticket bots aren’t taking tickets from the fans.'”
Don’t hold your breath.
(h/t: Andy Gifford)