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How Arizona's 'Taylor Swift' bills plan to target bots, skyrocketing ticket prices

Lisa Abelar’s daughters are, in her words, “hardcore Swifties.”

So the Gilbert mother marked her calendar well ahead of time to make sure she secured a place in Ticketmaster’s virtual queue for tickets to the launch of Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour in Glendale.

That made it all the more frustrating when she, like thousands of other fans, were booted from Ticketmaster’s website before they had a chance to purchase tickets.

“I remember feeling really frustrated, thinking what are you talking about? There must be a glitch or there must be something wrong,” Abelar said.

Fans of major artists like Swift and Beyoncé have had to deal with surging ticket prices for popular tours in recent years, with many blaming ticket speculators for using bots to buy up tickets and inflate prices on the resale market.

After the Ticketmaster crash, Abelar looked at the second-hand ticket but said prices were exorbitant. Industry analysts with Pollstar and TicketIQ found Eras Tour ticket prices originally averaged around $250 each but fetched an average of nearly $2,200 on the resale market.

“There was no possible way I could justify paying anywhere close to what they were going for at that time,” Abelar said. 

Fans across the nation faced similar problems. The debacle resulted in congressional hearings, where Ticketmaster faced accusations that its dominance in the market and lack of competition is to blame.

Joe Berchtold, CFO with Ticketmaster-affiliated Live Nation, told Congress that the company took responsibility for some problems on its website but blamed the underlying issues on the use of bots to gobble up tickets and “industrial-scale ticket scalping” operations that allegedly benefit most from the practice.

“We also need to recognize how industrial scalpers using bots and cyberattacks to unfairly gain tickets has contributed to this awful experience,” Berchtold said. 

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Arizona want to ban those bots and implement new rules regulating the second-hand ticket market.

Republican state Rep. David Cook sponsored one bill that would prohibit buyers from using bots to gobble up tickets on sites like Ticketmaster and another that would ban speculative ticket sales on the secondhand market. 

“I think they are both common-sense consumer protection bills,” said Democratic Rep. Analise Ortiz, who co-sponsored both pieces of legislation. 

The problems don’t only affect high-profile artists like Swift.

Stephen Chilton, who owns the Rebel Lounge in Phoenix, said ticket speculators target smaller shows too, preying on consumers who might even think they’re buying from the venue.

“On a non-demand show, say a local show at Rebel Lounge, the scalpers just list those at crazy prices — $90 for a $15 ticket,” Chilton said.

And he alleges in some cases those speculators don’t even own those tickets when they list them. That can result in ticket sales being canceled at the last minute, because the reseller didn’t secure the ticket they had already sold.

Chilton also said fans have shown up to his venue with fake tickets sold by third-party sites.

Cook, the bills’ sponsor, said that’s what he’s trying to stop.

“If you own something, and you want to sell it, that’s fine,” Cook said. “But you’re selling property that you don’t own or possess and then the fees are just astronomical.”

Sam Auyash, a lobbyist for Stubhub, said there’s no need for a state law because federal law already bans the practice, referring to legislation signed by former President Barack Obama in 2016.

But venue owners said it’s not effective. 

“The Bots Act has done nothing, because there is no enforcement mechanism,” said Chilton. 

Cook, the bill’s sponsor, agreed. 

“Congress and Washington, D.C., likes to talk about things like they’re actually doing something, but they don’t, so Arizona is going to step up and protect consumers today,” Cook said.

The BOTS Act empowered the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the bot ban, but critics, even those who initially supported the legislation, said the agency has not done enough to tackle the problem.

“With more and more of our lives moving online, their inaction opens the door for scalpers to make secondary markets the only option for normal consumers,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said in a statement in 2022.

StubHub and Vivid seats said they supported bans on speculative ticket sales, but they opposed language that would ban resellers from hiring someone to wait in line to purchase tickets.

Kelsey Lundy, a lobbyist for Vivid Seats, said the bill regulating second-hand ticket sales would also ban Vivid Seats’ Seat Saver service, which allows buyers to pay a seller to purchase tickets to a specific event for them in the future even if those tickets are not yet on sale.

She argued that service is above board, because Vivid Seats is clear that the seller does not yet own tickets reserved through that service and provides refunds in the event a seller is unable to provide the tickets.

Lundy also said any new law targeting bots should require primary sellers like Ticketmaster to report when bots flood their sites.

“But the reason we haven’t seen many investigations, very many prosecutions is because these breaches are not necessarily reported,” Lundy said. 

Howard Waltzman, an attorney for LiveNation, said that is easier said than done.

“That's an IP address that's bouncing around from Bulgaria to the Philippines to wherever else,” Waltzman said. “You can’t identify who is using those bots, let alone who is paying for those bots to be used so they can sell tickets.”

That led Republican Rep. Justin Heap, a criminal defense attorney, to vote against the bots bill when it went through a committee at the Arizona Legislature. 

“And yet we’re going to task the [Attorney General’s] Office with resolving what the tech companies are apparently unable to resolve, which is who are these people,” Heap said. “I am concerned that this is all just going to be pushed off on the AG, and it’s gonna waste a lot of time and resources in cases where we can’t identify the person.”

A spokesman for Democratic Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes said the AG’s office is tracking the bills but is not prepared to weigh in for or against the proposed legislation at this time.

Arizona’s Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs said she’s still reviewing the bill.

“I will support things that make things more affordable for Arizonans, and if this is a way to do that, then yeah,” Hobbs said.

Before it can reach Hobbs’ desk, the legislation must make it through the Arizona state House.

If that happens, Cook said he is going to invite Taylor Swift to the bill signing. That’s a plan Hobbs said she can get behind.

“That would be amazing,” Hobbs said. 

More stories from KJZZ

Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.