Ticket resale: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Transcript

John Oliver explains why concert tickets are so expensive, who’s making money off of them, and which One Direction is his favorite.
Ticket resale: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 9 Episode 4
Aired on March 13, 2022

Main segment: Ticket resale
Other segments: Don’t Say Gay bill in Florida

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[Click, static] [chord hums] [rock music] ♪ ♪

[cheers and applause]

John: Welcome, welcome, welcome to “Last Week Tonight!” I’m John Oliver. Thank you so much for joining us. It’s been a busy week, with the world’s attention still focused on Ukraine, the place you now think about so much, you know exactly where it is. News from Ukraine has been grim, with Russian forces reportedly firing at evacuees trying to flee, and airstrikes hitting a maternity hospital. And things may be poised to get even worse, as Russia’s now falsely claiming biological weapons are being developed in Ukraine, which, as Ukraine’s president points out, often means one thing.

Interpreter: Allegedly, we are preparing a chemical attack. This makes me really worried. Because we’ve been repeatedly convinced if you want to know Russia’s plans, look at what Russia accuses others of.

John: Yeah, if you want to know Russia’s plans, look at what it’s accusing others of. That’s good advice, along with “when people tell you who they are, believe them,” and “if a man looks like a porn parody of a bond villain, maybe assume everything he says is horseshit.” We’re taping this on Saturday, and the situation’s moving so fast, who knows what’ll have happened by the time you see this? So we’re going to turn our focus tonight to the U.S., where it’s been a bleak few weeks for the LGBTQ community. In addition to Greg Abbott’s recent order in Texas, targeting the parents of transgender kids, hostile bills were introduced across 33 states last year, and that number’s continuing to grow. This week, the focus fell on Florida, where Ron Desantis — the twin Kyle Chandler should have eaten in the womb — has been pushing a “parental rights in education’ bill,” popularly known as “don’t say gay,” a framing he takes exception to.

What critics call the “don’t say gay bill” is on the senate floor today.

Does it say that in the bill? Does it say that in the bill? I’m asking you to tell me what’s in the bill because you are pushing false narratives. It doesn’t matter what critics say.

Hold on, it says it bans classroom instruction on sexual identity and gender orientation.

For who?

For grades pre-k through 3. And we’re going to make sure that parents are able to send their kid to kindergarten without having some of this stuff injected into their school curriculum.

John: Wow. I’m going to say it. That may be the angriest anyone’s ever been at a strawberry festival. But since he’s claiming “false narratives” there, let’s talk about what this bill would actually do. Its supporters claim it only bans instruction, not discussion of sexual identity and gender orientation. But that still leaves teachers wondering where to draw the line, and how they’re supposed to handle questions about same-sex parents or drawing a family tree or even basic facts about their own lives, as this kindergarten teacher explains.

Cory says teachers at his school are encouraged to display their families, as he does of his partner, Jeremiah.

Am I going to be allowed to tell them this is my partner? Well, what if they ask me? What does that mean? Am I going to be allowed to have that discussion with them?

