British Columbia·Analysis

Tragically Hip ticket profiteers leave faithful fans fuming

Ticket reselling for profit? Well that's nothing new. But scalpers have sparked furor by messing with fans of Canada's band, and it will be up to fans to take action.

'Cold-blooded' capitalism of online ticket resellers sparks furor when it messes with Canada's band

The Tragically Hip will tour for the final time this summer, after lead singer Gord Downie announced last week he has terminal brain cancer. (Canadian Press)

Ticket scalping for profit? Well that's nothing new — as the Hip themselves might sing. But this time, it's personal.

When many Tragically Hip fans were shut out of presale tickets to the band's final tour, only to find seats popping up minutes later on reselling sites, the laments far surpassed the recent social media frenzy over Paul McCartney or Adele tickets.

Gord Downie, the energetic frontman of the Tragically Hip, has terminal brain cancer, making ticket 'profiteering' all the more odious in the eyes of some. (Canadian Press)

The Hip, some say, are Canada's band. It's their last tour.

And Gord Downie, the beloved frontman who wrote a soundtrack for a generation, has incurable brain cancer.

"It seems so wrong on so many levels," said music journalist Alan Cross, who spent Monday compiling outrage on his blog. "It is the purest form of cold-blooded … capitalism."

"The perception is, and it's not incorrect, that you have people profiteering … from a man who is dying."

Add to that the familiarity many feel with a band they've known for 30 years, one that they might have caught at the university cafeteria for $10.70 in 1991.

"I've seen them twice before, but this one is important," said Amanda Kran of Chilliwack, B.C., after trying to get tickets. "People are pretty choked, which is fair."

Fans deserve better, said Cross and others, but just how that could happen is unclear.
Amanda Kran of Chilliwack, B.C., was poised online the moment Tragically Hip ticket presales open, but found them sold out. Her sister later found tickets for face value. (Don Marce/CBC)

Ahead by a (half) century

If you thought scalping was illegal, you'd be right — if you were in Ontario 50 years ago.

Take for example Allen David Fink, who on Jan. 22, 1966, at about 7:35 p.m., was busted in front of Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens for trying to sell two $4 hockey tickets for $25.

The would-be buyer was a police officer, and a judge upholding Fink's conviction sounds perfectly modern as he described in 1967 why scalping makes people mad.

"These speculators, or 'scalpers' as they are often called … deprive many persons of modest means of attending certain performances and they also cause great resentment in many of those to whom they do, in fact, sell," wrote Judge J. Haines.

Today, selling a ticket for more than face value is still illegal in some parts of Canada, but it varies from province by province.

And the marketplace is no longer a sidewalk in front of the venue — making enforcement hard and quick profits easy, say industry watchers.

Canadian rock band the Tragically Hip, circa 1988. (Canadian Press)

Bots and high dough

In January, New York's attorney general slammed the current marketplace for tickets as "a fixed game," calling out ticket brokers and software bots for scooping up thousands of tickets before the public has a shot.

Within minutes, the seats are offered on eBay-owned StubHub, Ticketmaster-owned TicketsNow and other online resellers — at a steep markup.

"The public doesn't just even understand what's going on," said Dean Budnick co-author of Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped.

With numerous "presale" opportunities, for fan clubs, credit card-holders and others, we never know how many tickets are ever available at face value to the general public, said Budnick — or how many Hip tickets are left.

"I am a strong advocate for transparency in the process," he said.

Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip sings during a 2003 Toronto performance. (Kevin Frayer/Canadian Press)

Ticket broker Kingsley Bailey, who runs, agrees.

"There needs to be legislation in place so there is transparency so we know exactly what is being sold" and at what price, said Bailey.

It's not clear how that would actually stop massive markups on popular tickets, but it might help average fans know their chances.

Despite calls for a crackdown, formerly vigorous scalping laws have "fallen by the wayside," said Budnick, both due to industry lobbying and problems enforcing rules across jurisdictions. (Alberta, for example, repealed its anti-scalping law in 2009.)

If a Toronto seller posts a ticket to a Vancouver show on StubHub's San Francisco-based site, whose rules apply?

The Tragically Hip are featured on an illustration of a Canada Post stamp. (Canada Post/Canadian Press)

'I want to fix it' says Ontario attorney general

But lawmakers say they aren't giving up.

On Tuesday, Hip ticket furor reached Queen's Park, with Ontario's attorney general facing a barrage of questions from reporters about whether the province has put fans in the lurch with a law change last year.

The province put new rules on selling second-hand tickets, which arguably protects consumers from fraudsters, but also in the eyes of critics sanctioned scalping by making it legal to resell for more than face value.

Ontario Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur was questioned Tuesday by reporters about whether a law change last year has made it easier for resellers to profit. (CBC)

"The intent was to prevent this to happen and I'm very sorry for the [fans] of this group that they will have to pay a great price to go to this concert," said Madeleine Meilleur on Tuesday.

"I want to fix it, for sure," she said, but offered no details how.

Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Quebec also have laws placing limits on ticket resales.

B.C. does not, something NDP member of the legislature Spencer Chandra Herbert wants to change with input from the industry.

"Fans don't like this. Let's sit down at a table, let's see what we can legitimately address, and let's not overreach," he said Monday.

"That's why we have governments.... We can find at least some minimum standards, so that fans in the jurisdiction where the show's going to be performed get a chance." 

Gord Downie, 52, has been in the spotlight for half of his life as the charismatic and singular frontman for the Tragically Hip. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Where the great plans begin

Difficulties aside, is this the moment — fuelled by emotion for a beloved band and its ailing bard — when the "fixed game" gets fixed?

If so, it will take more than angry tweets.

"It requires a lot of resources, and no one has a real vested interest," said Budnick.

"You know who has a real vested interest? The public. And the public doesn't really have lobbyists out there pushing in their best interests."

Over to you, Hip fans.

Watch Vancouver musician Tyler Bancroft of Said the Whale and ticket broker Kingsley Bailey debate ticket resellers:


Lisa Johnson

Senior writer and editor

Lisa Johnson is a senior writer and editor at CBC News. She helped create CBC Radio's What On Earth which won the 2021CJF Award for Climate Solutions Reporting. She has reported for CBC on TV, radio and online for more than 15 years with a specialty in science, nature, and the environment. Get in touch at or through Twitter at @lisasj.