- Panel examined online bots that corner market for resellers
- Senator who can’t get into show says, ‘This is not capitalism’
Florida Senator Bill Nelson wanted to see "Hamilton" on Broadway, but he wasn’t about to pay $800 for a ticket.
"This is not capitalism, this is not the free market, this is a rigged market benefiting some greedy speculators," Nelson, a Democrat, told a Senate panel Tuesday.
Congress is taking aim at resellers who use automated software tools to scoop up tickets for Broadway shows, sporting events and concerts. The House on Monday passed a bill, H.R. 5104, that would make it illegal for people to use these "bots" to bypass rules aimed at prohibiting bulk purchases.
Jeffrey Seller, the producer of "Hamilton," the Broadway smash about the first U.S. Treasury secretary, as well as representatives for the ticketing and gaming industries, appeared before a Senate Commerce subcommittee to push for the measure.
"My reason for being here today -- I would even go so far as to call it my mission -- is to insure that young people, and people of all ages, including Senator Nelson, for that matter, have the same opportunity to see live performances of whatever interests them -- musicals, plays and concerts," Seller said.
Ticket vendors such as Ticketmaster, owned by Live Nation Entertainment, Inc., and Stubhub, owned by Ebay Inc., try to limit the number of tickets sold to individuals, but the bots have allowed outside vendors to circumvent those restrictions. The bill passed by the House, which was sponsored by Republican Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, would also make it illegal to sell bot software or sell tickets knowingly bought through the use of bots.
"Ticketing, to put it bluntly, is a fixed game," the New York attorney general’s office said in a report issued earlier this year. On a single day in 2014, two bots bought more than 15,000 tickets to U2’s 20-concert tour in North America. Between 2013 and 2015, a dozen brokers raked in more than $3 million worth of tickets, according to the office.
"They’re like stockbrokers," Seller said of bot operators. "I’m not saying that in a pejorative way," but in the sense that ticket scalpers buy and sell to make money. The attorney general’s study of six such brokers said they mark up tickets 49 percent on average.
Seller said he has worked with Ticketmaster to refund $5 million worth of "Hamilton" tickets purchased by bots. Ticket vendors have also had to spend millions for security measures in an attempt to stop the effectiveness of bot software.
Senators on both sides of the aisle expressed support for the legislation. Some also brought up questions of transparency in how tickets are allocated more generally, given that less than half, about 46 percent, of all tickets are reserved for the public, the attorney general’s office found, with the rest for insiders and pre-sale events.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, called the legislation "a good step, if only a modest step, to stop ticket scalping in this country," and cited one of his favorite "Hamilton" numbers, "The Room Where It Happens," as all that fans wanted.
"They want to be in the room where it happens," he said.