Ad Fraud the Musical: Hamilton vs Ticketmaster Bots

By Melissa Duko, January 24, 2017

Ticketmaster’s terrible reputation is nothing new. All you need to do is Google “Ticketmaster” and you’ll see one-star ratings and angry reviews galore.

Ordering glitches and exorbitant processing fees, they’re just a few of the numerous complaints against the online ticketing platform. And while it’s never been unusual to rack up a hefty credit bill purchasing tickets via Ticketmaster, in recent years, costs have skyrocketed to outrageous levels.

For years, most people sucked it up and paid the extra cost. But then Ticketmaster crossed the line when they let bots come for a little musical called Hamilton.

Here’s how the epic showdown between famed musical Hamilton versus fraudulent bots went down. Plus, what you need to know about the anti-bot bill, and where do we go from here.

Hamilton Spurs an Anti-Bot Revolution

Tickets to your favorite shows and concerts have never been cheap. But in 2016, popular musical Hamilton experienced a whole other level of ticket gouging. When it was announced that Lin-Manuel Miranda was leaving the musical, ticket prices for his last show hit unprecedented highs.

We’re talking two tickets for Orchestra Side, Row B were $15,174 on Ticketmaster. And that’s if you could even get them. Prior to the end of Miranda’s run, tickets weren’t economical either. Seats that should have been $189 were selling anywhere from $600 to $2,000 per ticket!

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Source: Heavy Editorial

So, how were tickets selling out so fast and for such crazy prices? One word: bots. Malicious, non-human bots were snatching up tickets for scalpers, who would resell them for outrageous prices.

Related Post: Online Fraud and the Sneaky Places It Hides

Furious, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda teamed up with Senator Chuck Schumer to push for legislation that would fine bot users $16,000 per ticket purchased. That movement paved the way for the BOTS Act of 2016 (more on that in a sec).

Lin-Manuel’s Rage Reveals Ticketmaster’s Bot Problem

How many times have you tried to purchase a ticket to a show only to see it sold out within mere seconds? Too many. The worst part: those tickets were probably bought by bots.

In 2016, Ticketmaster’s bot problem was nothing new. Back in 2013, they estimated bots sometimes purchase more than 60% of tickets for a show.

Related Post: 5 Ways Bots Can Cripple and Destroy Your Website

According to former Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard, resellers and brokers had developed

networks of bots that purchase tickets faster than a person can click. Typically bots would purchase the best seats first, and then resellers would purchase and inflate the price. Some bots were so sophisticated, they would slip past CAPTCHA by using bot farms to type in the code.  

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Source: GIPHY

The tipping point came in July 2016, when The New York Times reported that scalpers raked in more than $15.5 million from Hamilton’s final 100 shows. It was time for the federal government to get involved.

Congress Passes BOTS Act of 2016

Taking responsibility for their role in the problem, Ticketmaster worked closely with legislators to develop legislation to mitigate the bot problem. In December 2016, S.3183 Better Online Ticket Sales Act a.k.a. BOTS Act passed.

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Source: GIPHY

Here’s a cliff notes breakdown of what the bill does.

  • Prohibits a website or online service of a ticket issuers to use technological means to circumvent ticket purchasing rules.
  • Violations shall be treated as unfair or deceptive acts under the Federal Trade Commission Act.
  • Makes it not illegal to create or use software or systems to investigate, defend against violations, or identify and analyze flaws and vulnerabilities of security measures to help develop security solutions.

Related Post: Copyright Infringement: Are You Allowed to Use That Image?

Basically, scalpers who use bots to purchase mass quantities of tickets and later resell them at inflated market prices would be violating federal law.

What Happens Next

Ticketmaster thinks passing the BOTS Act is the first step in fighting against bad bots. By enforcing hefty fines, scalpers will be deterred. And The White House agrees. With bots at bay, ticket purchasing will be easier now.

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Source: GIPHY

But while it may be easier to snatch up those coveted Hamilton tickets, don’t expect them to be significantly cheaper. Despite the Act passing, looks like Ticketmaster hasn’t deflated prices that much. Orchestra seats are going for $915 a pop. Hmm.

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Source: Ticketmaster

It looks like it’s going to take some time before we see a significant change. But if it means we’ll be able to see all of our shows for an affordable price, we think that’s something worth waiting for.  

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Melissa Duko

Melissa Duko

Melissa Duko is the Senior Editor and Digital Specialist for eZanga.com and a graduate of both the University of Delaware and Towson University. She isn’t afraid to admit that her love for Starbucks is at gold member status. (Since 2011!) And her penchant for retaining pop culture trivia means she knows what "rickrolling" is and isn’t afraid to use it. More Articles by Melissa Duko