National Consumers League

The ticket marketplace: A scalper's paradise

This week I braved the ticket buying process for Roland Garros, otherwise known as the French Open. I wasn’t sure what I was in for, but I had heard from those who had attended in the past that you have to buy as soon as the tickets become available, as they sell out immediately. I hadn't realized that tennis was so popular and that so many people would get online to buy those tickets up.

So at 2 am EST, 7 am French time, I logged on to the French Open website and was put in queue for 80 minutes. I sat with a book on my lap reading and whiling away the time in the middle of the night. About an hour later, the purchase page popped up, I put in my info and got my 3 tickets. I was delighted that the French seemed to be effective at preventing scalping and appeared to be doing their best to make tickets available to as many people as possible at a reasonable price.

How foolish I was to believe these modest measures would prevent scalping. Two days after I bought my face value tickets, I saw seats in the same section as ours going for four times what we paid. I can’t help feeling angry about scalping. My son, who helped orchestrate the buying process, thinks I’m hopelessly naïve. He claims that when a hot Nike shoe goes up on a website, it’s gone in 10 minutes, only to quickly show up online for $5,000.

The National Consumers League has been working to prevent bots, illegal ticket buying software, from being used to scoop up in-demand tickets that then get sold at far higher prices. We’ve looked at many creative ways to prevent scalping, but it’s a difficult problem to solve when there’s more demand than supply. We can make it illegal to sell a ticket for more than face value, but then the worry is that the secondary market goes underground. At least with some of the official secondary market services, you have some consumer protections built in to guarantee that you’ll get the ticket you paid for.

My experience this week reinforces my frustration with scalping. Many people are making a lot of money by buying up face value tickets, then charging triple or quadruple the price. I think that’s unfair. What we need are creative solutions that ensure fair access to tickets, as opposed to the exorbitant markups that the scalpers too often charge. Yes, I’m hopeless naïve, but I can’t help but want average people to get a fair shake in the ticket market.