What to know when navigating the murky world of concert ticket presales

Ticket presales have become a major part of how fans gain access to tickets for big concerts and events, but the puffed-up exclusivity is all part of the mystery behind a system designed to cloak an event in an air of hype and demand.

A fog surrounds scalpers, bots and ticket resales, but presales are increasingly part of the mystery

Tickets for Mumford and Sons West Coast 'Delta Tour' dates go on sale this week. The tour is in support of the band's most recent album, Delta, which arrived last year. (Mumford and Sons/Facebook)

If you're a Mumford and Sons fan living on the West Coast, Friday is the day to glue yourself to a computer to try to snag tickets for the band's August concerts.

If you're a Ticketmaster-verified Mumford and Sons fan, you'll get the chance on Thursday. Ticketmaster doesn't guarantee you'll actually get to buy tickets or the quality of the seats, saying in an email to people who sign up that "it does help ensure only fans are invited to buy tickets."

Such presale offers are part of an increasingly common way to get fans engaged with events and for ticket vendors and promoters to manage how the supply of tickets is released to the public.

"There's presales coming out the ying-yang — everybody's a presale," said Kingsley Bailey, a Vancouver-based ticket broker who buys tickets for events and earns a living by reselling them to fans.

The issue of of ticket sales has drawn the attention of the B.C. Government, which carried out a survey last year and published a report on the apparent frustration many people experience when trying to buy tickets.

The report touched on the role technology, including bots, play in ticket buying and the protection sought for people buying from scalpers or resale marketplaces.

The report said that many are turning to the resale market , but according to Bailey, you can't dismiss presale options — but they're not a sure thing and they don't mean you're going to be sitting in a good seat. Even if you buy a ticket the day before the general public has access, you could still find yourself in the nosebleed section.

"Oh yeah, I'm hearing that all the time. There's no availability, and what's left is junk," he said.

No transparency

Bailey knows more about the ticket system than your average person, but even he views the whole thing as heavily stacked in the vendors' favour, with no transparency for the fans.

"It's not a fair marketplace. That's the problem," he said.

University of Victoria economist Pascal Courty agrees. 

"The sellers are trying to segment the market, and presale is one way to segment the market, possibly to be able to sell different prices to different audiences," said Courty. "You introduce a lot of opacity."

"If consumers have no idea about the number of tickets that are released and the different channels and the different prices, then everybody's in the dark," he said.

The B.C. Government said in its throne speech last month that it would introduce legislation to address ticket scalpers using software to buy tickets and has noted the complaints about transparency.

The Ministry of Public Safety declined an interview request and didn't say when legislation could be expected.

American Express route

Since Ticketmaster dominates the marketplace for event tickets, one of the more common ways people get access to presales is by carrying an American Express credit card — the company partners with Ticketmaster for its "Invites" program.

Bailey said professional scalpers who want to get lots of tickets for shows have ways to use programs like these to game the system.

"I'm not going to say anything more than that. It's just going to be ruining my opportunity to make more money," said Bailey.

CBC News wasn't able to reach anyone at American Express to comment for this story.

Venue-based presales

Mumford and Sons' Vancouver concert is planned for B.C. Place — not Rogers Arena where the Canucks play — but for many of the big-name concerts that pass through Rogers Arena, there's another way to try to beat the general public to tickets.

There's the Rogers Arena "Concert Insider" program, where anyone can sign up to have promotions sent to their email inbox, along with "select presale offers." Or, if you hold certain Canucks seasons tickets, namely in the club Section, you get first right of refusal to the same seat at any concert.

Other season ticketholders can get presales on non-Canucks events at the stadium if the individual promoters decide to offer them.

That's one of the avenues favoured by Bailey, who maintains a roster of ticketholders — and for a fee — gets access to their presale options.

"That's the only way we can access tickets — is having a good relationship with season ticket holders, with individuals," he said."

Ticketmaster didn't reply to an interview request by deadline.


Is there more to this story? Email rafferty.baker@cbc.ca

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker

About the Author

Rafferty Baker

Rafferty Baker is CBC Vancouver's mobile journalist. Follow him @raffertybaker

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