John: Right! That’s gonna be an issue. Because kids ask questions all the fucking time. Like, “where do babies come from” and “what happens when we die” and “why can’t anyone else see the old lady in the window?” They just won’t stop. There’s nobody there. Also, it’s not just k through 3. The bill also limits any instruction on these issues for grades four and above to what’s “age- or developmentally appropriate,” without defining what that actually means. And the worry is that teachers will feel they have to steer clear of those topics altogether, especially as the bill allows parents the right to sue if they think their children have received inappropriate lessons. And while you’ll hear idiots saying this bill is to prevent kindergarteners getting taught about sex, with Ron Desantis’s campaign arguing it’ll stop r-rated lessons about sexuality, the wording is much broader than that. And when one state senator did try to narrow it and amend the bill to pertain only to discussion about human sexuality or sexual activity, Dennis Baxley, the bill’s sponsor, rejected that, saying it would significantly gut the legislation. So it’s clear what he thinks the guts of this legislation are. It’s not about sex at all, it’s about denying the existence of gay people. And what’s particularly galling is the support Baxley and some of the republican legislators who voted for this bill have had from corporate America. At&t our soon to be ex-business daddy, has donated to them. But one of the biggest donors is Disney. In the last two years, it’s given nearly $300,000 to DeSantis and the legislators that voted for this bill. Now, are they morally bankrupt for doing that? Who’s to say? I’ll tell you. I am. I am to say. After all, I’m Zazu. Oh, not that one, not the fun one. Yeah, that’s me! The fussy little dead-eyed bird who ruins everybody’s day. This guy. Disney employees were understandably outraged when this came to light, and Bob Chapek, Disney’s CEO and business thumb, then made things worse, putting out a statement defending Disney’s silence on the bill and listing a bunch of Disney projects like these saying all of our diverse stories are our corporate statements, and they are more powerful than any tweet or lobbying effort. And that’s obviously nonsense, although I will say, Encanto is actually an apt reference, given what’s happening in Florida. Because its catchiest song is about everyone refuses to talk about one member of their family, which sounds like a lesson plan designed by Ron DeSantis specifically for that kindergarten teacher from earlier. And here’s the thing: generally, movies can affect how people view the world. But is this really a path you want to go down, Disney? Because you’re the same company that’s coded basically every villain in your movies as gay, stereotyped minorities to a breathtaking degree, and had something called a “wench auction” in place at Disneyland until 2018. So I don’t know that you’ve had a 100% net positive effect. So Chapek’s statement didn’t go over well. Two days later, on a shareholder call, he took another swing, expressing opposition to the bill, and saying this.

When we donate money to different political candidates, we have no idea how they’re going to vote going forward into the future.

John: That is such bullshit, it’s actively insulting. Because that’s not how donating works. When you donate money, you generally know what the recipient is going to do with it. That’s why people give to feeding America and not feeding America or maybe take food away from America and put it in a big hole, who really knows? And Disney should absolutely have had a good idea how Dennis Baxley would vote when they gave him money, given he’s not been shy about sharing his views on a host of topics. He once suggested abortion is causing Europeans to be replaced by immigrants and is paving the way for the end of western civilization, and as recently as 2020, he joined others in filing bills to repeal protections for LGBTQ workers and legalize gay conversion therapy. And he also once said this.

I know some districts where there’s a big infestation of homosexuals that are pushing their agenda under the screen and they try and get more people hired that are like them, and set up gay adoptions, and all this stuff, so it’s a continual fight for the values that we hold dear.

John: Okay, so there’s a lot to unpack there, from the decor which screams “Christmas in hospice” to the disgusting use of the word “infestation” to the fact he’s talking about stopping gay adoption in front of a Ronald Reagan quote that says “man is not free unless government is limited.” An irony completely lost on Dennis. Chapek then took a third swing at an apology on Friday, saying Disney was pausing all its political giving in Florida, pending a review, and promising, “I am an ally you can count on,” for which the jury is very much out. But when this bill passes — as seems inevitable — the harm will have been done. That kindergarten teacher who’s wearing a fucking mickey mouse t-shirt in that photo with his partner will have been betrayed by a company whose work he loves. And for all Chapek’s self-congratulation about how Disney movies like black panther can instigate change, that change clearly has its limits, given that just this week, news broke that the movie’s director, Ryan Coogler, had been handcuffed by police while trying to withdraw money from his own bank account. Marginalized creators have made billions of dollars for Disney. Now, should it embarrass them that it took them until this week to realize they shouldn’t take that money and actively undermine those creators’ interests? Who’s to say? I’ll tell you. I am. I’m Zazu, remember. And while I haven’t been invited back for the prequel yet, after tonight, I’ve got a pretty good feeling about it. And now this.

* * *

And now Jim Cramer presents grounds for divorce.

Let’s start with Wendy’s. I like Wendy’s. Not just because my wife can put away a double Baconator quicker than anyone. They have highlighted my wife eating a juicy Baconator all over her car. My wife is crazy about it. She doesn’t care. My wife had a Baconator. Holy cow. That’s tough to work off. My wife had a Baconator during vacation which is obviously a bulk up situation. My wife championed that Baconator pretty got to go to planet fitness right after. My wife is a Wendy’s person. She likes the Baconator. She loves the Baconator.

I know your wife likes that Baconator on a regular basis.

