Arena ticket sales bring new challenges

Bob Polk digs the music of country star Tim McGraw.

So, naturally, he's planning to see McGraw play June 11 at Intrust Bank Arena.

But after seeing the 15-minute sellout of the Taylor Swift concert two weeks ago, Polk got nervous.

He thought he might not be able to score McGraw tickets because of online ticket resales, scalping and computer programs that can game the system. So the retired Air Force veteran shelled out $20.99 to join McGraw's fan club to get an early shot at tickets.

That hasn't happened yet.

But to Polk's disgust, tickets to the McGraw concert in Wichita are already for sale for $86 to $427 on Stubhub.com, a marketplace where people can sell their tickets at whatever price they want.

For years, arenas, cities and states have struggled with how to handle ticket sales to hot concerts.

District Attorney Nola Foulston said her office received consumer complaints after the Swift concert sold out.

"That was pretty eye-opening, I believe, for people in our community," she said. "It's unfortunate that that had to occur."

Now Foulston's office has been talking with Kansas Attorney General Steve Six's office to research what can be done.

So far, there appears to be no simple solution because many Internet sales involve ticket sellers in different states, Foulston said.

Kansas state law leaves it to cities to set scalping laws. Since 1948, Wichita has had one that requires anyone reselling tickets to get a $200-a-year license.

So far, no one has been issued a license, and the city hasn't prosecuted any cases in recent memory.

Foulston is hoping for a statewide law. But, she said, even that may only slow the pace of ticket resales.

"We have looked into this," she said. "It's not good, and we're looking at ways to make changes. But they'll have to be on a statewide basis through legislation, and that takes time."

For now, she advises people to avoid paying scalpers for tickets because some may be fraudulent tickets — and others are selling at outrageous prices.

"This is all extremely detrimental to a local family," she said.

Other states

A 2006 analysis of scalping laws by the Connecticut General Assembly found 27 states with laws on ticket resales.

Eleven ban people from reselling tickets for a significant profit (some allow markups of $1 to 10 percent of ticket prices).

But is it making a difference?

Connecticut, for example, prohibits scalping tickets, but allows resellers to add a $3 service charge.

Ticketmaster shows the hottest seat to the Mariah Carey show in Connecticut at $275. Yet, you can still buy a ticket to the Jan. 15 Carey concert on Stubhub.com for $799.

Six states have passed or have considered laws to ban the use of software that subverts ticket sellers' security measures to buy tickets, according to Stateline.org, a nonprofit publication of the Pew Center on the States.

Others, including Missouri, have used lawsuits and criminal investigations to go after ticket resellers.

The efforts have also raised questions about whether resale is just part of free-market trade.

In other words, if the market is willing to pay $500 a ticket and the artist and his or her promoter set prices at $25 a ticket, why can't someone buy one and sell it?

Taxpayers' arena

Todd Allen was enraged when he read the story about Swift's concert selling out so fast that people who were waiting outside of the arena couldn't even get a ticket.

So he started Taxpayers for Tickets — a group demanding that local government do something to ensure the people who paid for the arena get a fair shot at tickets.

Every extra dollar people spend on marked-up tickets is a dollar that could have gone to the tax rolls through concession sales or other things, he said.

And every dollar of markup also takes away from what people may spend on T-shirts and other merchandise, which benefits the artists.

Allen's group is meeting at 7 p.m. tonight at the Shamrock Lounge, 1724 W. Douglas, to discuss ways to prevent scalping.

He said he plans to keep pressure on county commissioners and other officials.

"We're not going away," he said. "This problem will get solved one way or another."

Ron Holt, an assistant manager for the county, said that promoters control not only when events will be announced but also "what tickets go on sale when."

SMG, the arena's manager, he said, can "push back and say, 'No, we want more involvement,' " Holt said. "But then two things might happen. One, they might say, 'Then you don't want our event, and we're not coming here,' or two, 'Great. We then want a guarantee,' " that a certain number of tickets will be sold.

"Then you're at risk for the whole thing, and no building is going to do that."

Holt said if the arena didn't allow advance sales, "we would then significantly limit the negotiating for events that SMG could bring here."

Holt said advance sales are common, especially for popular performers such as Swift.

"High-demand events are most prone to do this sort of thing," Holt said.

Holt said he, County Manager William Buchanan and chief financial officer Chris Chronis visited the Ford Center in Oklahoma City a few weeks ago to talk to officials there about what to expect.

The administrator for contracts warned them, Holt said, about advance ticket sales, which are common at venues across the country. The administrator used Swift as a specific example, Holt said.

"He said the prime example is going to be a Taylor Swift deal," Holt said. "We didn't get the full sense of what that meant" and how troubling it would be to taxpayers.

The Swift concert, he said, featured two types of advance sales: members of her fan club and American Express cardholders.

"Both overlapped for a period of time," Holt said. "I can understand taxpayers being frustrated, but we want these kind of acts to be available, and we want the arena to be financially successful."

Arena managers

Intrust Bank Arena manager Chris Presson said artists and promoters control ticket prices, how many seats are available and how tickets are sold.

"We're at the mercy of those that control the show," he said.

Presson said he shuns scalping and encourages people to buy tickets only from authorized outlets.

Presson said those who are offering tickets to shows that aren't yet on sale — such as Tim McGraw — are just betting that they can not only get a ticket, but sell it online.

"That should tell anyone that's the wrong route to choose," he said.

The 19,199-seat BOK Center in Tulsa opened in fall 2008. It's also managed by SMG.

Jerry Goldman, assistant general manager of the Tulsa center, said it went through some of the same issues Wichita is now dealing with.

"Tulsa, just like the citizens of Wichita, are not used to these huge, high-demand shows," he said. "So it is a learning process."

He said almost all ticketing systems try to stop software programs that snatch up tickets before regular ticket buyers have a chance.

But, he said, it's almost impossible to stop some scalping.

"What do you do about it?" he asked. "You just try to trust your ticketing system. There has been no great fix of scalping. It happens from New York to the smaller cities across the country."

Artists and their promoters typically control how many tickets are presold to fan groups or people with special access — such as American Express cardholders.

"When you get to this level of acts, that's just what you deal with," Goldman said.

Some have shifted to paperless tickets, which require the person who buys the ticket to show up at the concert and show ID and credit card before they're admitted.

It can be a headache for those who decide not to go or want to transfer their tickets to a friend. And it can force the venue to have more workers on hand to get everyone through the door.

But it helps prevent scalping.

The rock band AC/DC made Tulsa give paperless tickets for the best 1,500 seats at their concert.

Goldman said it worked out, but he doesn't see it as the solution.

Tickets typically end up in fans' hands, but, when demand is high, it's tough to stop scalpers entirely, said Rob Agnew, a spokesman for SMG at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City.

He urges people to use only Ticketmaster, the chosen outlet for tickets at that venue.

Britney Spears was one of the first concerts at the Ford Center and it sold out quickly, Agnew said. Some were frustrated.

"But most people pretty much understood this is a popular building and everybody wants to see concerts," he said.

Agnew said it's important not to overlook the virtues of having a big arena that brings new people into town and gives nearby entertainment to those who already live there.

"The greatest thing is you guys have an arena that's selling out concerts," he said.