How Charleston Music Hall combats online ticket scalping

Bot battles and seat stealers

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Charles Carmody is the director of the Charleston Music Hall - JONATHAN BONCEK
  • Jonathan Boncek
  • Charles Carmody is the director of the Charleston Music Hall
Thousands flocked to the Charleston Music Hall website on the morning of Jan. 13 to try their hand at getting what had become the hottest ticket in town: comedian Dave Chappelle, live in Charleston. Within five minutes of tickets going on sale, the venue received 540 calls from those hoping to reserve a seat, and tickets were sold out in minutes. New shows were added, but demand greatly exceeded supply. Unfortunately, not all those who were able to snatch up a ticket did so out of a love of comedy.

Tickets to Chappelle’s sold-out performance quickly began to pop up online. Secondhand sellers are now offering individual tickets for as much as $500 a piece. Some scalpers faced scrutiny on Twitter and Facebook from those actually hoping to see the show, but criticism has done little to discourage secondhand sales. Of course, this isn’t an isolated incident. It happens with every show. But how does a local venue respond to the continued problem of online ticket scalping?

“It’s a fundamental issue that it is legal in our country to resell tickets on the internet for more than their face value. It is a weird loophole that too many people take advantage of. I’ve been shouting this since day one,” says Charles Carmody, director of the Charleston Music Hall. “It’s absolutely insane that we’re working our rear ends off just to keep the lights on. I actually found that a registered sex offender in Florida was scalping our tickets at one point. We can find them because we’re able to look at trends and we have algorithms that we can run. So this guy was just sitting in Florida, buying our tickets, selling them, and making money. It just hurts so badly when you’re working so hard and that’s happening.”

Carmody favors wide-reaching legislation that would outlaw ticket scalping online. Current South Carolina law prohibits the resale of event tickets for more than $1 above their original price. Sandwiched in between the state laws prohibiting fortune-telling for the purpose of promoting another business and impersonating a police officer, those found guilty of ticket scalping can be fined up to $100 and imprisoned for 30 days. Unfortunately, this law does not apply to open market tickets offered for resale online. This leaves policing internet scalpers up to the venues originally selling the tickets.

“We’ve put up a couple of things that have helped. We have a ‘bot blocker.’ That’s the first one. Bots shouldn’t be able to get through, but of course you never know. Second, we limit the amount of tickets you can buy. You can’t buy more than four tickets,” says Carmody. “The biggest thing is we encourage everyone to come down to the box office. For Chappelle, everyone who came to the box office that day got tickets. That’s what we want. We want locals to be coming to these shows.”

Comedian Dave Chappelle's upcoming performances at the Charleston Music Hall have drawn their share of scalper activity - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • Comedian Dave Chappelle's upcoming performances at the Charleston Music Hall have drawn their share of scalper activity
The Charleston Music Hall currently relies on Ticketfly to manage ticket distribution. Carmody says the service offers a few valuable tools aimed at curbing secondhand sales. More specifically, Ticketfly is able to run what Carmody calls “a scrub” that combs through all sales pinpointing anything that may indicate scalpers have acquired tickets.

“They run this algorithm that goes through all the tickets and pulls out anything weird. I’m actually looking at the scrub right now. This one says, ‘large order, out of state, weird reoccurring email domain.’ This guy was in Alabama,” says Carmody. “We’ve got about 23 potential resellers for Chappelle for all four nights right now, and we’ve scrubbed them out. So what we’ll do is, we have all these people’s information, and we’ll now go through to figure out if they are resellers or if they are buying their own tickets.”

One obstacle when it comes to shutting down online scalpers is that venues have few ways of knowing if the tickets have been resold. For example, the Alabama scammer that Carmody mentioned could have already exchanged the tickets online with someone who plans to attend to the show in Charleston. If the Music Hall cancels his tickets and refunds the scalper's money, the secondhand salesman gets his money back, plus whatever profit he made from reselling the tickets. Meanwhile, the person who purchased their tickets from the scalper is left out in the cold. So who is really to blame?

“Here’s an issue: The audience is causing this to happen as well,” says Carmody. “For example, if we all shop at Walmart, Walmart will continue to exist. If no one shops at Walmart, we will go back to a local economy. No matter how badly you want to go to a show, if you are buying tickets on the secondhand market, you are helping no one. You are perpetuating this system.”

Of major concern for some venues is the constant threat of bots snatching up tickets online in a matter of seconds only to be resold for several times their value. Several years ago, Ticketmaster estimated that as many as 60 percent of high-demand tickets went to bots. No matter how loathsome you find Ticketmaster, this is a major problem — one that national leaders have recently taken steps to remedy.

Last month, President Barack Obama signed into law the Better Online Ticket Sales Act, or the BOTS Act of 2016. Enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, this act makes it illegal for anyone to circumvent security or control measures “used by internet ticket sellers to ensure equitable consumer access to tickets for any given event” and sell those tickets.

While this is good news for many, bots aren’t the biggest concern for many smaller, local venues. It’s the people putting tickets up for sale on Craigslist and one-off tickets sites for several times their original value. It’s also those willing to go a bit further to trick customers looking for tickets.

“I caught this mom and pop operation who were pretending to be our box office. These companies are spending more money on Google than us, so they’re getting above us when you search ‘Charleston Music Hall,’” says Carmody. “Last time I looked, when you searched ‘Charleston Music Hall,’ there were four guys above us, which I’m working vigilantly with Google now to try to get this fixed. But if you’re a little old lady and you call them, they answer the phone ‘Charleston Music Hall tickets.’ It’s just so wrong.”
Carmody adds, “It’s rampant, and it’s not just us. It’s the entire ticketing industry. It’s the entire country. We’re all fighting this. It needs to be illegal. They need to make the reselling of tickets in any form for the same or higher value illegal in the United States. That’s the first step.”


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