She loves the Baconator. I did it to stop my wife yesterday from getting a Baconator. I said enough is enough! Including in the mid single digits and that was because my wife liked the Baconator. She likes the double cheese Baconator. Once again, happy birthday to Lisa.

* * *

John: Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns live entertainment. It’s one of the things people missed most during the pandemic, and everyone was very excited to see it start to come back.

It’s been more than a year without them, but now Hampton colosseum is bringing back concerts.

I’m pumped. I’m ready to go. I’m vaccinated. I’m ready to go. I’ve been locked up for a year and ten months and now I’m gonna let loose and destroy this place.

John: You know what? Let him have it. Everyone missed their comforts during the pandemic. For instance, I can guarantee the sentence “I’ve been locked up for a year and ten months and now I’m here to destroy this place” was also said several times at the re-opening of an Ann Taylor loft. Everyone’s been a bit edgy. Live entertainment undeniably offers unique experiences from Taylor Swift unveiling her squad, to a hologram Tupac performing at Coachella, to this unsurpassed moment from a Justin Bieber concert. [Cheers and applause] good. Good. I’m glad that happened. And while it’s amazing to watch that together now, just imagine being there to see it live in person. But if you’ve bought or even tried to buy tickets recently, you know those experiences come at a cost.

I just spent the last hour and 15 minutes trying to get pink tickets. If you don’t want to be behind the stage, you’re looking at $500 per ticket. Who can afford that?

For the amount that I’m paying to see any random band that’s going on tour, they better be fucking serenading me.

Why are bad bunny tickets so damn expensive? Y’all making me want to sell my husband’s feet on OnlyFans!

John: Wow. That is a striking sentiment. Actually hold on. Hold on. For sale? Husband feet. OnlyFans. We did it! We created a sadder story in “five” words. Suck it, Hemingway! Suck it! If you think tickets have been getting ridiculously expensive, they have. The average price for a popular concert has more than tripled since the mid-’90s, vastly outpacing inflation. And that’s before they hit the resale market. And with huge artists starting to put tickets on sale for summer shows, that irritation is only likely to increase. So tonight, we thought we’d try and explain exactly why bad bunny tickets are so expensive, who’s making money off them, and what you might be able to do about it that doesn’t involve selling your husband’s feet. And let’s start with the company that you’re immediately thinking of: Ticketmaster. They’re the biggest player in the ticket market, by far, and claim they strive to put fans first, and that “the people we care most about are the fans.” And yet, as anyone who’s ever bought a ticket from them knows, that’s generally not the feeling you get when dealing with them, as this youtuber explains.

If there was anything that I had as a wish, for any big artist or band that comes through, whether it’s k-pop, whether it’s a western artist, I don’t give a shit if you’re a magician — any big ticket person that ever comes through, and does a concert — never use Ticketmaster. Use literally anyone else. They are terrible.

John: Okay, first. Excellent shade thrown at magicians. Noted and appreciated. Ticketmaster is one of the most hated. We’ve got a few weeks till the merger goes through. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride till then. And also after. And look, it’s no secret Ticketmaster is horrible. But exactly how it’s horrible is genuinely interesting. And let’s start with one of the things that infuriates people most about them: the fees. They can come as a nasty surprise at the very end of a transaction and can range from the annoying to the completely batshit. We found a ticket to a 2019 Kidz Bop concert with fees that amounted to 75% of face value. For one ticket to a Tyler the creator show next week, the fees add an extra 78%. Tickets at a monster truck rally $16.41. More than the cost of the ticket itself! Although I will say, in the case of that Kidz Bop tour, it might’ve been worth it, because they could’ve played this.

