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Ticket-Bots Are Pretty Much Evil
I'm only half-joking.
Several years ago, I remember playing a party game with a room-full of people, in which participants had to answer personal questions about themselves. One aimed at me was “Who is your arch-nemesis?”
It was a deliberately silly question, of course. The term “arch-nemesis” doesn’t typically apply to real-life people, but rather fictional characters. And like most actual people, I didn’t think of myself as having a chief enemy out there somewhere.
Sure there were (and still are) certain public figures — actors, politicians, musicians, etc. — who kind of drive me up a wall, but I don’t consider any of them enemies. It’s not, after all, as though I even have to interact with any of these people. They don’t know me and I don’t know them.
But the other day, it suddenly occurred to me that I do, in fact, have an arch-nemesis, one I even find myself pitted in direct competition with on occasion. It’s not an individual, but rather a category of individuals and their creation: ticket-scalpers and ticket-bots.
They’re the worst.
The scalping profession has been around forever, of course, but to tell you the truth, old-school scalpers from the pre and early Internet eras didn’t bother me nearly as much. I think it was because they were individuals — real-life people — who went through the same ticket-purchasing processes as everyone else. They stood in line (and later in front of their computer) and did what the rest of us did to secure entry to an event. Sure, they were more organized and committed, but in most cases, they had no more of a competitive advantage than you or I. If they arrived on the scene early, they were pretty much guaranteed to get good seats… just like the rest of us.
I’m a believer in the “early bird gets the worm” philosophy, aka ‘first-come first-served’ way of doing things. It strikes me, in most cases, as being inherently fair.
Of course, once a scalper resold the tickets at an inflated price, they were breaking the law. I won’t make any excuses for that.
But today, now decades into the digital-age, it’s a whole new world. The millisecond tickets to high-demand acts go on sale, a flood of scalper-bots, moving faster than humans can type (or think), swarm popular ticketing websites and gobble up scores of seats (including the best among them) to later sell for a steep profit for their owners and investors. Every now and then, on some of the biggest acts out there (like Taylor Swift), heavy bot activity actually ends up bringing down ticketing websites, enraging fans and becoming a major news story. Ticketers try to put in safeguards (like digital waiting rooms) to better manage the chaos, but it’s unclear if those measures make life harder for the bots than they do regular people.
Unlike the old days, it’s not an even playing field.
Now, truth be told, I don’t have a ton of run-ins with these digital-menaces, despite being an avid concert-goer. That’s because the vast majority of active bands and singers I’m interested in these days aren’t what you’d call high-demand acts. They’re not selling out arenas (though some used to), and a lot of them aren’t even selling out small venues. That’s no dig on them; talent often doesn’t equate to mainstream popularity, sustained or otherwise. I’m just making the point that scalpers don’t bother with them.
But there’s one band I’m an enormous fan of that is kind of huge — a band that, despite taking a 13-year break between their last two albums, has been selling out arenas for decades. I’m talking about Tool.
If you’ve never heard of Tool, you’re certainly not alone. The metal band’s name drew all kinds of confusion from millions of Taylor Swift fans in 2019 when the release of their long-awaited fifth album knocked Swift, a pop-music juggernaut, out of the number-one spot on the charts. (Front-man Maynard James Keenan had a little fun with it at the time on social media.)
Also, despite their success, Tool isn’t exactly mainstream. In fact, they’ve always been relatively low-key, with the band members (Keenan in particular) leading very private lives. They do little promotion, and they don’t even appear in their own videos and cover-art.
But if you’ve been into the hard-rock scene for a while, you’re definitely aware of the band and their distinctive, masterful, hard-hitting sound. You likely even own some of their albums, because they are, after all, phenomenal. There’s a pretty good chance that the opportunity to see them live even excites you the way it does me (though their concerts aren’t exactly cheap). The band’s longevity and mystique, along with their limited number of tour dates, are all part of the allure. As the old saying goes, if you know, you know.
Unfortunately, the scalpers “know” as well. So, whenever Tool tickets go on sale, the bots are all over them like green on grass. I discovered this first-hand in 2016, when the band announced a show at the Pepsi Center in Denver — a venue that seats over 20,000 people. I was locked and loaded on the Ticketmaster website the moment tickets went on sale, well prepared — I thought — to grab some seats for me and two friends.
I later chronicled the outcome on Twitter:
It sold out… immediately. It was as if the tickets had all been divied up well before the sale had even begun.
Thankfully, after several minutes and lots of browser-refreshing, I began seeing a handful of tickets — a few at a time — display as “available” on the seating chart. They were assuredly timing out of Ticketmaster shopping carts (due to payments not being completed fast enough). Unfortunately, they disappeared as quickly as they appeared, automatically snatched up again and again. I played this game of online whac-a-mole for about 20 minutes before I finally got lucky:
I wasn’t exaggerating how bad the seats were. In an early picture my friends and I took the night of the concert, you can actually see the last row in the arena just a few back from ours.
