Where do all the concert tickets go?

TLDR - you will NEVER get a concert ticket the day it goes 'on sale'.  Complex explanation below.

*** Nov 2017 update below - and it's bad news

Wanna go see the big show?  You aren't going.  You can't get tickets.  NO ONE can get tickets. It has become almost impossible.  Here is how, and why, you will never get seats.

Warning, this is a long and complex piece about a long and complex issue.

Recently, there has been a lot of interest in visibility to access to concert tickets.  The big story was the demand for the Grateful Dead reunion tickets.  They did not expect the demand.  You have a band that broke up 20 years ago.  The singer is long dead.  They never really had a hit.  This band was going to play a football stadium for three nights.  Keep in mind, there is no bigger band.  The Eagles could not fill three nights in a football stadium (approx. 70,000 seats).  U2 couldn’t either.

This issue then came up again as rumors of the Rolling Stones playing Red Rocks. It's still a rumor at this point (March 2015). I mentioned to a buddy who is a big, big fan so he could prepare.  He wrote back “I sure hope I can get good seats”.  Poor fool.  He won’t get good seats, because he won’t get seats at all.  Red Rocks is about 10,000 people.  Those tickets will literally sell out in less than a minute.  People from around the country will be trying to get tickets.  First off, the venue is the greatest in America.  Second, the Stones won’t tour again.  Third, the location of Denver is damn near middle of the country.  So, if you were picking one show to road trip to… this would be it.  Lastly, this is by far the smallest venue they will play.  In fact, people will come from around the world to see the show.  My point here is they could play the football stadium (70K people) and you still would not get tickets.

Where are all the concert tickets going?  When I was about 16, I saw Ac/Dc live.  They were doing a greatest hits tour (Who made Who) and were in the middle of a big ass resurgence.  The show was widely expected to sell out.  So much so, they had a second night booked and were going to announce after the first sold out.  How long did it take the first show to sell out?  3 days.  There was no computers back then, see.
I want to look at a few issues here, let's bang 'em out.

                      1)    Where are all these tickets going?

                      2)    Why are they selling so incredibly fast?

                      3)    So… how can you get tickets, with all of this bad news?

                      4)    Can anything be done to allow actual fans to buy tickets?

Where are tickets going?  
Not to you, that is for sure.  Few tickets actually go onsale.  According to a recent study, only about 10% of tickets go onsale at all.  Well… not onsale the morning of.  There are a lot of ‘holdbacks’.  This is industry speak for tickets you will never get access to.  The band gets a bunch, the local radio station gets a bunch.  Fan club members get a bunch, though not nearly as many as they could.  Worse of all?  Ticketbastard allows employees to buy tickets to anything for 15 minutes before public onsale.  This graph helps with the depressing reality.  Sure, we'll get to scalpers... but scalpers can only grab the tiny percentage that actually go onsale.   See that little green slice of key lime sadness?  Only 7% of every seat ever makes it to onsale day for the general public.

  • http://www.buzzfeed.com/perpetua/6-reasons-why-its-so-hard-to-buy-concert-tickets#.okP66OmJJB

Why are they selling so fast? 

Well, remember how few are getting out.  Red Rocks holds 10,000.  7% of that is 700 tickets.  Only 700 tickets may actually make it to sale.  Red Rocks is owned by the city of Denver, too.  So, you can bet they get a chunk.  In fact, I saw the mayor of Denver at the Van Morrison show.  To his credit, though, he was in seats worse than ours!

How can three days of a football stadium sell out in 20 minutes?  Scalpers is the answer here.  You may think that scalpers don’t have any advantage over us, right?  No.  The scalpers have ‘bots’.  The ‘bots’ are computer programs that aredesigned to ping Ticketbastard hundreds of times each second to buy up as many seats as possible.  You may think a computer program can’t buy tickets.  I mean, they have that stupid capcha thing for just that reason.  That doesn’t stop the computer programs at all.  Europe has already banned Capcha… because all it does is slow you down.

Here is a working example.  For the Dead shows, my very educated guess it that tickets got split up roughly three ways.  A third being Phish fans, a third being Deadheads, and a third being scalpers.  Why Phish fans?  Phish's main guy is going to be the main guy for the Dead shows.  Using that math, we can break up each night's tickets to one of these groups.  70K night one for Deadheads, 70K night two for Phishheads (is there their name?  I used to see them a lot, I should know), and 70K for night three.  How does a band that never had a hit, and a dead lead singer, sell out a football stadium?   Well... we did, and it was worth it!

If I may stereotype freely, Phish' fans are going to be wealthier and more computer savvy.  This is a dig on myself, I am a Deadhead.  Me have laptop shake to reboot.

*** Update Feb 2017 - a tell all on how scalper bots work, from the guy who designed them

So, how the hell am I supposed to get tickets?