♪ I just took a DNA test turns out I’m 100% that kid even when I’m crying crazy ♪ yeah, I got some problems, that’s the human in me ♪ ♪ bling bling, then I solve ’em, that’s the goddess in me ♪ ♪ you coulda had a good friend, noncommittal help you with your ♪ career just a little ♪

John: Stop it! Stop it right now! And forever. I have so many issues with what you just saw, the least of which is what they did to the lyrics. Because if you’re saying “took a DNA test turns out I’m 100% that kid,” you’re either a, settling a paternity dispute on “maury,” or b, returning to your hometown after having been kidnapped thirty years ago. “I swear! I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100% that kid!” It’s easy and fun to shit on Ticketmaster and their fees, as they point out they are not solely responsible for them. Saying they share in a portion of the fees we collect which is true. Ticketmaster enters into contracts that set and share fees with the venues where concerts are held, the promoters who book, market, and organize the shows, and sometimes even the artists themselves. You could say Ticketmaster’s business model is to stand in as the bad guy and let all those other players hide behind them. Or you could not say it, and just let Ticketmaster’s former CEO basically admit it directly to congress.

When people hear what Ticketmaster’s service charge is, you know, Ticketmaster was set up as a system where they took the heat for everybody. In that service charge are the credit card fees, the rebates to the buildings, rebates sometimes to artists, sometimes rebates to promoters. So Ticketmaster has been the — we are like the irs. We deliver bad news.

John: Yeah, it’s true. Ticketmaster’s very like the IRS in that its an opaque bureaucracy, takes more out of your paycheck than you think it should, and is represented by men so catastrophically uncharismatic they look like they’re putting themselves to sleep. Although it’s worth knowing that while Ticketmaster does share fees with other parties, some of those other parties may also be Ticketmaster. Because just one year after that hearing, they completed a gigantic merger with LiveNation, which owns or operates many of the country’s top music venues, and call themselves, the largest producer of live music concerts in the world, and since then, they’ve had something of a chokehold on live entertainment. In fact, the DOJ recently alleged the company had repeatedly strong-armed venues into using Ticketmaster and retaliated against or threatened venues that did not use its services. And while LiveNation denies that, there’s no denying just how much power it has. Even before the merger, pearl jam, at the height of their fame, tried to do a tour without Ticketmaster or their affiliated venues, but their manager admitted at the time they were going to have to play at weird places like a ski resort in Lake Tahoe and a fairground in San Diego. And if pearl jam in the nineties doesn’t have the power to walk away from Ticketmaster, no one does. So when you wonder, understandably, “why can’t my favorite artist or, indeed, magician just use another ticketing company?” The truth is, if they want to perform at a venue that has an exclusive contract with Ticketmaster, they can’t actually do that. But fees aren’t the only complaint people have with the ticketbuying process. Another is tickets disappearing before you have a chance to buy them. Concerts for major artists can sell out so fast, sometimes, they even make the news.

You know you’re hot when you can sell out Madison Square Garden — 20,000 seats, 30 seconds. That’s what Justin Bieber did!

We’re talking about two shows at the garden, which seats around 20,000 people, selling out in less time than it takes me to apply my lip gloss. That’s crazy.

John: Yeah, that is crazy. Not just Bieber selling out 20,000 seats in 30 seconds, but also that she puts lip gloss on for over 30 seconds. That’s just way too much time. I’ll show you how you do it. Put a timer on the screen right now. Check this shit out. Stop the clock. Look at that! Not even close to 30 seconds, I didn’t break a sweat, and I look fucking great. But here’s the thing. Selling 20,000 seats in 30 seconds would be crazy if that’s what Bieber did. But he didn’t. Because a report from the New York A.G. later revealed, fewer than 2,000 tickets were actually put on sale that day. And that’s by no means a one-off. For many top shows, less than 25% of tickets are initially released to the general public. And in an audit of the Blaisdell Center in Honolulu, they found that when Janet Jackson played there in 2015, only 8 percent of all tickets went to the general public, and when Mariah Carey played there the next year, it was just 7 percent. That was presumably for her famed Mariah “good fucking luck getting in to see this” tour. And if you’re wondering where on earth the rest of the tickets go, well, they’re deliberately held back to be sold in other ways. And often a big chunk goes to credit-card companies, as you might know from ads like this.

When Lauren broke up with me she said…

Chuck, you’re a little boring. Boring. Boring.

♪ This girl is on fire ♪

Use any Citi card to get the benefits of private pass. More concerts, more events, more experiences.

