Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Wilmington looking into ‘scalping’ issues at Greenfield Lake, other city venues

The city owned Hugh Morton Amphitheater, commonly known as Greenfield Lake Amphitheater, is the target of online resellers - much to the frustration of Wilmington residents. (Port City Daily photo | BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)
The city-owned Hugh Morton Amphitheater, commonly known as Greenfield Lake Amphitheater, is the target of online resellers – much to the frustration of Wilmington residents. (Port City Daily photo | BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)

WILMINGTON – The city of Wilmington is looking into the issue of ticket “scalping” at the Hugh Morton Amphitheater – commonly referred to as Greenfield Lake Amphitheater – after residents complained about the issue to City Council.

Scalping is an issue for concert promoters statewide – and nationwide – but perhaps of particular interest to Wilmington officials is scalping at city-owned venues, including Hugh Morton Amphitheater, Legion Stadium, and the new LiveNation venue planned for the North Riverfront Park. Part of the frustration is that much of the reselling that goes on in North Carolina is legal, and not technically “scalping.”

According to Amy Beatty, community services director of Wilmington, the city doesn’t have any additional leverage or different resources compared to a private venue.

Beatty said city staff are “reaching out to other performance venues in the state to research what, if any, measures other operators take to guard against scalping.”

She added that the city doesn’t believe scalping occurs more frequently or dramatically at Hugh Morton than at other venues.

The scalping problem(s)

Eric Reeves was one of several residents who wrote to city council. Reeves wasn’t concerned with individuals reselling tickets for sold-out shows – the stereotypical “scalper” hawking expensive tickets by the door the night of a show.

Reeves was talking about large companies, reselling tickets at high prices.

“The Greenfield Lake Amphitheater is a great asset to our area and provides a lot of enjoyment for the city residents as well as tourists; however it is nearly impossible to get a ticket without getting gouged in the process. Every event sells out immediately and then you can go straight to ticketoffices.com and see hundreds of tickets for sale for 3 to 4 times face value,” Reeves wrote.

The ticket portal for Soja tickets through the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater (GFLA) page. Note: the GFLA page has since been redesigned. (Port City Daily photo | COURTESY ERIC REEVES)
The ticket portal for Soja tickets through the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater (GFLA) page. Note: the GFLA page has since been redesigned. (Port City Daily photo | COURTESY ERIC REEVES)

Reeves included recent screenshots of the ticket price for the artist Soja, showing ticket prices of $35 to $40 dollars; he also included shows from another ticket site with prices of $115 or higher.

The Ticketoffices.com website, showing inflated resale prices for Soja tickets. (Port City Daily photo | COURTESY ERIC REEVES)
The Ticketoffices.com website, showing inflated resale prices for Soja tickets. (Port City Daily photo | COURTESY ERIC REEVES)

Reeves asked council, “I thought this was called scalping and was illegal in North Carolina? How is this allowed to happen?”

Part of what Reeves – and others – are complaining has to do with North Carolina state law; part of it has to do with the industry itself.

North Carolina’s scalping laws

In North Carolina, it is illegal for someone to buy a ticket and resell it for more than $3 above the original value.

However, changes to state law in 2008 and 2010 make it legal for individuals or companies to buy tickets and resell them for considerably more than they originally cost. The law requires resellers to pay a three percent tax on the profit from the ticket – i.e. the difference between face value and resale value. This practice is only legal over the internet.

The law does allow concert promoters the right to prohibit resell – but the process is difficult. Promoters must file paperwork with the North Carolina Secretary of State, and pay $125 fee, for each individual event they want to embargo against reselling.

The prohibition is also logistically unwieldy, requiring the promoter to post the prohibition prominently on its website for 30 days, effectively preventing promoters from blocking resellers for any short-notice show.

Legal, but frustrating: Industry issues

According to Beatty, the city has spoken with promoters who operate at Hugh Morton.

“According to the promoters who operate at the amphitheater, they do try to prevent online scalping but they say that it is very difficult to stay on top of because as soon as an online scalper is identified and blocked, they quickly create new accounts,” Beatty said.

Beau Gunn, who promotes concerts at Hugh Morton in partnership with 98.3 FM The Penguin, said a major part of the problem is the way reseller websites show up in a Google search. (Editor’s note: Beau Gunn is the market manager for Local Voice Media Wilmington, parent company of Port City Daily)

“People go online and they search for Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre, and there are three other sites that come up first before ours,” Gunn said.

Gunn’s website sells tickets through Ticketfly, but a search for “Greenfield Lake Ampitheatre” brings up four sites above that. Google no longer numbers results, and unless users notice the small green “ad” logo, they might not know these were sponsored.

Gunn, who holds the copyright to the name Greenfield Lake Ampitheatre, said he has tried to get Google to restrict these ads from using the name, but so far the companies have not stopped.

Unsuspecting buyers go to these sites – sometimes without realizing regular tickets are still on sale – and pay inflated prices.

“It’s legal, I guess, but frustrating for everyone,” Gunn said.

Another issue is websites buying up blocks of tickets for the purpose of creating higher demand, forcing shows to sell out and holding the tickets. Gunn said sites like Ticketfly using scrubbing technology that looks for multiple purchases with the same card info or from out of town areas. At the Soja concert, Gunn said, scrubbers flagged eight users and about 30 tickets. While not the biggest part of the problem, Gunn said it was an ongoing battle.

When it comes to reselling tickets to sold-out events, some buyers might willingly pay the higher prices for a chance to go. Others, like Reeves, remain frustrated, writing to Wilmington City Council, “It is just not right. Real people who want to enjoy the concert should be the ones purchasing the tickets at face value, not unscrupulous brokers looking to gouge us.  How can this practice be stopped?”


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.

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