Many years worth of ticket stubs. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

The other night, I was with a few friends, and the March 22 State Theatre Psychedelic Furs show came up. I had purchased a pair of tickets weeks ago, and a friend decided right then and there to also buy a pair.

She whipped out her phone and, seconds later, said something about the price, which was at least $10 higher than the $35 I had paid. I stopped her and referred her to the State Theatre website, which in turn brought her to the actual seller of tickets for this show: Ticketmaster.

My friend’s near-miss at paying more, albeit not that much more, than she should have from a third-party seller was a sobering reminder that this practice is so rampant, it’s been all but normalized – and one I’m passionate about keeping my fellow music fans from falling victim to.

Third-party sellers have been at it for decades and sadly, what they’re doing is legal. But the only person that benefits is the seller; not the artist, venue or anyone else involved with the actual show. Before I give you my tips about how to avoid overpaying for concert tickets, here’s an even more egregious example.

Tori Amos is playing a show at Merrill Auditorium on May 15, her first in Portland in nearly two decades. Amos fan Neil Skillin of Madison said that, the day tickets went on sale, his friend, Lisa, Googled “Merrill Auditorium Tori Amos,” and the first few options all looked like Merrill links and even included Merrill Auditorium in the domain address. However, prices were showing between $190 and $390.

“We were devastated and thought Tori was gouging the audience,” he said. But then Skillin remembered the pre-sale password that he had received by signing up for the PortTix mailing list.


PortTix handles ticket sales for most Merrill Auditorium shows, including this one. Skillin used the link he had received in the PortTix email (as had I) and saw that the actual ticket prices were $59.50 to $109.

“If I hadn’t asked Lisa about which website she was looking at when she went to purchase, we wouldn’t be going to see Tori in May,” said Skillin. He added that the scalpers are getting really crafty and are utilizing sponsored links in Google search. “Their creative use of page titles when they create the links make them look quite legit. ”

As I write this, there are tickets for this show for sale on two third-party sites for massively higher prices than face value – in one instance, a $678-per-ticket price tag on a pair of second row seats and many others in the three and four hundred dollar range. This is not OK.

Music fan Johnna Major, formerly of Scarborough and now in New York City, said she too nearly got sucked into the vortex of a third-party site.

“When you Google a venue, third-party sellers often come up at the top and their site design makes it look like you’re on the venue site,” she said. Major came close to paying double for tickets recently to a Broadway show.

In 2016, the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act was signed into law by President Obama. Its purpose is to combat the use of ticket bots from scooping up large swaths of tickets. In other words, it made it illegal for people and organizations to use computer programs to buy tickets.


This is all well and good, but has it actually helped? I don’t think so. Giant third-party ticket sellers have the ability to employ countless amounts of staff, and if you have dozens or even hundreds of people all buying tickets for you, then hundreds and even thousands of tickets will end up in the hands of third-party sellers who, in turn, charge the general public way more than face value. One thing the law did require is that third-party seller websites are clearly marked as such. But, frankly, that’s cold comfort.

I reached out to Lauren Wayne, promoter for the State Theatre and Thompson’s Point in Portland, and Bill O’Malley, marketing director at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, about this issue. Both stressed the importance of starting the ticket-buying process from the venue website. This ensures that you can clearly see what the actual face value is and that you’ll be sent, when you click on “buy tickets,” to the actual ticket platform for those venues.

“Do not click on anything else if you are purchasing tickets to any of our shows,” warned Wayne.

She and O’Malley also said that if tickets are purchased from third-party sites and a show is postponed or canceled, your chances of getting a refund are slim. Not only that, Wayne said that some resellers sell duplicate, or essentially counterfeit, tickets, and those will not be honored at the venue.

“Basically, if a ticketing situation feels strange or ‘off,’ trust your instinct because it probably is,” added Wayne.

So what can you do to better your odds at getting tickets at face value? Here’s a list of pro tips from someone who has been buying tickets for a very long time. So long, in fact, that I once slept outside on a sidewalk in Lowell, Massachusetts, to get tickets to see David Bowie. It was worth it, and sometimes I miss those pre-internet days.


1. Always start your ticket buying process from the presenting venue’s website. This ensures you know for certain the price of the tickets and what ticket selling platform is being used.

2. Since many (but not all) venues are partnered with Ticketmaster, be sure you already have an account established with them. This makes the checkout process go smoother and quicker.

3. Be ready a few minutes before tickets go on sale, and I strongly suggest that, if possible, you do this with an actual computer or laptop rather than a phone. You can see things better, can open multiple tabs to be clear on seating charts, and it’s less likely you’ll make an error.

4. Get yourself on the mailing list of every venue you regularly go to. Often they send out emails letting you know about an upcoming show and when tickets go on sale and sometimes, like in the case with Tori Amos and PortTix, they’ll hare a pre-sale code so you have the option of buying tickets before they go on sale to the general public.

5. Get on the mailing list of every band you love. You can usually sign up right on their websites.

6. If you really love the band, join their fan club if they have one. I belong to Brandi Carlile’s. It costs me $40 a year (which goes to her charity organization) and enables me to get in on pre-sales to all her shows.


7. Follow every venue and every act you like on social media platforms. It’s another good way to stay in the know about upcoming shows.

8. Do not wait to buy tickets “later.” Buy them as soon as they go on sale. The longer you wait, the more likely it is the show will sell out. If you can’t end up making a show you can sell them (at face value, of course) to a friend and with Ticketmaster, it’s just a few clicks to transfer tickets.

9. Don’t give up if there’s a lot of “traffic” when tickets first go on sale. Keep trying. And if you get shut out of a pre-sale, try again when the show goes on sale to the general public.

10. If a show is completely sold out and you’re truly desperate to go, consider waiting as long as you possibly can before giving a third-party seller your business. They don’t want to eat tickets, and prices sometimes come down the closer it gets to a show.

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