John: Oh, yeah, Lauren? Would a boring guy use our break-up as an excuse to sign up for a credit card so that I could quietly stand backstage during an Alicia Keys concert, an on-paper sensible decision? I submit that a boring guy would not do that, Lauren, and I await your confirmation. You fucked up, Lauren. And it’s not just tickets being siloed away for credit-card offers. They can also wind up being put on sale by the promoter or a radio station or through an artist’s fan club. Which sounds fine! But a lot of average fans can’t afford special credit cards or don’t have time to jump through hoops in a fan club. But one group very much has the time and the resources and that’s professional ticket brokers. These are the individuals or companies that buy up tons of tickets before you can get them, sometimes with the help of bots that snap them up incredibly quickly, because — as you probably assumed — all those stupid “are you a robot?” Tests have very much not kept them all out. Because every time ticket sites come up with a new technology, bots find a way around it. And once brokers have those tickets, they’ll flip them on the secondary market at a huge markup. And at this point, we should probably talk about the secondary market. Sites like SeatGeek, StubHub and — surprise, surprise — Ticketmaster again. These sites badly want you to think of them as fan-to-fan marketplaces. Ticketmaster even describes its resale marketplace like this.

Our objective is if that secondary market exists, we want to create a safe environment and platform for you to be able to exchange those tickets.

You’ve bought tickets to go see someone you love. At the eleventh hour, your babysitter can’t make it. You should have the right to recoup your costs on that ticket.

John: Right. The last thing you want is resentment toward your baby to start festering because of a missed concert. Every time you look at their chubby cheeks, you’ll just think, “if you weren’t born, I’d have seen the red hot chili peppers live and I’d be happier.” You’re the worst. But the truth is, resale sites are not just “fan to fan,” at all. In fact, a government report found that “professional brokers represent either the majority or the overwhelming majority of ticket sales” on these sites. And they make a lot of money doing it. The New York A.G.’s office found brokers mark up the price of tickets by an estimated 49% on average, but sometimes by more than 1,000% and in one case, by 7,000%. That was for a one direction concert. And let me just say I don’t regret it. It was worth it. My favorite one direction is Niall. I don’t even know who the other ones are. And I get mad when they sing over the top of him. And ticket-selling sites go out of their way to cater to their broker clients, because they bring them in a lot of money. For instance, while they limit the number of tickets any one account can buy to an event, there’s an obvious way for brokers to get around that, and that’s simply to have more than one account. This is a practice Ticketmaster has long been aware of. There’s a ticket-broker conference in Vegas each year. Just watch what happened when reporters went undercover there, and talked to someone at Ticketmaster’s booth.

Ticketmaster was busy surrounded by scalpers some of

I want to know the straight goods on whether Ticketmaster is going to be policing us using our multiple accounts.

Uh, no. I have a gentleman who’s got over 200 accounts.

How many brokers are using multiple accounts?

I’d say pretty damn near every one of them.

John: Yeah. Of course they are! Because you’re not stopping them. I will say I’m in awe of anyone who can remember usernames and passwords for over 200 accounts. I use one password for all my accounts, and it’s “Niall Horan is the best one direction, exclamation mark.” Don’t tell anyone. Now, I have to tell you Ticketmaster insists it spends millions on technology to weed out bad behavior, and that that employee’s comments weren’t reflective of its policies. But even taking them at their word, which I’m not inclined to do, their whole system is designed to be opaque. Especially when it comes to brokers selling tickets, because the other resale sites actively choose to provide anonymity to them. So when you buy a ticket on the secondary market, there’s no way to know the identity of who you’re buying from, whether it’s a fan whose babysitter just canceled or a broker who might have 500 other tickets on sale for that same event. Which, when you think about it, is a bit weird. On most sites where people resell things, you can see who you’re buying from. Take eBay. If you saw this listing, for a mickey mouse shaped potato available for $50, you could look at the seller, see their username, know that they have a 100% favorable rating, and feel confident in your purchase. And I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “john, you bought that potato, didn’t you? And it’s under your desk, isn’t it?” No. It’s not under my desk. It’s over here! Behold! Of course we bought it. As you can see, it definitely kind of looks a bit like Mickey Mouse! The point is, brokers, with their identities concealed, can snap up large numbers of tickets and resell them at a massive markup. Meanwhile, the secondary-market sites are themselves making money by charging a percentage on those ludicrous ticket prices. We found a ticket for Adele selling on SeatGeek for $1,690, plus $538 in fees. And look, here’s where we need to deal with an uncomfortable fact. Which is the question of what that ticket is actually worth. Because an economist will tell you it’s worth whatever people will pay. So if someone’s willing to spend over $2,000, including fees, for an Adele ticket, that’s what it’s worth, as gross as that sounds. But if Adele doesn’t want to charge that, there’s going to be a gap between the face value of the ticket and what someone can get for it, and a whole industry is scrambling to exploit it. And unfortunately, live events are uniquely vulnerable to this, because they’re inherently rare. Bad bunny, for instance, is probably only coming to your town once a year at most, and a lot more people want to see him than there are seats. And while bad bunny could charge the going rate for every ticket, he probably doesn’t want to do that because he’d look like an asshole. Which he very much isn’t. He’s not a bad bunny at all. Despite the name. If he’s anything, he’s a very good bunny. And as long as artists — with all good intentions — price their tickets below the market, exploitation is going to happen, and that woman’s husband is going to have to show feet. Although it’s worth noting some artists have tried to sneakily get the scalper price for their tickets without anyone really noticing. Remember how Justin Bieber was supposedly selling out venues in seconds, while tons of tickets were held back? At another stop on that tour, reporters looked into some of the tickets on resale sites and found something surprising.

