‘Bieber Is Scalping His Own Tickets’

Phil Williams 09/24/12
Chief Investigative Reporter WTVF TV

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A lot of young Bieber fans recently found out just how tough it can be to compete against the scalpers.

But the odds were stacked against them from the beginning on Bieber’s upcoming tour — and the scalpers may have included the star’s own team. Those revelations are contained in ticketing documents, obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, that reveal more concert ticket secrets.

When tickets went on sale this summer for Bieber’s “Believe” tour, headlines boasted about how he had sold out Madison Square Garden in 30 seconds, his entire U.S. tour in just an hour.

“I’m just waiting and waiting — and, after all that, you get through and there are no tickets available,” recalled Amanda McDowell, who was trying to buy tickets for an 8-year-old neighbor.

McDowell had logged onto Ticketmaster’s website at the exact moment that tickets to Bieber’s Nashville show went on sale to the general public.

But, over and over, all she got was a message saying “no exact matches found.”

“I’m just trying to get through and I’m just sitting right there, and I’m like I know there’s tickets available — surely,” she said.

In fact, what Bieber’s fans were not told is that there were really not that many seats left by the time tickets went on sale to the general public.

Ticket instructions obtained from Bieber’s Nashville concert show that — out of almost 14,000 available seats — the number actually set aside for that public onsale: just 1,001.

That left McDowell in an intense struggle with other fans and scalpers.

“If I had known there were only actually a thousand tickets available that morning, I probably wouldn’t have spent the time,” McDowell said.

We showed the ticketing documents to Dean Budnick, who wrote the book: “Ticket Masters.”

“To grab the subtitle of my book, I would say the public is getting scalped in many respects,” Budnick said.

In Bieber’s case, the biggest chunk of tickets — almost 6,000 — went to American Express customers through an AmEx presale.

Another 3,000 went to paying members of Bieber’s fan club.

All of that, Budnick said, works to the benefit of scalpers who post them on resale sites like StubHub and TicketsNow at a steep mark-up.

“Many of them have multiple credit cards so they have plenty of opportunities to be part of those presales,” he explained. “Many of them pay the money, if they need to or simply divulge a variety of email addresses they have, to be part of those fan clubs.”

In fact, Bieber’s tour was structured so that fan club members could buy up to four tickets in four different cities. Critics say that helps professional scalpers who buy those fan club memberships.

But what may surprise Bieber fans even more is what we found on TicketsNow: 14 tickets from Section 205, Row G were listed for $246 each.

Ticketing documents show that entire G row went to Bieber’s tour.

We also spotted three tickets from Section 219, Row G, listed for $216 each. Those tickets also were reserved for Bieber’s tour.

“I think there is no question when one looks at the document that Bieber is scalping his own tickets,” Budnick said. ” I think if one takes a deeper look at the situation and the context, one can understand why he’s doing it. But nonetheless that is what’s going on.”

He noted that artists see how much the scalpers make, and they want a piece of the action.

Those ticketing documents also show that Bieber’s tour held back 500 tickets to be sold at marked-up prices as part of Ticketmaster’s Platinum Exchange program, along with some 900 seats reserved for various programs labeled as “VIP” tickets.

Our NewsChannel 5 investigation found a similar pattern regarding ticket availability three years ago for Taylor Swift’s tour, when after all the presales and holds, there were less than 1,600 seats left for the general public.

That same year, scalpers were blamed after Keith Urban fans had trouble getting what he had promised would be a $20 ticket.

But, out of almost 15,000 seats for his Nashville show, the truth is there were just 389 tickets available at that price.

“Consumers are set up for great disappointment,” said Elizabeth Owen, the former head of consumer affairs for the state of Tennessee who works these days as a consultant for the Fan Freedom Project.

Owen argued that, because of America’s love affair with music, the concert industry gets a pass on basic consumer protection laws against unfair and deceptive acts.

“No business can advertise something for sale — a product or a service or whatever — at a certain price unless they have enough of that product or service to meet reasonable public demand,” Owen said, referring specifically to a law that has been on the books in Tennessee since 1977.

So is it a violation of the law?

“In my opinion, it is,” she answered

Bieber’s publicist never returned NewsChannel 5 phone calls.

A Ticketmaster spokesperson said that the ticketing giant has no say in what artists do with their tickets. But it has been fighting legislation pushed by the Fan Freedom Project to require that the public be told exactly how many tickets are really available.

Ticketmaster argues that would only help the scalpers know how much they can jack up the price.


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