The show itself was fantastic, but the perch left much to be desired.
Three years later, Tool returned to the Pepsi Center, and I went a second round with the bots. This time… I was dealt an even worse beating. They shut me out entirely:
Again, over 20,000 tickets… gone in mere seconds. And this time, there weren’t any pieces left behind to pick up.
Could I have declared ultimate defeat, and paid a scalper four or five times the retail price to go to the show? Sure, and part of me, I’m sorry to say, was even tempted for a moment to do so. But the spite I felt for those online creeps in the moment kept me from doing it.
What I didn’t realize at the time was just how much of an uproar came out of that day. Like me, thousands of other early-bird Tool fans had been saddled with almost an hour’s wait, and Ticketmaster, the Pepsi Center, and the band heard their anger. Whether it was out of mercy, guilt, or perhaps just the realization of how much demand remained, Tool quickly announced a second show. Tickets for it soon went online, and lo and behold, the bots didn’t show up.
It’s hard to say if Ticketmaster did something to keep them at bay this time, or if scalpers didn’t have enough time to program a second-wave assault, but while things moved fairly quickly that day, everything looked and felt very organic. I was able to secure pretty decent tickets before the show eventually sold out. And like the first time, the concert itself was a blast.
But the bot-battles had been so exhausting and time-consuming, and the tickets so expensive, that when Tool returned early last year, again to Ball Arena, my concert posse and I took a pass.
So, why am I dredging all of this up now, in this week’s ‘Daly Grind’ newsletter? It’s because Tool announced last week that they’re coming to Colorado again. And this time, it seemed like an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Instead of Denver (which is over an hour’s drive away), they would be coming to Loveland (which is only 15 minutes away). This was remarkable, being that the venue is only a third the size of the Pepsi Center (now called Ball Arena), which the band can still easily sell out. Also, the tickets would be sold through a lesser-known ticketing website — one, it would seem, less likely to fall prey to big-picture scalpers and their programming-investment dollars. Lastly, I saw through social-media that Tool was offering a pre-sale code, for one day before the regular sale, to “Tool Army” members (the band’s official fan-club).
So, round three was about to begin.
I paid for a membership, got the code, and was on the ticketing website last Thursday morning when the pre-sale began. And guess what?
Yeah, the bots kicked my butt… again.
By the time I was finally let into the system to order, only a few nosebleed tickets remained. That was, unless I wanted to pay an absolutely obscene amount per floor seat, of which there were just a handful, but even they weren’t all that close to the stage. I begrudgingly snatched up some nosebleeds, and felt discouraged the rest of the day, having realized that scalpers are members of the Tool Army as well.
I had never even heard of a concert selling out during a pre-sale, but that’s basically what happened. At least, that’s what I assumed had happened. I started to wonder if not all of the venue’s tickets had been made available that day, and that some seats showing as “unavailable” might be released, for the first time, on the next day (the advertised on-sale date). When one of my buddies, who I was buying tickets for, reached out with the same theory, we decided I would try again the following day and see if I was able to get better tickets. If it worked, we’d re-sell the first ones at face value.
“Sorry you’re stuck going through this crap again,” my friend joked. He said something like that anyway, a nod to my self-appointed position as the Tool ticket point-man.
Friday morning, I was on war-footing again, having a slight advantage in being familiarized with the various screens from the day before. And when the clock struck 10am, and another stay in the virtual waiting room ended, I discovered… that literally everything was indeed sold out. A completely gray seating chart. So much for our theory.
I kept refreshing the screen, hoping to catch a break, and after a few minutes, like in 2016, a few seats at a time became available before quickly disappearing. I set the ticket filter to “best available,” the quantity to three, and kept refreshing the page. Still no luck. But then, suddenly, I had three second row tickets in my cart. The price was ridiculous, but so was landing second-row Tool tickets! I don’t even know how it happened, being that there were previously no seats available that close to the stage on either day.
Multiple frantic phone calls took place over the next five minutes, as the temporary-hold countdown-clock ticked down. I wanted to make sure everyone I was buying tickets for was on board. And at the end of those five minutes, it became crystal clear that I need to sell a whole bunch of Sean Coleman Thrillers over the next few months to rationalize my purchase. 😄
So, my patient readers, several of whom have probably (and understandably) already bailed on this week’s rant of a newsletter, tell your friends. And if you live in Northern Colorado, and are interested in some upper-row Tool tickets, please let me know.
I guess, in the end, I defeated my arch-nemesis, the bots. But looking at my credit card statement, it still kind of feels like they won. Oh well.
Have terrible ticket-purchasing experience you’d like to share, or perhaps a story of buyer’s remorse? How about an arch-nemesis? Let me know in an email or in the comment section below.
Obligatory Dog Shot
Magnum P.I. is on the case.
*My wife’s purchase from our recent Hawaiian trip.
Due to this week’s newsletter length, I’m skipping the Featured Vinyl section. It will return next week.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!