By CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER, Star Tribune • Data analysis by MARYJO WEBSTER and JEFF HARGARTEN, Star Tribune • Photo by JEFF WHEELER, Star TribuneJuly 1, 2016Adele won't kick off her U.S. tour until Tuesday in St. Paul, but a lot of the British singer's Minnesota fans are already heartbroken, even before she sings her first breakup song.
Many have to choose between paying scalpers an average of nearly $300 per ticket or staying home — even after Adele took one of the most aggressive stances yet by an artist to curb ticket resales.
"It turns you off to the whole concert-going experience," said Claire Kirch of Duluth. She fruitlessly spent a half-hour on Ticketmaster trying to get seats to Adele's shows Tuesday and Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center the morning they went on sale.
More than ever this summer, Minnesotans are being shut out of the hottest concerts and ripped off by ticket scalpers. It's part of a nationwide "ticketing epidemic," as a recent New York attorney general report calls it, fueled by the proliferation of online ticket buying and resale sites such as StubHub.
In Minnesota, where ticket scalping was legalized in 2007, the laws and enforcement around it are weaker than in many states, and there is no government oversight on how concert tickets are distributed in venues owned or funded by taxpayers. Sometimes even the companies that stage sold-out shows are selling seats at inflated prices.
A Star Tribune analysis of 10 recent and upcoming concerts in the Twin Cities found that 10 percent to 20 percent of tickets to the most popular shows typically wind up on resale sites, including an inordinate number of the best seats.
Metallica fans are raging over a sold-out Aug. 20 concert at the new U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, the band's only scheduled gig of 2016. It sold out in 10 minutes and is now the No. 1 selling concert in the nation on StubHub, where thousands of seats are priced 3 to 10 times the original $50-$150.
Within hours after Beyoncé's May 23 concert at TCF Bank Stadium went on sale, more than 20 percent of the seats were offered on secondary ticket sites at jacked-up prices, about 8,000 of the 37,000 tickets.
Only about 5 percent of Adele's Xcel Energy Center tickets wound up on StubHub, thanks to a restriction she placed on about 3,000 of the best seats at each show. To gain entry, holders of those tickets must present the credit card used to purchase them. That policy, however, drove up prices for tickets that did make it to StubHub — which averaged $700-$850 (face value: $39-$147) in the hours immediately after the quick sellout, and $500 in recent weeks.
"They really need to find a way to control scalpers," said Gayle Smith, of Inver Grove Heights, who joined the long lines for Adele tickets and still came up short. "All it does is hurt the fans."
Actually, fans are doing a lot of the scalping themselves.
"In this day and age, fans aren't stupid," said Jay Gabbert, a Minneapolis broker with Metro Tickets. "They know they can buy the two Adele seats they want, and then buy two more they can resell at StubHub for enough money to cover the other two."
Professional scalping is clearly still a big part of the problem, though. And in the online age, local street-corner brokers such as Gabbert are now small-time operators.
StubHub contends that it frees up the market and gives fans more control over ticket prices, via supply and demand.
"Face value is really an arbitrary number that someone makes up," spokesman Cameron Papp said. "What we try to do is make sure the fan and the market dictate the price."
Fans, however, often feel like they have no control.
8,580 5,720 2,860 1,971 1,939 96 0 First Hour Next Day One Month $770 $636 $599 $600 $513 $257 0 First Hour Next Day One Month After public on-sale. 8,580 7,574 7,591 7,095 5,720 2,860 0 First Hour Next Day One Month $770 $513 $257 $168 $165 $148 0 First Hour Next Day One Month After public on-sale.
After public on-sale.
After public on-sale.
'No tickets available'
"The short answer is: Insiders are taking most of the good tickets," said former StubHub executive Joe Greiner, who co-founded the corporate concierge-style site InviteManager.
Greiner says many — and sometimes even a majority — of the best tickets to the most popular concerts are nabbed by promoters, sponsors, venues and employees of these and other companies involved in concert production.
"We all know this anecdotally," he said. "When any of us log on, 70 percent of us are told right away, 'No tickets available.' And then the times you do get tickets, you're clearly not getting the VIP seats."
(XCEL Energy Center)
(TCF Bank Stadium)
The professional offenders Greiner cited were also targeted in the New York attorney general's report that rippled through the concert industry in January, leading to a $2.8 million settlement in April with six ticket brokers who broke New York laws.
The report also targeted:
• "Bot" scalpers who use computer programs illegally to hack Ticketmaster's security systems and buy bundles of the best seats.
• "Speculative" ticketing — such as the 900 prime seats for Beyoncé's Minnesota show that StubHub advertised 10 days before the on-sale date.
The report also questioned practices by venues and promoters including Live Nation and AEG Live, Los Angeles-based companies that produce many of Minnesota's biggest concerts. They were accused of withholding prime tickets — anywhere from 16 to 29 percent of the best seats — to sell or distribute as they wished.
"Ticketing, to put it bluntly, is fixed," the report read.
The problems noted in the New York report are also endemic to Minnesota, the Star Tribune's analysis found.
Blocks of 10 to 20 adjoining seats were widely available at inflated prices to recent local shows by Beyoncé, Paul McCartney and Justin Bieber on StubHub and similar sites, even though there was a four- to eight-ticket limit on sales to the general public.
