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Ticket Scalping Companies Want a Federal Bailout

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The entire live music industry has been hit hard by the current economic spiral caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Canceling live concerts were some of the first actions taken to help halt the virus’s spread, and it was a domino effect from there, with everyone from venue staff, bartenders, stage hands, sound and lighting techs, touring crew and merchandisers, among others, all losing their jobs practically overnight. And there’s no end in sight, with lockdowns set to be in place all over the world for weeks, even months, and no certain timetable for a return for “normal life” even after that.

Among those hardest hit by the complete cessation of live events are ticket scalping companies like StubHub, Viagogo, SeatGeek and VividSeats. And those companies are now organizing to ask the federal government for bailouts, according to a new report in The Dallas Observer, infuriating those who [rightly] claim scalpers should not qualify for “too big to fail” rescue packages because they do not provide essential services.

Ticket brokers have been especially hard hit by the financial downturn, left with virtual pieces of paper and QR codes for events that will never happen and no upcoming events to offer exchanges for. The Observer says that “ticket holders are inundating them with requests for refunds, but they don’t have enough liquidity to honor them.” First-market ticket sellers like Ticketmaster and professional sports leagues are unable to offers refunds, either, because they aren’t affiliated with StubHub and the like, and they are furiously trying to reschedule those events to avoid losing hundreds of millions of dollars.

Scalpers are taking two approaches to help weather the storm. The first, according to a statement issued by StubHub president Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, is to offer those left holding tickets to canceled events the option to receive a voucher good for 120% of the original purchase price for any event in the future. Considering prices on the secondary market are likely to come out of the pandemic below previous market value due to fears of congregating in public, this might not be such a bad option for consumers left holding the tab.

The second, as this article’s headline states, is to ask the government for a bailout. Gary Alder of the National Association of Ticket Brokers has been talking with several secondary ticketing companies in an effort to organize such an effort. Alder told Billboard recently:

“The number of canceled events due to COVID-19, including some of the biggest that exist, has made it extremely difficult for those in ticketing (and live events in general) to stay afloat. We would like to see ticketing and live events put in the same category as airlines, hotels and cruise lines when it comes to applying relief. Right now, the ticketing industry is essentially at a complete halt with no end in sight. Income for the people working in this sector and providing valuable services to consumers is essential and warranted.”

The latter tactic has naturally infuriated those who take issue with Alder’s assertion that ticket scalping is a “valuable service” akin to what airlines, hotels and automakers offer the populace. One might argue that concerts and sporting events serve a greater public good, but ticket scalpers aren’t providing those things — they’re simply capitalizing off of them.

Proponents of true free market capitalism will be quick to point out that scalpers are simply filling demand, and that customers willingly agree to pay more for tickets if they want to attend an event badly enough. But, while that’s true, if you live by the free market you’ve also got to die by it, and currently the free market is saying that scalpers have got to eat shit. MetalSucks makes money on StubHub affiliate links, and even so, there’s no way I’m going to argue that their service is essential or in any way deserving of a bailout. I do, however, feel terrible for the rank-and-file employees in that sector who have lost their jobs, including the two-thirds of StubHub’s workforce that was recently furloughed.

Read more over at The Dallas Observer and Billboard.

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