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Buying Concert Tickets In California May Get Easier

I’m a Justin Timberlake fan. My best friend is too. So, earlier year when we heard Timberlake was coming to San Francisco we decided to get tickets to his show. We logged on to Ticketmaster, already dreaming of dancing in the aisles. You can imagine our shock when Ticketmaster told us there were no tickets left.

Aired 9/19/13 on KPBS News.

Buying a concert ticket online isn’t easy these days. But a bill awaiting Governor Jerry Brown’s signature could make it less painful in California.

So we did what any other modern consumers would do, we logged onto StubHub and found we could have our pick of seats for the show, if we were willing to pay three times the face value.

It’s a story Dr. Richard Pan, a Democratic State Assemblyman from Sacramento, has heard many times before.

“You know when the tickets are going on sale, and you log on a minute later and they’re all gone. That’s extremely frustrating,” he said

So Pan authored a bill, AB 329, banning the use of automated ticket bot programs in California. Bots digitally jump to the front of the line and scoop up all the tickets before regular fans have a shot at buying any.

Andrew Zimbalist is an Economics professor at Smith College. He said bot programs are sophisticated and know how to track the market. And once they buy up all the tickets, they don’t just immediately re-sell them. Instead they hold on to them for awhile.

“They sell them off more slowly,” Zimbalist said. “And because they sell them off more slowly demand is higher than the available supply and it raises ticket prices more.”

So scalpers benefit by manipulating the market. Now, there is a theory if artists and venues priced their tickets with a better sense of the market scalping might not be such an issue. But Zimbalist said it’s hard to know what the magic number might be.

“If they say, OK, instead of charging $100 for this seat, we’re going to charge $120 just to undermine the secondary sellers, they might find themselves with not enough demand and empty seats at the concert,” he said.

So will this law and others like it around the country, really help consumers?

Chris Grimm said it’s a step in the right direction. Grimm is with Fan Freedom, a national organization that advocates for ticket buyers. He said the law would be better if it had stronger penalties and required ticket sellers to report when scalping software was used.

“When ticket sellers sell tickets they know who was using bots,” he said. “And they should be required to report instances of bot use to the proper authorities. Or they should be required to cancel tickets that they know were bought by using bots.”

Assemblyman Pan’s legislation makes using ticket bots a misdemeanor and has the support of Ticketmaster and StubHub among others. But Zimbalist and Grimm agree electronic scalpers will continue to evolve, and the state’s laws will have to keep up.

As for me and my friend? We ended up forking over the cash to see Justin Timberlake. And we both thought he was worth every penny.

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