State officials are investigating whether the rules around how tickets are sold should be tightened.
Tickets go on sale Saturday for legendary rock band U2's summer concert at the new TCF Bank stadium on the University of Minnesota campus, but questions over how many tickets have already been set aside for pre-sale is fueling controversy in the wake of Taylor Swift's recent Minnesota show, which left many fans shut out.
It's been two years since Minnesota repealed the decades-old anti-scalping law. That move made it legal for brokers to buy and resell tickets for whatever the market will bear. Lawmakers who pushed for the repeal said legalizing scalping would level the playing field for buyers and sellers.
Instead, said avid music fan Robb Clarksen, the opposite is true. It's a common complaint. He said it seems like repealing the law actually made it harder to find tickets.
"Five minutes into the sale going on they are sold out already," he said.
Clarksen echoes another common complaint, that legalizing scalping made it easier for brokers to buy hundreds or thousands of tickets at the push of a button from anywhere in the world, and resell them at a huge profit. If you're lucky enough to find a ticket, it'll cost way more than face value.
"We changed the laws for scalpers to allow scalping, so now you can charge as much as you want. The face value is fifty bucks, you can charge $200," he said.
“We changed the laws for scalpers to allow scalping, so now you can charge as much as you want.”Robb Clarksen
But Brian Obert, who co-owns Ticket King in Minneapolis, said fans shouldn't blame scalpers if they can't get a ticket.
"We are not the bad guys," Obert said.
Obert relocated to the Twin Cities from Wisconsin immediately after the Minnesota scalping law was repealed. Ticket King is the only independent brick and mortar secondary ticket seller in town, but Obert wouldn't say how much Ticket King profits from reselling tickets. He said brokers don't have special access to tickets, they buy them like anyone else.
He points the finger at big artists and promoters who set aside huge numbers of tickets for pre-sale even before they are made available to brokers and the general public.
"When you are dealing with a really small pond and there are thousands and thousands of fishing lines getting thrown into the water at same time, but there is only handful of fish, a lot of people are going to get shut out," he said, "and their first reaction is to point the finger at us."
Obert said scalpers actually help fans by providing them with more places to get tickets.
About 10,000 U2 tickets were set aside for pre-sale to students. University of Minnesota officials say the concert producer Live Nation, offered another 20,000 tickets to stadium season ticket holders. That's more than half the tickets taken right off the top for a concert with a maximum capacity of 58,000.
Live Nation is the largest producer of live concerts in the world. The company did not respond to requests for comment on how ticket sales were negotiated for U2, but similar deals where tickets are held back are increasingly common. Critics say hold backs make fewer tickets available and drive up prices on the secondary market.
A similar hold back has drawn anger from Taylor Swift fans. Thousands of Swift tickets in different cities were offered exclusively to members of her fan club, and thousands more were held back for American Express customers. That left just a small number of tickets for general sale, which were snapped up in a matter of seconds.
After receiving complaints from constituents who couldn't get Swift tickets despite trying to purchase them seconds after they went on sale in Minnesota, DFL- state Rep. Joe Atkins is investigating. He suspects that scalpers broke the law by using illegal software called bots to scoop up tickets.
"We have somebody from Ticketmaster in a higher capacity coming to see us," Atkins said. "Apparently, there was some of the bots software that was used to purchase large blocks of tickets."
A spokesperson from Ticketmaster would only say that the company works diligently to prevent any tickets being purchased from their system using bots or any unfair advantage.
Atkins said the software was in wide use before Minnesota repealed the scalping law. He said until Taylor Swift came to town, he saw no evidence scalpers were using software to cut the line.
Atkins said if the allegations are true and scalpers used illegal means to buy tickets, he'll push to strengthen the law.
The issue is also being addressed by Congress.
Congress is considering legislation that would force primary ticket sellers, like Ticketmaster, to disclose the exact number of tickets being made available. The law would also force secondary brokers to disclose the face value of tickets.
But even if the bill was passed, the issue likely won't end there. Congress is also looking at whether a proposed merger between Live Nation and ticket giant Ticketmaster would violate anti-trust laws.