Manitoba concert industry looks for big changes to combat ticket scalping

The PC government has promised legislation to fight secondary ticket sales. Concert promoters say there are ways to make seat buying safer.

Venues, promoters call on government to help fight bots that scoop up tickets seconds after they go on sale

Fans who head online to click for tickets to see big draws like Ed Sheeran are often disappointed as seats are quickly grabbed by bots. Manitoba producers and venue operators hope the province will step in to help fight ticket reselling. (Ethan Miller/Getty)

Concert producers, venue owners and ticket sellers hope the Manitoba government will listen to their advice about updating legislation on secondary ticket selling — also known as ticket scalping.

Industry leaders met with government officials Wednesday about changes they think are needed to Manitoba's ticket-selling laws.

Fans who try to click their way to some prime seats online are frustrated by the high cost of tickets and their lack of availability.

The Progressive Conservative government promised to bring in new legislation on secondary ticket sales in their throne speech last year.

Kevin Donnelly, the senior vice-president of venues and entertainment for True North Sports and Entertainment and a longtime Winnipeg concert promoter, has seen too many fans arrive at the arena painted in their favourite team colours, or parents with a child in tow expecting to see Justin Bieber, only to find out the tickets they bought from a secondary website or Kijiji aren't valid.

"It is immensely frustrating and disheartening. Somebody has bought a ticket thinking they are going to come in and take in an event, whether it's a sporting event or concert, and when you are buying from any of these sites, any place other than Ticketmaster, we can't give any statement that the ticket is valid," Donnelly said.

"Especially if it is on a Kijiji site or something, that ticket may be duplicated numerous times over and you never know, as the purchaser, if it's valid or not. So we see countless people coming to the door and not able to get in because their ticket is fraudulent."

True North VP Kevin Donnelly says current legislation doesn't allow them to resell tickets for more than the face value, forcing fans to secondary sellers. (Travis Golby CBC News )
The concert business has changed radically since Donnelly started as a promoter and people physically lined up in downtown Winnipeg to buy tickets to see their favourite acts.

Now the bulk of tickets move online.

Case in point — seats for this summer's Ed Sheeran concert go on sale next week, but there are already several websites offering the tickets.

The moment tickets go on sale to the general public through Ticketmaster, ticket brokers deploy computer bots to scoop up blocks of tickets. Those seats are then re-sold through websites such as Stubhub, often for several times the original face value of the ticket.

They get away with the practice because the ticket brokers don't physically operate in Manitoba and aren't subject to provincial laws that make reselling tickets for more than their face value illegal.

True North wants to give fans guarantee

Donnelly says Manitoba is virtually the only jurisdiction in North America where it's against the law to resell tickets for more than the original price.

It means True North can't resell tickets in competition with those ticket brokers — and fans can't be sure what they've bought online.

He wants the provincial government to change the laws and allow True North to start its own reselling site.

"We are in this conversation to try and level the playing field so we can provide a safe place for our consumers to go and buy and sell tickets, because they are currently going to an unsafe place to buy and sell tickets," Donnelly said, adding a True North reselling site would assure fans they're buying genuine tickets.

Beating the bots

​The convenience of buying concert tickets from your computer, phone or iPad has also ushered in a huge industry of seat reselling.

It drives companies such as Ticketmaster to distraction as they watch ticket brokers from all over the world using computer bots to hoover up tickets seconds after they go on sale to the public. Ticketmaster spends millions of dollars a year trying to combat the bots.

Ticketmaster shut down 5 billion bots last year, according to chief operating officer Patti-Anne Tarlton. But new ones pop up and grab tickets. The company is committed to fighting "the bad operators," she said.

"When we talk about bots, it's a use of technology at a speed faster than a fan can purchase a ticket to try and circumvent the rules."

Ticketmaster's Patti-Anne Tarlton says the public has to be aware some sites are not secure places to buy tickets. (Travis Golby CBC News )
The rules Tarlton is talking about are those in place from the content provider — the sports team or the artist — that may limit a fan to only four tickets, but are easily ignored by ticket brokers.

Tarlton says a good start for provincial governments is to ban the bots.

"If you were to say in Manitoba, for example, that bots are illegal, from a Ticketmaster perspective — a global grand perspective — we are already working in other jurisdictions. So to the extent that we can use local legislation in a jurisdiction — that's helpful," Tarlton said.

Ontario is considering how it should change its own legislation and has asked for public feedback.

Consultations with stakeholders in Manitoba have only just begun and it's unlikely new legislation will make it into the current session of the legislature, but the minister of culture is committed to changing the rules.

"We know it's heartbreaking when families show up at the MTS Centre or the Investors Group Field, they've got tickets in their hands, they paid for those tickets and they are denied because unbeknown to them they bought tickets on the secondary market and they weren't valid," said Rochelle Squires.

Asked when the legislation will arrive, she said Manitobans should "stay tuned."