In short, you won't.  You can't.  The day the show goes 'on sale', the tickets are 90% long gone.  and for that last 10%, you are fighting computer programs.  You aren't going, not for 'face value'. Knowing that you can’t wait until the public onsale is the first step.  You have to get way out in front of this.  You need a pre-sale.  Pre-sales work in many ways, and are built around those hold banks I mentioned before.  The fan clubs from the band get a bunch.  Radio stations… promoters… etc.  You need to get into the pre-sale.  The way to do this is be a fan club member of the band, be on the distro for your local clear channel radio station, and watch who the promoter is.  For example, most Red Rocks shows have some kind of CitiBank credit card offer.  If you have a Citibank Visa, you can use that Visa to get tickets a day early.  Lastly, you must hunt presale codes.  There are tons of sites like this one.  And this one.  And this one.  They offer the secret code word needed to get into the radio station/credit card, fan club tickets.
Some sites are free, and some charge.  It being the internet, there is not much of a way you can find out who is legit and who isn’t.  I wish I could tell you my secret resource but I don't have one.  All of this bullshit, along with TM fees ranging from 50% to 150% means I don't really want to go to shows anymore.  There are two bans I never ever miss.  Pearl Jam and Iron Maiden.  I use the fan clubs for those. ****

I wish I could tell these presale code guys to f’ off.  I wish we didn’t need these sites, but we do.  Here is an example.  A few years ago, Elton John played a very special concert in Denver for the Matthew Shepherd foundation.  He came without a 2 billion piece boring ass orchestra.  It was just him and a piano, and he only was going to play #1 hits.  On top of that, it was a small theater (not the pepsi center).  I really wanted to see this show.  I have never seen Elton, and so did NOT want to pay $200 to hear bloated orchestral treatments of his songs.  This show was so promising and unique people from around the country tried to go.  I knew I never had a chance at public onsale.  I went to one of those sites above (sadly, I don’t remember who) and bought the pre-sale code.  I paid about $40 to get a single word to type into Ticketbastard a day early.  It worked, and it was incredibly worth it.  If you want to see a show, you need to try all of these.

*racist side note.  Wanna know how to get tickets day of?  Buy from the scalpers.  His tickets may be worth $200 before the show.  After the first song is played, though, those tickets are worthless pieces of cardstock.  Just wait until the show is about to start.  If it’s a rock show, find the black guy with the cardboard sign.  It says, without fail, ‘I need tickets’ on one side.  The other side says ‘tickets for sale.  I know that is a generalization, and a bit racist.  However, it is a fact.  I have been to hundreds and hundreds of big shows.    

Enterprising bands hold back the absolute best seats and sell them themselves on the black market and make a ton of money.  This doesn’t bother me like it should.  I am fine with the band making these business decision.  Note that Springsteen not only doesn’t do this… he holds first row seats for every show.  They can’t be bought.  Before each show, his manager then goes around to see the biggest fans with the worst seats and upgrades them free.
Can anything be done to stop the scalpers?  

 Yes.  Will Call. Problem is, it is an ugly and time consuming alternative.

Pearl Jam and Springsteen both have robust fan club seating options.  With each, though, you have to show up day of at the will call window with your state issued ID to pick up tickets.  The reason why most bands don’t do this is that it is a monster pain in the ass for everyone involved. I don’t blame the Dead for not doing it.  Can you imagine 70,000 people standing in line outside Soldier Field waiting for tickets?  Logistically, it isn’t feasible.

Gee, fan club seating seems perfect.  Good seats, money goes to the band directly, and you avoid the dreaded TM fees.  Laborious... but virtually eliminates scalping.
Of course, Ticketbastard has done what they can to eliminate this.  Some years ago, Pearl Jam and String Cheese Incident were on the verge of cutting out as much of TM as possible.  TM, understandably, no likey.  So, they put a couple new rules in place.  One is that if a band wants to sell tickets themselves, the fan club has to cost a minimum of $20 annually.  This was a specific revenge jab at Pearl Jam, who was only charging $10 a year.  * disclosure – I have been a Pearl Jam fan club member since 1997.  I know of what I speak.  Even meaner, and more clever, is that TM doesn’t allow a band to hold back more than 10% of total seats.  Again, these were specific attacks against two bands, but its effects are rippling.  Pearl Jam, famously, took TM to Congress for monopoly concerns.  They got out-lawyered. StringCheese sued Ticketbastard and Clear Channel for a big payola scandal.  In short, they got out-lawyered.  There is a LOT to talk about regarding TM, Live Nation, & Clear Channel.  If you want to read more about String Cheese and their battle with TM, click here.  I have created an appendix site just for stuff like this. We need to drop off this tangent to just talk about ticket availability and you.  Well, just this last super depressing bit from (literally) the book on the subject.

Why is everyone working so hard to not use TM?  They are an amazing ticket distribution system.  You can call them, go online, order from your phone, go to the venue... there is no limit to the way you can get tickets. Think of it like this - It isn't that there are only 2 ways to get to those 10,000 tickets.   It's more like 10,000 ways to get to those 2 tickets.

