Robots are stealing all your concert tickets
Maddie has adored the Gorillaz since she was just an angsty teenager. The band's albums were the soundtrack to her adolescence. Its songs were the childhood friends that never left her. When the Gorillaz fell apart, she grieved. When the members reunited, she rejoiced. When the act announced a 2017 world tour, she vowed to see her most beloved band live at her most beloved venue, Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
Maddie set 6 alarms to overcome her anxiety that she’d sleep through the tickets’ opening presale. She’d subscribed to obnoxious email blasts, band fan clubs and social media groups to get her hands on the presale codes. She joined a waiting room the moment it became accessible, opening the page from three of her own computer tabs, her cell phone, plus the laptops and cell phones of any and all nearby co-workers who would help her achieve her dreams. The adrenaline-surging instant she’s admitted into the site to get her tickets, they’re all gone. In less than a minute, the tickets are entirely sold out — and Maddie’s hopes are shattered.
It seems virtually inconceivable that the 9,525 seats in Red Rocks Amphitheatre could be snatched up within seconds. If Maddie took all necessary precautions to reach the site the very moment it opened, how did 9,525 people beat her to the punch? The simple answer: they didn’t. Robots did.
Ticket bots are automated computer programs that pose as real-life users and buy up tickets in the split seconds after their opening sales. Bots are able to cut the virtual queue and bypass any and all security measures, manipulating and paralyzing sites like Ticketmaster and AXS before genuine users can even gain access. Once the programs have pilfered these highly sought-after seats from honest fans, the tickets are then posted to secondary market websites like StubHub and SeatGeek at insanely high prices.
This corrupt practice is nothing new. Only a few months ago, mounting outrage inspired unanimous federal legislation to outlaw the use of ticket bots and the sale of any tickets purchased using a bot. But we can hardly expect this new law to make a dent when the crime reels in obscene amounts of cash. In a report revealing bot practices and calling for major reform to the ticketing process, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman cites one unlicensed ticket vendor who sold nearly $31 million worth of tickets on StubHub in 2013, netting a profit of $16 million.
Even with well-intentioned legislation, combating computer programs is complicated. Much of the software is developed and operated overseas, and federal law enforcement is often unable to hunt down bot-operatives based outside the U.S. Ticketmaster and AXS attempt to do their part by implementing security steps such as captcha codes, but scalpers utilize overseas labor to bypass these safeguards.
Secondary marketplaces possess the potential to stop corrupt ticket scalpers, although it’s not in the businesses' financial interest. StubHub, for example, claims to adhere to legislation outlawing the sale of bot-bought tickets, yet consistently lists popular tickets at premium prices within an instant of the tickets’ opening sales — sometimes even weeks or months before they go on sale to the public. Ticket scalper and bot operator sales have made the secondhand market a $8 billion industry, and more often the sole destination to find quality tickets in our nation’s rigged system.
This rings true to Maddie’s experience. “After I realized the Gorillaz tickets sold out, I checked StubHub,” she tells us. “They had tons of tickets ... for $750.” As an economical young lady, Maddie made a financially prudent decision: she declared ‘fuck that noise!’ and refused to hand hundreds of dollars to the crooks who crushed her dreams.
Thankfully, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Ticketmaster, a site on which bots made 5 billion attempts to buy tickets this past year, has implemented a new platform to battle the army of bots. The program is called “Verified Fan” and it uses pre-sale registration to validate that people looking to buy tickets are authentic human fans. Ticketmaster boasts the program has enabled the site to sell tickets for Ed Sheeran and Twenty One Pilots tours entirely to verified fans.
But given that the vast majority of artists have not yet utilized this improved approach, fans like Maddie are still missing out on seeing their favorite bands perform. “This year at Red Rocks has been by far the worst year for buying tickets,” Maddie laments shortly after admitting defeat to the bots that stole her Gorillaz tickets. She then slams her laptop shut, as if trying to harm one of the bots’ computer cousins, out of revenge.