When Joe Akmakjian logged onto Ticketmaster to try to get his hands on some floor-level Taylor Swift tickets, he knew it was going to be difficult.
“I think everybody knew this was going to be a fight to get tickets, and everyone knew that it was going to be the ticket to get this year,” he said.
Akmakjian thought he had done everything right. He signed up to be a Ticketmaster verified fan and was selected to participate in the ticket-buying process.
Ticket release day came, and Akmakjian logged onto the Ticketmaster website early to join the online queue. He waited — and kept waiting — for his turn to buy a ticket.
“That first day of the presale, I waited almost nine hours,” Akmakjian said. “Once I got through the waiting room to the queue, something crashed, and it basically kicked me back out and then said you're going to have to wait again.”
When he finally got in, there were no tickets left. For Akmakjian, a big Taylor Swift fan, it was devastating to be turned away.
“You wait that long, and there's not even one ticket available in the stadium,” he said.
The next day, he tried again through the Capitol One portal, which was exclusive to Capitol One customers. After waiting again for hours, Akmakjian was finally able to get three of the last four tickets available.
He believes the only reason he was able to get the tickets is because he uses a wheelchair and the tickets were ADA accessible.
Akmakjian is just one of the many Taylor Swift fans with horror stories of trying to get a ticket to the concert and facing either steep price changes or online ordering issues.
“Something has to be done in terms of how the market is able to be manipulated by these ticket sellers. You know, it's not fair that bots are able to access these tickets, and then immediately put them on a secondary market, and in that secondary market charge, (charge) tons more for that same ticket,” Akmakjian said.
The digital debacle was so bad, Akmakjian and other fans are now part of a lawsuit against Ticketmaster while Congress holds its own hearings on the issues.
Meanwhile, Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill of their own to add more guardrails around these ticket sales.
Senate Bill 23-060 expands the definition of deceptive trade practice for online ticket resales and requires pricing (including fees) to be established out front instead of when a consumer is checking out.
The deceptive trade practices covered under the bill would target those who advertise ticket resales but who don’t have the tickets in their possession, those who use bots to purchase the tickets, websites that are designed to mimic a seller’s website and those who sell tickets without permission of the rights holder.
“The basic premise is you can't sell the ticket you don't own. I don't know why people should be able to sell that,” said Sen. Robert Rodriguez, D-Denver.
The bill also gives the venues the right to pursue legal action against those who resell tickets to their shows or who pretend to sell tickets.
While technology has offered convenience when it comes to ticket purchases — gone are the days of having to wait in line to purchase a paper ticket — it has also created more headaches and hurdles.
“It's kind of the Wild West with the way it is now. So, I’m just trying to put some commonsense protections and goals in there that can protect people that want to go to a concert that get misled,” Rodriguez said.
The bill has the support of Live Nation Entertainment, which owns Ticketmaster, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the City of Denver and several major venues around the state, including the owners of the Ball Arena and Red Rocks Amphitheater.
The bill would affect more than concerts. It would impact everything from movie tickets to sporting events to the National Western Stock Show.
“The fact that that brokers will use machines to dial into internet sites at the day we go on sale for our finals rodeo and scoop up hundreds of tickets, and then hold the public hostage for those rodeo tickets, I'm not okay with it,” said Paul Andrews, the president and CEO of the National Western Stock Show.
Andrews testified in favor of the bill Thursday, saying the current system is unfair to consumers and can make the venue look bad.
Over the years, he has noticed that the problem has gotten increasingly worse, particularly for the final weekend of the stock show when tickets are in high demand.
“I've had countless numbers of families that came in from one of 48 states that were at the stock show this year. And all of a sudden, mom and dad are standing in your box office lobby, and the two kids are crying, and their rodeo tickets are not good for the date because they're counterfeit,” Andrews said.
Even families who've flown in from across the country show up at the box office with counterfeit tickets. The National Western Stock Show does the best it can to help in those situations, but oftentimes, there are simply no options and the consumers are turned away from the event.
“It breaks my heart, and we've got to do something about it,” Andrews said.
However, a number of other groups say while this bill appears to benefit the consumer, groups like Ticketmaster will actually profit the most.
John Breyault is the vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud at the National Consumers League and says this bill will give Ticketmaster dominance over the secondary ticket market.
“One of the dirty little secrets about bots is that Ticketmaster itself is a major player in the secondary market,” Breyault said. “If this bill were to become law, Ticketmaster would be able to usurp the authority of the Colorado attorney general and instead, themselves decide what is and isn't a deceptive trade practice in the state of Colorado when it comes to the resale of tickets.”
There are parts of the bill Breyault supports, like the fee transparency, but he firmly believes this bill will result in higher ticket prices for those buying and selling online.
He also points out that ticket bots are illegal under federal law already, so one of the real problems is enforcement.
Breyault has concerns about scalping or selling counterfeit ticket, and says there are things the state can do to address that. He just doesn’t think this is the way.
“Colorado is really sort of a test case for the rest of the country. It's an effort by Live Nation to turn the page on months of bad headlines,” he said.
He would also like to see Live Nation broken up because he believes it’s too big of a company, meaning there is no way for competition in a free market.
Groups like the Sports Fans Coalition, Inc., StubHub and Vivid Seats oppose the bill.
“The legislation prioritizes artists, teams, venues, and primary ticket companies over consumers by allowing these ticket sellers to regulate the marketplace that includes competitors and fans. Consumers should not be the loser in this legislative attempt to justify the current anti-competitive and anti-consumer behaviors,” a StubHub spokesperson said in a statement.
Rodriguez knows there is a lot of opposition to the bill and says he is working on amendments to make it more agreeable for everyone. He also knows it won’t fix all the issues but hopes it will help consumers.
“This bill won't solve all those issues, but I think it's a step in the right direction,” Rodriguez said.
The bill passed its first committee test Thursday with bipartisan support. It will continue through the legislative process.