Business·CBC Investigates

Blue Jays earn cut from every ticket scalped on StubHub

Thousands of tickets for today's Toronto Blue Jays home opener found their way onto resale sites with massive markups, but a CBC/Toronto Star investigation has discovered scalpers aren't the only players cashing in. Resale giant StubHub says it has a profit-sharing deal with the team.

CBC/Toronto Star investigation reveals nearly half of all tickets for home opener listed on resale websites

The Toronto Blue Jays play their home opener today at Rogers Centre. A CBC/Toronto Star investigation reveals more than 20,000 of the tickets for the game ended up on resale websites like StubHub, and most were listed for well above face value. (Nick Turchiaro/USA Today)

Thousands of tickets for today's Toronto Blue Jays home opener found their way onto resale sites with massive markups, but a CBC/Toronto Star investigation has discovered scalpers aren't the only players cashing in.

Ticket giant StubHub confirmed it has an arrangement with the Jays that gives the team a cut of every single ticket resold on its site, helping the baseball club to profit from the scalping of its own tickets.

Glenn Lehrman, StubHub's global head of communications, declined to provide financial details of the deal but said this of the company's revenue sharing with the Jays and other Major League Baseball teams: "They do very well. Let's put it that way."

Especially with a big event like opening day at Rogers Centre.

"They're going to sell out their game regardless," he said, "and now they're benefiting from whatever sales that we do on top of that."

Tracking the tickets

CBC and the Toronto Star began closely tracking Blue Jays tickets for today's game back in February, when the official box office run by Ticketmaster opened.

From the moment they went on sale, thousands of tickets were bought up and then quickly listed for sale on popular online markets like StubHub, SeatGeek, Vivid Seats and TicketsNow.

Here are some of the investigation's key findings:

  • 20,519 tickets, 44.7 per cent of all Rogers Centre seats, were posted for resale.
  • More than 16,085 seats were listed for at least 50 per cent above their face value.
  • The average resale markup was 205 per cent.
  • 3,500 tickets were already posted on resale websites in January, a month before the box office opened.
  • The only tickets that didn't seem to interest scalpers were those reserved for wheelchairs.

Today's game technically sold out days before the event with only single seats and seats with obstructed views available on Ticketmaster. But 4,698 tickets were still available on resale websites 24 hours before Thursday's opening pitch at 3:37 p.m. as some sellers started slashing their prices.

'Ticket Integration'

The Jays are actually entering the second year of the partnership with StubHub. Most Major League Baseball teams have similar deals with the site.

A year ago, StubHub and the Jays issued press releases celebrating what they called "ticket integration," which would allow ticket-holders to upload and resell their seats "conveniently, safely and securely." There was no mention of any revenue sharing.

The Blue Jays declined to answer questions about how much money the team makes from StubHub sales.

StubHub's Glenn Lehrman wouldn't get into specifics either.

"Our relationship with Major League Baseball is a revenue share so we share in the profits with the teams of any ticket that is sold. We don't disclose what the revenue-sharing agreement with Major League Baseball is."

Mark Shapiro, president and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays, recently told Sportsnet the team is targeting a piece of the resale market in a bid to boost profits. (CBC )

Last week, Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro acknowledged that half of the team's 13,000 season tickets are held by "brokers" who resell seats for profit.

He told Sportsnet the Jays are targeting a piece of the resale market in a bid to boost profits.

"We're going to sell out opening day ... It's probably going to be the highest-revenue game in the history of Rogers Centre," he said in the Sportsnet interview.

'It seems wrong'

News that the Blue Jays are sharing in a portion of ticket resale revenue doesn't sit well with some fans. 

"It seems wrong, doesn't it? I know the team wants to maximize their profits in any way they can … but this just seems off somehow," said Tom Dakers, a lifelong fan who writes the popular blog Bluebird Banter.

Dakers said he was shocked to learn so many tickets for today's game appeared to be snatched up and resold for a profit.

"It amazes me," he said. "I figured it would be 10 per cent … at the most."

The global online scalping industry is worth an estimated $8 billion a year, driven in part by sophisticated speculators who use software known as bots to harvest and resell mass quantities of tickets.

In November, CBC revealed how StubHub has emerged as an industry leader with its "top seller program" that gives incentives and software to resellers who move millions of dollars in tickets each year.

'Misleading to the fans'

Richard Powers, associate professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, called the Jays' deal with StubHub, with its undisclosed financial details, "deceptive and dishonest."

"It's misleading to the fans," he said.

"Certainly, you could even question whether it's anti-competitive as well. If I was the Competition Bureau I'd be interested in taking a look at that arrangement."

Richard Powers, associate professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, is no fan of the ticket revenue deal between StubHub and the Blue Jays. (Anne-Marie Jackson/Toronto Star)

In the Jays' home province, lawmakers passed legislation they hope will curb the use of bots and cap markups at 50 per cent above a ticket's face value. The new law is supposed to take effect July 1.

"It's an industry that has not had a lot of rules and boundaries around it. And it's something that needs to be done. Fans want change," said Sophie Kiwala, the Liberal MPP from Kingston who spearheaded the legislation after the Tragically Hip's farewell tour in 2016 was aggressively targeted by scalpers.

Liberal MPP Sophie Kiwala of Kingston helped lead the charge to create new rules governing scalping. (CBC)

A CBC investigation concluded two-thirds of the tickets for the tour were snapped up by brokers and bots.

Kiwala says music and sports fans are at the mercy of scalpers who operate below the radar in a highly secretive industry.

"I think the fans really want to see the Jays play and I think that it's incumbent upon government and it's incumbent upon sports organizations to make sure that people still get access and that it's done in a manner of solid integrity."


Methodology:

CBC News and the Toronto Star monitored tickets for the Blue Jays home opener of March 29 as they were sold on both the primary and secondary resale websites. Over two months our analysis tracked each ticket by section, row and seat number, as well as its face value and resale price. Tickets posted on several platforms at once were only counted once. Our findings and final numbers are conservative given our data collection failed to capture every single seat and ticket. We also excluded certain anomalies and extreme values, suggesting the true scale of scalping and profits made by resellers are likely higher than reported here.

(Data collection and analysis by William Wolfe-Wylie and Valérie Ouellet)
 

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