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Canadians say ticket bots a ‘huge problem,’ but divided on solution

Lead singer Gord Downie is seen performing on a screen as a man watches during a viewing party for the final stop in Kingston, Ont., of a 10-city national concert tour by The Tragically Hip, in Vancouver, B.C., on Aug. 20, 2016. Fans complained that tickets for the tour were being bought up and resold at inflated prices.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

As Ontario prepares to release revised legislation to combat the Wild-West world of "bot" software-enabled ticket scalping and jacked-up resale prices, three-quarters of Canadians now call the bots a "huge problem" – but are divided as to how to address the troubles that trickle down from their use.

A digital Angus Reid Institute poll of 1,517 Canadian adults released Monday found that eight in 10 supported making ticket bots illegal – with the same proportion saying that tickets should not be considered a commodity, and that that buying them to resell for profit is "unfair." But they were split down the middle, literally 50-50, over whether government or industry should take responsibility for the changing ticket marketplace.

Both are racing to figure out a solution. Major event jurisdictions such as the province of Ontario and the state of New York are wrapping their heads around legislation to combat bulk-bought tickets and sky-high resale pricing. Meanwhile, the ticketing industry's biggest executive, Live Nation Entertainment Inc. chief executive Michael Rapino, told The Globe and Mail last month that government intervention is "unrealistic," and that the sector should bulk up technology investments and reimagine pricing structures instead.

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In the face of this division, the Angus Reid survey suggests a compromise: among the 50 per cent of Canadians who believe the industry should take charge, three-quarters said they'd still support legislation to ban scalping software, or the imposition of a legal limit on resale pricing. Together, perhaps, a solution could be found.

Lately, buying tickets for live events such as concerts, plays and sports games has become as emotional experience as the events themselves. When tickets for the Tragically Hip tour last summer – just months after front man Gord Downie announced his brain cancer diagnosis – rapidly sold out then showed up on resale markets such as StubHub Inc. at inflated prices, ticket resale qualms went from frequent frustration to national public relations crisis for the industry.

The problem prompted Ontario Attorney-General Yasir Naqvi to announce a review of the province's ticketing legislation – the Ticket Speculation Act had been amended in 2015 to allow resales of tickets that were deemed authentic or had a money-back guarantee – and 35,000 Ontarians flooded onto his office's website to offer their suggestions.

The Angus Reid survey found that although half of Canadians only buy tickets for live events once or twice a year, they nevertheless have strong opinions about bettering the marketplace.

Only a quarter of Canadians, too, have used secondary markets such as StubHub or SeatGeek to buy tickets, the survey found. But 60 per cent of those consumers found prices unreasonable.

Three in five respondents were strongly in favour of a legal ban on bulk-buying bots, which could limit the amount of speculation, Angus Reid found. Enforcement of such a ban is highly difficult in the Internet age, however: not only is the nefarious software constantly strengthening, but its owners' origins can be difficult to trace, making prosecution difficult.

More interestingly, 77 per cent said that if scalpers are allowed to operate, they'd support a legal limit on the maximum resale value of a ticket, which could significantly calm the marketplace.

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More than 60 per cent said they'd support venues requiring an ID or proof of purchase tied to the ticket to get into events, or to simply not accept tickets bought through resale. Some venues do already require the purchasing credit card to be shown at the door, but that method would be difficult to enforce at a broader scale, particularly at sports events where season ticket holders regularly resell tickets to friends.

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About the Author

Josh O’Kane is a reporter with The Globe and Mail's Report on Business. Since joining the paper in 2011, he has told stories from New Brunswick to Nairobi. In his spare time, he writes about music and the industry around it. More

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