Saturday, July 13, 2024

Wilmington: ‘Little evidence’ of Greenfield Lake scalping, LiveNation will have ‘advanced control’ over issue

The city report cites a recent survey of Greenfield Lake concert-goers, although none of the survey questions ask about ticket reselling. Meanwhile, when it comes to the city's newest and largest venue, the city report points to the troublesome track record of TicketsNow and Ticketmaster, which are both owned by LiveNation

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—Last month, the city began looking into the issue of ticket “scalping” and reselling at the Hugh Morton Amphitheater, known popularly as the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. This week staff made a report to City Council, although it appears to rely mainly on a third party’s customer satisfaction survey that did not focus on the issue of ticket reselling.

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

The memorandum report was initiated in April after residents contacted City Council members about “sold out concerts and inflated ticket prices offered through third-party ticket brokers.”

The report for City Council was compiled by Recreation Supervisor David Pugh and Deputy City Attorney Meredith Everhart, addressing “the prevalence of secondary market ticket brokers buying special event tickets in mass by circumventing ticket purchasing restrictions using computerized programming algorithms with the intention to sell those same tickets to consumers at marked up prices.”

Determining the seriousness of the issue

While the report acknowledges the marked-up resale of event tickets is a nationwide issue, it claims there is “little evidence today that there is appreciable ticket resale activity impact at HMA (Hugh Morton Amphitheater) in comparison to other North Carolina venues.”

The report claims “staff administered an HMA customer survey and received over 1,600 respondents’ feedback. Staff reports only one comment received was about ticket brokers.”

However, the survey appears to have been administered not by city staff, but by a concert promoter who had access to the email addresses of frequent concert-goers.

Further, the survey, which was circulated in mid-March, prior to the complaints made by City Council, never mentions ticket reselling at any point. (You can see the survey and read the results here).

Survey-takers were asked to rate the overall experience, quality of performers, concessions, security, parking, as well as to rank the importance of improving parking, seating, food and beverage choices and lighting.

Two open-ended questions asked survey-takers to list additional improvements or provide additional information. About half of the 1,600 survey-takers included open-ended responses. Numerous survey responses mention ticket prices, online fees, and season passes, although only one response explicitly mentioned third-party resellers.

In other words, although city staff’s conclusion that there is “little evidence” of ticket scalping or reselling was presented to City Council as in-house research, it was actually based on a third-party survey that had very little to do with the issue.

Addressing the issue

Nevertheless, the report addresses possible options to address third-party reselling. At present, the report notes that the city does not have anything in the facility policies addressing the issue of reselling.

However, it notes several efforts currently being made by promoters as Hugh Morton Amphitheater; the report claims that the promoters working with the city at Hugh Morton Amphitheater “have been very proactive.”

Some of the measures used include:

  • Limiting the number of tickets per individual
  • Blocking resellers who have been identified
  • “Scrubbing” sales reports to see how many tickets came through resellers

Potential future measures

The report also addresses potential future measures for addressing third-party ticket resale. One possible option is taking advantage of a provision in state law.

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 same law does allow concert promoters the right to prohibit resell by filing out a form with the North Carolina Secretary of State.

According to the city, the advantage of the Secretary of State form is that it in theory allows the venue to identify resellers. However, this is outweighed by the disadvantages: violators may be difficult to identify or prosecute; the Secretary of State requires notification for each individual concert.

Lastly, city staff apparently found the Secretary of State paperwork onerously complicated.

“Facility staff and the Deputy City Attorney agree that it is difficult to interpret what the form is asking for and in practice it would be problematic to try and manage from a City level,” the report concludes.

This is the form required by the Secretary of State; it allows a venue operator or promoter to forbid the resale of tickets. (Port City Daily photo | North Carolina Secretary of State)
This is the form required by the Secretary of State; it allows a venue operator or promoter to forbid the resale of tickets. (Port City Daily photo/North Carolina Secretary of State)

The report also cites several other possible measures:

  • Encouraging promoters to use the most up to date ticket providers – authorized ticket sites that have their own in-house tools to block reselling
  • Electronic tickets, although the report notes these have led to long lines at the venue
  • Creating more public awareness of the issue
  • Adding the following provision to the facility use agreement: “the promoter agrees, to the fullest extent possible, to discourage, limit, and/or prevent ticket resale practices.”

LiveNation Venue

According to responses to the March survey, the popularity of the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater–as many respondents refer to it–is its relatively small size, frequently called “intimate.”

The relatively small capacity of the amphitheater–just over 1,000–may be part of the reason it does not, as the city report points out, deal with the level of third-party resale suffered by larger venues in other cities. In a previous interview, promoter Beau Gunn–who books concerts at Hugh Morton Amphitheater in association with 98.3 The Penguin FM–suggested the venue wasn’t large enough “to be worth the time of some of the larger resellers.”

(Author’s note: Beau Gunn is the Wilmington Market Manager for Local Voice Media, the parent company of Port City Daily.)

However, the LiveNation venue planned for the North Waterfront Park in downtown Wilmington is expected to have many times the capacity, as much as 7,000 people. This would seemingly make the LiveNation venue a higher-profile target for third-party resellers.

Community Services Director Amy Beatty suggested that LiveNation would be able to handle the issue.

“Since Live Nation is a global entertainment company that owns its ticketing software, I would expect them to have advanced controls over ticket reselling,” Beatty said.

It is worth noting that a 2009 article from the Federal Communication Law Journal, cited in the city’s report, discusses at length the ways in which Ticketmaster-now part of LiveNation-both fought to deregulate the resale market and, at the same time, worked to corner that market. (You can read the complete article at the bottom of this page.)

Ticketmaster purchased TicketsNow, the second largest ticket reseller after StubHub, in 2008. Several anti-trust groups decried the potential for malicious business practices resulting from the merger of a face-value ticket sale company and a resale company.

In one incident, Ticketmaster was accused of directing people directly to TicketsNow, where they were offered tickets for a sold-out Bruce Springsteen show–at much higher prices.

The Attorney General of New Jersey, Anne Milgram, became involved, followed by investigations by both the United States Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.

In 2010, LiveNation merged with Ticketmaster and acquired TicketsNow–effectively combining event promotion, ticket sales and online reselling. TicketsNow continues to offer resale tickets for events at Hugh Morton Amphitheater.

WHO NEEDS TICKETS? Examining Problems in the Growing Online Ticket Resale Industry by Ben Schachtman on Scribd

City staff report on ‘Ticket Reselling at Hugh Morton Amphitheater’ by Ben Schachtman on Scribd

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

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