Roboscalper 

The real reason you couldn't score U2 tickets? Turns out some of the buyers at Ticketmaster.com weren't human.

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How to Buy Scarce Tickets

Seven tips to help you beat the scalpers.

Scoring good seats to the November 8 and 9 U2 shows just scheduled for the Oakland Arena no longer requires long, cold nights camped out in front of some record store or venue. Nowadays, the sleepover tactic can prove downright stupid. Real fans plan ahead. And they use technology to their advantage. A few tips:

1. Register with the fan club. Some big bands want true fans to get first crack at tickets, and will offer presales to registered members of their fan clubs. At a cost of around $20, registered U2 fans got a special password granting access to a secret corner of Ticketmaster.com almost a week prior to the general sale. The catch: fans weren't the only ones passionate enough to plunk down a few extra bucks for access. Scalpers bought multiple fan club memberships under different names and used the access to troll for pay dirt. The system jammed, and real fans fumed.

2. Plan your attack. Scalpers make money off the laziness of concertgoers, so know the ins and outs of the three main ticket-dispersal systems: online, phone, and in person. Bookmark the Ticketmaster.com page and familiarize yourself with its structure. You can even enter payment information ahead of time so the site can process your order in a speedy, seat-saving click. Put the hotline on speed dial. Know where tickets are going on sale, and at what time. Lastly, know your payment options. The buyer's name, shipping address, and billing address often have to match, or you'll be nose-bleeding it with the other rubes who paid double.

3. Take multiple routes. Even simple water molecules take the easiest route downhill, so why are you trying to muscle out a dozen jarheads in front of Tower Records in Emeryville? Get online at work with six of your buddies. Get those same six buddies on the phone to Ticketmaster. Recruit siblings and spouses to help with the total assault on the phone lines, modems, and ticket centers. Communicate via cell phone, and you have a dozen stabs compared to one. Swarm attacks put you in the 98th percentile of effective ticket buyers.

4. Get e-savvy. When the Web floodgates open at 10:00 a.m. on a ticket sale day, hundreds of thousands of fans and scalpers bum-rush the virtual door. The gatekeeper is a character recognition test designed to keep out automated ticket-buying programs. Problem is, everyone gets stuck in the bottleneck. Hit "refresh" in your browser when the word-test page lags. Enter the new word and hit "enter." When the page freezes again, repeat until you get through.

5. Travel to obscure locations. It's the fanboy's dream: The entire world is clamoring for Radiohead tickets, and you're in the basement of some suburban Nordstrom at the most underexposed ticket center in the Western Hemisphere. No lines, no hassle. There aren't that many secret spots anymore, but the experienced advise simply heading inland. Walnut Creek, Concord, Davis -- the farther you are from urban civilization, the fewer people have heard of the Walkmen or Amon Tobin, and the shorter the lines.

6. Seek out competent clerks. So you made it to your remote location, or you were the first in line at Tower Records in San Francisco. You'll still need a Ticketmaster MacGyver to negotiate your transaction amid hundreds of thousands of orders clogging the system. A lot of ticket centers have one guru who knows more than anyone else about scoring seats. Do your homework and make sure he or she is there, or be prepared for the loudspeaker announcement of, "Ummmm, can I get some help at the ticket desk?"

7. Ignore the lemmings. It sounds crazy, but maybe you should try to seek out less-hyped music. For every scalper-frenzied, sold-out superband concert with optional DVD, there are approximately a million unexpected, intimate encounters between fans and their creators. Get indie cred and help feed starving locals. Seek out bands asking $5 at the door. Even if you hate the music, the cost is still a thirtieth of the price of a $150 U2 seat. And you can use the rest to buy rounds for the poor and hungry that Bono is always crooning about.

Happy hunting. -- D2

Scalping the Scalpers

The ticket industry takes steps to quash illicit resellers -- and take a cut itself.

Artists, venues, and ticket services would love to do business in a scalper-free world. It would mean more money, less fraud, and less bad publicity. So over the last few years, they've beefed up bot detection, toughened ticket-buyer identification, and laid even bigger plans to drain the scalper swamp of its estimated $15-$30 billion in annual revenue.

But to truly end scalping, ticket agencies may basically end up becoming scalpers themselves.

Primary ticket sellers like Ticketmaster have moved into eBay-style auctions and scalper-style ticket resale to scoop up profits that would otherwise go to scalpers. Ticket sellers also are personalizing tickets as the airlines do, making them nontransferable and hence unscalpable.

Ticketmaster began reselling -- effectively scalping -- tickets on its own TicketExchange Web site in 2002 and began auctioning tickets in 2003. Since then, Ticketmaster has conducted two hundred eBay-style auctions in less than two years, and more roll out every month. Ticketmaster prefers to call its auctions "dynamic pricing," which responds to the changing value of the ticket as supplies become scarce and showtime approaches.

"Currently a top artist is paid for an arena full of seats that were sold at face value, even though some of those seats were resold at many times their face value," observes ticket broker Zennie Abraham of Oakland's Sports Business Simulations. "Why doesn't the artist just buy the whole ticket inventory from Ticketmaster and auction off the tickets on eBay? Then again, why doesn't Ticketmaster auction the tickets without selling them to the artists?"

That's precisely the plan. Instead of a scalper getting a ticket with a $50 face value and reselling it for $300, Ticketmaster auctions the ticket for what it can get, splitting the rewards with all the important parties.

Elsewhere, Ticketmaster's TeamExchange lets season ticket holders of certain teams resell their tickets on a Web page maintained by Ticketmaster, sidestepping the occasional uncertainty of shopping on eBay or Craigslist. This clean, well-lighted place to scalp charges another service fee of $25. Twenty teams including the Warriors now use TeamExchange.

But the real rumbling in ticketland comes from moves toward airline-style prevention of resale -- a move to slay the ticket resale industry and permanently restrict fan freedom. "We do so little in terms of security to know who goes into a venue of 18,000," says Ticketmaster VP David Goldberg. "Ultimately, we're going to have a duty to be able to provide it." Tickets would be bought with names printed on them, and fans would flash identification to enter venues with those tickets.

"What we'll see is the elimination of paper tickets," Abraham speculates. "They'll be replaced with some sort of electronic process that will be much more difficult to counterfeit. Street scalpers will carry wireless devices capable of transferring ticket ownership."

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