Whatever Happened to A Guy in A Van? Techno Ticket Scalping

As I’ve often said before, and will surely say again before my time on this tainted blue-green orb is through, the internet is the worst thing that ever happened to human culture. I’ll grant you, it’s also by far the best thing that has ever happened. But, after careful consideration, it has become apparent to me that the bad massively outweighs the good.

Case in point? High tech ticket scalpers. Back in the good old days, if you wanted tickets to a sold out rock show, you’d go to the venue and stroll around the parking lot looking for someone with tickets to scalp. In person. For cash. More often than not, that someone would be a dude with a patched-up jean jacket and a van. Was it sometimes more than a little sketchy? Did a guy your friend’s brother’s friend knows once buy fake tickets and not get to see the Cure after all? Yes to both, but that’s still better than the current method.

Stupid Robots

Modern ticket scalpers are a bunch of softies. They’ve no need to camp out overnight at the box office when they can simply write a bot to “stand in line” for them for online ticket sales, then write another bot that checks, rechecks, and modifies prices to scalp those digitally begotten tickets for maximum profit on sites like StubHub. Technology is making it too for scalpers to buy tickets, too easy for them to scalp them, and too easy for actual concert-goers to buy scalped tickets, price gouging be darned. It’s the rare technological trifecta.

Take Hamilton, for example. As the most popular play in recent Broadway history, tickets sold out fast—every seat, every show, every time. When the time came recently for creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda’s final performance in the title role, ticket prices on the “secondary market” went through the roof.

No, that's Hamilton, Ontario, dangit. No one wants tickets to Hamilton, Ontario.

Wait, that’s Hamilton, Ontario. No one wants tickets to Hamilton, Ontario.

While the average face value of a ticket to the show was $189 at the time, the worst seats in the house, in the mezzanines, were going for more than ten times that amount through “ticket reseller” sites. More than a third of the tickets for any given performance of Hamilton are sold through StubHub and the like.

What used to be a relatively easy way to make twenty or thirty bucks has now become a big business. With the right show and the right audience, tech savvy scalpers can quickly turn a few hundred dollars into several thousand or more, with naught but the push of a button (maybe two). Thanks to technology, another once-proud tradition has been commodified and bastardized. Thanks to technology, the guy in the van is gone, replaced by an even sketchier, more anonymous opportunist, hidden behind ones and zeroes.

Photo credit: KIDD99 via Foter.com / CC BY-ND

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