Why all the hatred for TM?  Their service fees are now hitting up to 100% of ticket costs.  A few years ago, Motley Crue toured and wanted to do $5 lawn seats.  I am in!  Well, those tickets actually cost $25 each after fees.  What is that, a 400% mark up?  TM used to allow you to go to the physical venue and buy tickets in person with no service charge.  That is no longer the case.  You now pay the exact same as you would online, so just stay home.
I have talked about my serious problem with TM over the years on my blog.  HereHereHere. and yet again here.

ok, stop.  We said we were just going to talk about how you and I can get tickets.
What then does a regular guy do to get tickets? 

First, sign up for all the pre-sale crap and fan clubs and radio station memberships.  Program your favorite radio station phone numbers into your phone.  When they say "I got Tom Petty tickets for caller number 9" you don't have time to google their number.  Do this NOW.  It is how I went to Dallas to see the Clapton Crossroads festival for FREE.  Including airfare.  This was because I had my local rock station programmed in my cell. Get in early as possible on pre-sale.  If you find yourself still looking for tickets on day of sale… you need volume.  Get as many computers as you can.  For the Dead shows, we (collectively amongst 2 couples) had 9 computers running.  1 of them, thankfully, got through.
If that still doesn’t work… just show up. 

There are always tickets available.  Always.  Just show up with some cash.  Have different increments in different pockets.  Have $20 in one, $50 in another… etc etc.  This way you can say to the scalper “dude, $50 is all I have.  Look, I am emptying my pockets.  $50 means no beer money or anything”.  This is a trick I invented back at the swap meets.  I have never failed to get into a show I wanted to see.  I remember sitting outside a Pumpkins show at a bar in Phx.  They were still pretty underground back then, as they were playing bars.  Show was sold out.  Found a dude looking for a cheap ticket to the sold out show with his wife.  I sat with him and chatted.  I could see he wouldn’t go in without her.  I said “I am looking for a ticket. We’ll sit together.  If you can’t find a ticket for your wife, and are going to leave, I’ll give you $30 cash for your ticket.  I got into three sold out Pumpkins shows on that tour without a single ticket ahead of time.  Did the same for the Fleetwood Mac re-union.
The Denver Post just did a similar piece here.

Wow!  In a 20,000 seat venue (that is your basketball arena, and your half lawn/half seated 'shed'), less than a 1,000 tickets may go onsale to the mouth breathers like you and me.  That is far less than 1%.  I credit N Sync with breaking this scandal wide open many years ago.  True story, but we aren't going into that yet.  If you want to know that story, ping me in comments.

Ok, there is one other thing they could do.  I have never even seen this suggested, so I am pretty sure I am inventing it now.  Print the names on the ticket.  Ticketmaster is taking about $30 a ticket... they can take 1 penny's worth of ink and put a name on there.
Good luck out there!

*** update Nov 2017.  Everything above has been validated by the Canadian Govt, and it is even worse than we thought.

**** I thought you said you were a Deadhead, yet you only mentioned the bands you always see are Pearl Jam and Maiden.  Why not mention the Dead?  

Well, the Grateful Dead are now splintered into about 8 different bands.  I can't afford to see them all.  Any time Phil and Bobby are together, I go.  Here are the different full time times just between Phil and Bobby:  Ratdog, Phil and Friends, Further, the Dead, Scaring the Children, Dead and Company... you get the idea


cmrobby said…
Awesome article. The system is broken! And you seem to know more about it than most. My question is, aside from getting tickets for ourselves, is there a way to fix it? Because, ideally, we wouldn't have to jump through all these hoops to see our favorite band live...

Also, loving the irony that I have to use CAPTCHA to post this comment haha. Oh man...
Sid said…
I'm investigating this issue. I'd like to talk to you sometime if you're game.
Lono of Denver said…
Sid, I would be happy to discuss. I know too much about this. Drop me a line at IamCorrect at gmail dot com
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mittenbot said…
I could have written this article myself. I've actually written and saved a write up of almost all.of your points verbatim to paste into reddit comments whenever I come across another user complaining about lack of tickets.

I've gotten into every concert I've showed up to including Phish and Tom Petty (tom petty was by far the hardest one to get into of all the big names).

I've had the best luck with the 'keep low increments of money in your pocket and wait until the show starts' tactic by far. Ive usually encountered other fans that need to get rid of their tickets when outside the venue though. Their friends didn't show up and some are stubborn about getting full face but I wait patiently and let them know i'm there if I doesn't work out selling them to someone else for full face. They never do.

I've also had great luck with checking the ticket sites periodically for random ticket releases. I usually only search for 1 ticket when I do that and when i'm looking for the best seats at high demand shows. Sitting alone is fine. You can always talk to your friend before and after the show.

I've also upgraded myself to GA pit tickets for face by negotiating with a craigslist seller by offering to hold a place in line for a Radiohead show that I was going to get in line for the night before. (Hardcore fan here who's done that in the past). I did have pictures of my front row rail spot as an incentive. That particular guy had nothing to lose as he would give me my ticket when he arrived and took his spot. And if he showed up and didnt give me my ticket, my fan friends in line would have sent him to the back. That's a very specific scenario but the point is that its not only about getting the tickets for some shows, but getting good seats too.

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