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Tough Getting Springsteen Tickets? Congress Eyes Crackdown

"Bots are computerized cheaters," said Jeffrey Seller, a "Hamilton" producer

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    Having a hard time getting tickets to the latest Bruce Springsteen concert or college football game? Congress is moving forward with legislation that could make it easier to score seats.

    Ticket sellers and re-sellers — including the producer of the hit Broadway show "Hamilton" — testified at a Senate hearing Tuesday and endorsed congressional efforts to crack down on the use of computerized software by ticket brokers to snap up tickets. These so-called "bots" rapidly purchase as many desirable tickets as possible for resale at significant markups.

    "Bots are computerized cheaters," said Jeffrey Seller, the "Hamilton" producer and four-time Tony Award-winner. "The people who employ bots use sophisticated software that cuts the line, paralyzes the system, and holds and purchases every available seat before a human consumer has a chance."

    The House on Monday overwhelmingly passed legislation to make the use of the software an "unfair and deceptive practice" under the Federal Trade Commission Act and allow the FTC to go after those who use it. Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, the Republican chairman of the Senate Commerce subcommittee that held the hearing, said his panel will vote on similar legislation soon.

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    "The digital age has made acquiring tickets easier than ever," Moran said at the hearing. "But an age-old issue, ticket scalping, has been made even more prevalent by advances in technology."

    The use of bots is one of the reasons why tickets to a Springsteen concert or Hamilton performance can sell out in just a few minutes. Seller said he has worked with Ticketmaster to try and cancel tickets of those they suspect are using bots. But he says the bots "invade" the Ticketmaster system the moment tickets go on sale and electronically purchase almost all the available inventory. That's one of the reasons tickets to the award-winning musical about the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton have sold for $1,000 or more.

    Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, said he wanted to see Hamilton but decided not to because of the costly tickets.

    "This is a rigged market benefiting some greedy speculators," Nelson said.

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    In a report earlier this year, investigators in New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office cited a single broker that bought 1,012 tickets within one minute to a U2 concert at Madison Square Garden when they went on sale on Dec. 8, 2014, despite the vendor's claim of a four-ticket limit. By day's end, that broker and one other had 15,000 tickets to U2's North American shows.

    The report said third-party brokers resell tickets on sites like StubHub and TicketsNow at average margins of 49 percent above face value and sometimes more than 10 times the price.

    New York's review also found that, on average, 16 percent of tickets are reserved for various industry insiders like the venue employees, artists and promoters, while 38 percent are reserved for presales to certain groups like holders of a particular credit card.

    Executives from StubHub, Ticketfly and the commissioner of the Big 12 college athletic conference all testified in favor of federal legislation that would try to crack down on the bots.

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    Bob Bowlsby, commissioner of the Big 12, said low prices for some college sporting events make them a target for scalpers.

    "The hard-earned money our fans spend on tickets to our sporting events should benefit our schools and student-athletes, not third parties who seek to make a quick buck off of our most passionate supporters," Bowlsby said.