Section 205, row g, 14 tickets listed for $246 each and get this. Ticketing documents show that entire g row went to Bieber’s own tour.

I think there is no question when one looks at the document that Bieber is scalping his own tickets.

John: Yeah. It’s true. A group of tickets held for Bieber’s tour ended up released not to the box office, but straight to the secondary market. And on one hand, I get the impulse of, “if someone’s going to make $246 off that ticket, shouldn’t it be the person doing the performing?” But it still doesn’t feel great, does it? And it’s also not going to stop me from showing you that clip of him falling down a hole again. Excellent. It gets better every time you see it. Bieber’s not unique in doing this. A few years back, it emerged that live nation had helped Metallica place tickets directly onto the resale market, admitting about a dozen other artists had asked them to do this in recent years. And before you worry. No. I’m not one of the artists putting tickets to this show straight onto the resale market. We do it the right way, distributing tickets at random, to anyone walking past the studio at the time. Half these idiots think I’m the warmup act for Drew Barrymore. She’ll be out any minute, folks. She’ll be out any minute. She’s so glad you’re here. So, when you take all this together, the reason tickets are so hard to get when they’re on sale is that they’re often not on sale. And the reason they cost so much on the secondary market is that you’re paying exorbitant fees to the platform and might be buying from a broker or in rare cases, even from the artist themselves. And this whole ecosystem enriches a lot of people who don’t contribute anything to the actual show you are paying to see. And at the center of all this is Ticketmaster, because it turbocharged many of the shitty practices that have now become industry standard. So what can we do? Well, congress could inject transparency into this process, by passing laws that require sites to disclose their fees up front, along with the identity of the seller on resale sites. But the truth is much of the power is actually in the hands of artists here. Because the biggest ones could do things to tamp down the secondary market, like making their tickets non-transferable, meaning resale is restricted. Bands like pearl jam have experimented with this, and before their 2020 tour was postponed, they even worked with Ticketmaster to create an online marketplace where fans could sell tickets they didn’t need, but with no additional fees and not for a profit. That seems like the model everyone should be using. But if regulators don’t act, and artists don’t have the clout or the inclination to require companies to put those guardrails in place, I’m afraid you as a fan are going to remain vulnerable to the worst parts of this system. One driven by one of the most widely loathed companies on the planet that became even bigger, due to a merger that probably shouldn’t have been allowed. And I know all this may feel a little unsatisfying. But if it’s any consolation, I personally promise to continue to offer the only accurately priced entertainment on the market. You know what I’m talking about. One in which tickets for this show remain available for free and you can come watch a decaying man shout numbers, apply lip gloss shoddily, and shamelessly earn back your good will by showing you a potato that, you have to admit, does look a bit like a famous mouse.

That is our show. Thank you so much for watching. We’re off next week. We’ll be back after that. Good night!


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