Such widespread bundling is often an indicator of either bot scalping or selling by insiders with special access — more often the latter, said Greiner. There was a whole row of 26 seats for sale on StubHub to the Beyoncé show, a Live Nation promotion. Live Nation representatives declined to comment for this story.
'Platinum' and Metallica
Sometimes inflated prices come via the promoter itself.
For last month's Bieber concert at Target Center, tour producer AEG Live — whose parent company also manages the arena for the city of Minneapolis — held on to an unspecified number of tickets and put them on sale as $350-$550 "platinum" seats long after the rest of the tickets had sold out.
Similarly, Live Nation is selling $315 premium tickets for hip-hop superstar Drake's July 24 concert at Xcel Energy Center — 2½ times the top face value. And for both Drake and Bieber, promoters directed fans to their own batches of higher-priced "resale" tickets — including blocks of seats that exceed the six-ticket limit enforced on the public.
"Brokers get the bad rap, while the promoters kind of wait in the weeds to collect their money without having to deal with the bad rap themselves," said Drew Baydala, director of business operations at Ticket King, a broker company with offices in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
For the Live Nation-promoted Metallica concert at the Vikings' new stadium, many of the 55,000 or so tickets are available on Live Nation's own resale site, TicketsNow, as well as via PrimeSport, an Atlanta-based ticketing company with ties to the Vikings. (It has an exclusive deal to sell tickets to their away games.)
PrimeSport is also selling blocks of 20 or more tickets to country singer Luke Bryan's Aug. 19 show at the stadium.
"It'd be typical for a partner like that to get tickets," said ex-StubHub exec Greiner.
PrimeSport did not respond to requests for comment. Representatives of the Vikings and of U.S. Bank Stadium denied that PrimeSport had special access to tickets, but offered no explanation for how the Atlanta company could have so many seats for sale.
Stadium staff issued a statement that read, in part, "Metallica took preventative measures through Ticketmaster to prohibit multiple orders from the same buyers." A look at the bundles of tickets available on resale sites, though, indicates that the measures did not work.
Target Center representatives did not answer questions about promoter ticket holds or platinum seats, but said they work to fight scalping and urged fans to stay away from resale sites.
Xcel Energy Center's director of sales and marketing, Kelly McGrath, said the St. Paul arena has never allowed in-house scalping and strongly supported the anti-scalping efforts by Adele and by Bruce Springsteen at his concert there in February (he also required the original credit card for entry).
"The big challenge is that scalping tickets is legal in the state of Minnesota," McGrath said. "Once that happened, everybody thought they could get in the [scalping] game. There are no repercussions."
Where the laws stand
Ben Wogslund, spokesman for Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, said state officials are limited in combating the problems cited in the New York report. Ticket-scalping laws are looser here, he said, and enforcement is left to county officials who have other priorities.
"We just don't have the same laws that New York has," said Wogslund. Among the differences: Minnesota doesn't require ticket brokers to be licensed. Nor is there a law dictating how many tickets concert promoters can hold for themselves, or how much they can charge in fees.
Minnesota hasn't outlawed bot purchases, either. After a majority of tickets to a 2007 Miley Cyrus concert at Target Center were sold to scalpers outside Minnesota, the Legislature passed the so-called Hannah Montana Law in 2009, which "only says you can't violate Ticketmaster's rules," according to Wogslund.
"As with all legal matters, people can file a complaint and we'll try to help out," he said, "but we don't have the enforcement mechanism like a lot of these states do."
The promotions company behind the Adele and Springsteen shows, Jam Productions, will test new ticketing technology this fall at some Chicago concerts. Jam co-founder Jerry Mickelson believes the system will be "an effective solution" but concedes, "There are always people who try to circumvent the system for their own illicit gain."
He and other industry professionals say the Legislature needs to act. "The ticket-buying public gets screwed by enacting legislation which allows scalpers to exist," he said.
The last piece of scalping legislation that came to a vote in the Legislature — passed by the House but not the Senate in 2012 — actually would have helped scalpers. Boosted by StubHub lobbyists, the bill would have required tickets sold in the state to be "transferable" (sellable), thus hobbling the credit-card strategy employed by Adele and Springsteen.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, said it was meant to "maintain the rights of the average fan to sell a ticket to a game or a concert they rightfully paid for but can't make." Hoppe still supports that right but said "it's a problem when fans cannot get tickets in the first place."
He called for two industry changes recommended by the New York report: More technological advances to fight scalping, and more transparency about who gets tickets in publicly funded venues.
"It should not be as secretive as it is," Hoppe said.
For their part, StubHub representatives say their site is fan-friendly, especially for the security it provides. All tickets sold on StubHub are electronically verified and guaranteed.
"In the past, if a buyer was trying to go to a sold-out event, they had to go up to the stadium and try to find someone there selling tickets, and you wouldn't know if they were legit or not," said StubHub spokesman Papp.
Based in San Francisco and owned by eBay since 2007, StubHub charges a fee of 15 to 17 percent of the final selling price of a ticket. As critics note: The higher the price, the more the company makes.
Papp pointed out that more than half of the tickets on StubHub are priced below face value: "At the same time you have a very large event like Metallica, you also have the Tuesday Twins game that you can get into for $6."
That's little solace, however, to the Minnesotans who struck out on this summer's hottest concerts.
"I never really had a chance," said Adele fan Kirch.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658