The war over the reselling of concert tickets had a major skirmish Thursday night at a Black Keys show in Los Angeles — and, if anything, all parties walked away a little bloodied, PR-wise.
Hundreds of ticket-holding fans were turned away from the Black Keys’ first headlining show in five years, some after waiting in line for hours, when their electronic tickets were rejected by the scanners at the inside-lobby entrance to the Wiltern Theatre. At the band’s behest, Ticketmaster had turned on a system that is able to differentiate tickets on the original purchaser’s mobile device from those that have been transferred from one phone to another, via a third-party reseller or for any other reason.
Local TV news helicopters captured the sight of dozens or hundreds of frustrated would-be attendees milling on the streets outside, wondering if they had any recourse in getting a refund. Fans at the scene took to Twitter to express anger and share photos of the large number of people still standing outside in disbelief.
Statements from the band and Ticketmaster insisted that admission had always been billed as “non-transferable” from the get-go, as part of a design to thwart scalpers and keep the bargain-basement $25 tickets limited to true fans for this comparatively intimate preview of their imminent arena tour.
But many of those turned away insisted that “non-transferable” never came up in any announcements about the show they were able to find. With most of the pages dedicated to announcing or selling tickets already gone from online cache by Saturday, it was difficult to immediately independently verify who was correct about what had or hadn’t explicitly been laid out prior to the concert.
“It’s a giant mess, but to me a huge problem was the lack of transparency,” tweeted one producer for a major entertainment company who was among those rejected at the door. “At no point in the process, when I went to the fan club site, saw tix were sold out, went to Ticketmaster, sold out, found tix on StubHub — at no point did anyone say anything about nontransferable.”
Official statements from the band and ticketing agency begged to differ.
Said Ticketmaster in a statement: “The presenters of the concert directed that these tickets be made available only to fans and that they be nontransferable. This was messaged from the beginning with the announcement of the performance and throughout the sales process. Unfortunately, bad actors took advantage of this situation and posted screen shots of tickets that were not valid for entry onto the secondary market. We always recommend purchasing tickets from the official source.”
“Last night’s concert tickets were $25 and geared toward the fan club,” the Black Keys said in their own statement released to the press. “This was our first show in over four years and the kickoff of the Let’s Rock Tour. Because we were playing a venue far smaller than the rest of the venues on the tour as a warmup show, we turned off ticket transferability to ensure that our fans got in the door at the low ticket prices we set for them.”
Nontransferable e-tickets on Ticketmaster are marked with a rotating barcode. One fan on Twitter claimed the telltale rotating barcode was only turned on 45 minutes before showtime.
Naturally, StubHub was inundated with phone calls from the sidewalks outside the Wiltern, with many frustrated fans tweeting the amount of time they’d been waiting on hold to see if the money they’d spent on resale tickets (in many cases, 10 times or more the face value) would be refunded. Ultimately, the resale site came through with refunds and a significant bonus to boot, trying to come out on top in the skirmish for fan sympathy.
Said StubHub, “Unexpectedly, Live Nation and Ticketmaster issued tickets for The Black Keys concert through rotating barcodes, which limit how fans can use tickets. This resulted in fans who purchased legitimate tickets on StubHub being turned away at the entrance. Fans should not be punished for giving away or reselling their tickets. We strongly disagree with Live Nation and Ticketmaster’s approach and the negative impact it has on fans. As part of our FanProtect Guarantee, StubHub is proactively offering full refunds, and given the exceptional situation, we’re also extending a $100 credit to affected fans.”
The Los Angeles Times, which had an account from the scene as the lead story on its website Saturday, began its story with the tale of a woman from Boyle Heights who’d spent $700 on three tickets for herself and her two young children and waited in line for two hours, only to be told after finally passing through security that the tickets weren’t valid, sending her back onto the sidewalk with a crying 9-year-old.
News reports of weeping children is not the kind of PR any music act wants, even in pursuit of a noble stand. Yet many observers stood with the Black Keys. On social media Saturday, reactions seemed split, with some pronouncing the group villains for turning away hundreds of fans who had little or no warning their tickets wouldn’t be honored, and others lauding the Black Keys as heroes for finally taking a real stand against so-called scalpers.
Sample tweets: “Personally I am sick and tired of getting ripped off for concert tickets when this scalper market could easily be completely shut down. Good on the Black Keys. I hope MORE bands do this.” “I see the Black Keys admitted full responsibility for turning away all their fans. Great job by them alienating fans for no reason!” “So the Black Keys took measures with Ticketmaster to ensure no scalping, and the people who support scalpers by buying $25 tickets being sold for $700 are complaining?” “You punish the sellers breaking the rules, not the people who had no idea they were being scammed.”
In a curious discrepancy, the L.A. Times’ story cited production sources saying the venue ultimately had “97% of the 1,850-seat venue full,” despite also reporting from the scene that “hundreds” holding resold tickets were being turned away… raising the question of who was filling all those seats that would have been theoretically empty.
The situation recalls a similar controversy in early 2017 when country superstar Eric Church was said to have “canceled” 25,000 tickets for his tour that were identified as having gone through resellers, and to have actually put the seats in question back on sale.
While many artists may be champing at the bit to follow the Black Keys’ lead in putting the kabosh on third-party resellers, Thursday’s scene provides a teachable moment, if nothing else, in the value of explicitly getting the word out before StubHub customers are already inside the front door … and before the helicopters show up.