Close the window on ticket ‘bots’

Go to any major sporting or entertainment event and one of the first people you will encounter is an entrepreneur seeking to mine profit from the secondary market for tickets — a scalper asking if you have extra tickets or want to buy one.

At that level the practice mostly is harmless or even beneficial to consumers — providing them with a ticket they otherwise might not be able to get, at a price they are willing to pay.

Technology, however, changes the equation. Due to the ability of scalpers to use the internet to buy huge numbers of tickets as they are issued, the secondary market for many events has eclipsed the primary market.

Secondary market price explosion

For example, The New York Times recently studied ticket sales for the Broadway hit, “Hamilton,” as several of its top stars announced that they would leave the show. The average face value of a “Hamilton” ticket was $189 at the time of lead actor Lin-Manuel Miranda’s announced departure; the average price on the secondary market was $850. When Miranda announced his departure, the price of a ticket on the secondary market soared as high as $10,900. That, in turn, perverted the primary market. Producers raised prices to try to recapture some of the profit from scalpers.

“Hamilton” producers have worked to prevent mass purchases by scalpers, but many of them responded by operating multiple ticket-purchasing “bots” that bought a few tickets through each of hundreds of servers.

New York lawmakers are considering ways to deter the practice, but reform should be universal. Congress should outlaw ticket “bots,” require secondary sellers to report sales just as primary sellers do, and establish penalties for, in effect, stealing many Americans’ fair-market access to sports and entertainment.