By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - An exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation has discovered why it's so tough for concert fans to get good seats at a good price.
That investigation uncovered dramatic proof that, when you go online to buy tickets, you're competing against a massive network of ticket scalpers from all across the country.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained unprecedented access to a recent concert for rising country star Eric Church, who recently completely sold out 14,000 seats at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena.
What we discovered even surprised one advocate who's trying to make sure that scalping remains legal.
As fans flocked to that sold-out show, street scalpers were out in full force, offering $32 seats at a steep markup.
"I got there early and got them, so you know I ought to be able to make a little something if you want to go to the show," one scalper told us.
But these days, the real ticket scalping doesn't happen on the street corner.
It happens on the Internet, thanks to faceless scalpers using resale websites like StubHub and TicketNetwork.
"The face value for these tickets is $40. I paid $150 for them on StubHub," one concert-goer told us.
"Because I really wanted to come so bad."
But NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained a database of every single ticket sold for the Eric Church concert, and we discovered that the odds may have indeed been stacked against the real fans who ended up there -- much to the frustration of Eric Church and his manager.
"Real fans are getting beat to the punch when tickets go on sale," said manager Fielding Logan. "They are there trying to buy tickets at the price we set and they are getting beat out."
Instead, our investigation discovered tickets to the Nashville concert were snagged by buyers from 41 states: 248 tickets went to New York, 353 to Massachusetts, 495 to California.
Altogether, almost 75 percent of tickets for seats on the floor appeared to have gone to professional scalpers.
"I'm shocked -- honestly. I'm blown away," said Jon Potter, head of the Fan Freedom Project.
That's a group funded by StubHub to fight laws that would make such scalping illegal.
"Much of the floor is taken up by scalpers," NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted. "When you look at that..."
"It's not good," Potter said.
"How can you say there is not a scalping problem?" we pressed.
"It's not good," he admitted. "It's not good at all for consumers."
But it is good for folks like LA ticket scalper Steve Avery. Avery runs Avery Tickets, along with a number of other scalping websites.
His outfit appears to have ended up with at least 118 tickets, including almost all of the first three rows of Section 4 -- right in the middle of the floor.
They paid $35 a ticket, but we spotted them on StubHub for $155 each.
"When you see one company getting most of the first three rows of that section..." we showed Potter.
"It's a disaster," he interrupted.
"Is that suspicious to you?" we continued.
"Absolutely suspicious -- so the question is how did they do it? Did they do it with a software bot? If they did, they should be arrested."
Under Tennessee law, it's illegal to use software robots to try to circumvent Ticketmaster's security procedures and jump ahead of fans trying to buy tickets.
Steve Avery did not return NewsChannel 5's phone calls, and we do not have any evidence his operation actually used bots.
But data provided by Ticketmaster to Eric Church's managers indicates somebody was using those automated bots to constantly ping the show -- even after it was sold out.
Then when 30 new tickets were suddenly put up for sale, Fielding notes, "All of a sudden, it's like bots from all over the place converge on the show."
Those tickets were immediately gobbled up.
"I would think this is worthy of prosecution, it is at least worthy of investigation," Potter said. "Let's go after these people, find out how they bought this."
But the problem is more complicated.
At least 175 tickets appeared to have been snatched up by North Carolina scalper Nate Porterfield and his operation. Porterfield runs a website called StubTerminal, and he told NewsChannel 5 that he gets his tickets legally -- in some cases by buying up lots of fan club memberships and taking advantage of presales meant for fans.
"So the scalpers are scamming the fan club?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Church's manager.
"Oh, yes," he answered. "We were penetrated. We had moles."
Which raises the question about whether this type of activity should be legal at all.
"If you made it illegal to jack up the price, wouldn't that also stop this?" we asked Jon Potter with the Fan Freedom Project.
"Yes, it would," he acknowledged.
So why not do it?
"If I buy a Mickey Mantle baseball card, I can resell it. Why is a ticket different -- if I buy it legitimately."
It turns out, the one person who bought more tickets than anyone else was a public works employee from East Tennessee.
He bought 204 tickets all by himself.
When NewsChannel 5 Investigates called him and asked how he got so many tickets, he hung up on us.
If these scalpers are not using those illegal computer bots, how are they getting the advantage?
In some cases, it's the fan clubs. Eric Church's people are trying to kick out anyone who is obviously a scalper.
But the scalpers are now using websites like ticketpuller.com to enlist lots of people to help them go online and buy tickets for them.
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