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Sports, theater and concert fans are itching for events to start happening again. So are clever ticket sellers who’ve figured out ways to cash in on unsuspecting customers shopping online. 

Reveal’s Byard Duncan starts with an examination of the tricks and traps that await fans who try to buy tickets online, at the hands of some of the largest companies in what’s known as the secondary ticket market. 

Then Reveal’s Ike Sriskandarajah visits his favorite theater in Oakland, California, which went dark in March because of the pandemic. Like venues across the country, the Paramount Theatre plans to reopen its doors in 2021, and we find out what it will look like.  

We end with an essay from reporter Yoohyun Jung, who’s been a fan of K-pop music for most of her life. But when she went from being a fan to working in the business, she saw some disturbing things that gave her a new perspective on this international phenomenon. 

This is an update of an episode that originally aired Feb. 6, 2021.

Dig Deeper

Read: How is this legal? Legions of fans say the secondary ticket market is rigged against them.

Credits

Reported by: Byard Duncan, Ike Sriskandarajah and Yoohyun Jung | Lead producer: Katharine Mieszkowski | Edited by: Taki Telonidis | Production manager: Amy Mostafa | Production assistance: Brett Simpson and Ameeta Ganatra | Mixing, sound design and music by: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk | Episode art: Maxwell Erwin | Special thanks: Andrew Donohue, Rachel Brooke, Soo Oh and Melissa Lewis | Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan | Host: Al Letson

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

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Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. This is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Do you remember the last live event you attended before the pandemic? Was it a game, a concert, a theater performance? For me, it was a Brittany Howard concert. So good. The audience was in it. The band was amazing. And Brittany put on a show. Whenever, I was feeling that disconnection of the pandemic. I go back to that moment. When I was singing along badly in a crowd with Brittany on stage. Today, a few of us are trickling back into stadiums and arenas. Bruce Springsteen just kicked off a series of shows on Broadway with one new wrinkle. You need proof of full vaccination to get in but in one sense this year will be a lot like years pass. Getting your hands on tickets for your favorite shows and games might mean paying dearly for them. This issue, how much tickets cost and who’s actually making money off of them. It caught the attention of Byard Duncan. My buddy here at Reveal a couple years ago, he had an experience of buying NBA tickets that left him scratching his head.
Byard Duncan:It’s my best friend’s birthday. He’s a Philadelphia 76ers fan. And I decided I wanted to surprise him with Sixers tickets. They were playing the Sacramento Kings, which is not so far from Oakland here where I live.
Al Letson:This was January, 2019. Byard Googles Kings Sixers tickets, and eventually gets directed to a website called Ticket Network.
Byard Duncan:The tickets were pretty close to the floor. They were reasonably priced too since the King’s haven’t been good in more than a decade. So I was looking at the layout of the Kings arena and I selected two seats.
Al Letson:Byard checks out. And the money leaves his bank account. Good to go. Right? Well, not so fast. A couple of weeks later, before leaving the Reveal office on a Friday night, he looks up his email confirmation and notices something strange. It doesn’t actually include any tickets.
Byard Duncan:It just said, “Get excited. We’ve received your order and you’re on your way. We’ll contact you soon with more details on how you’ll get your tickets.” But it was the night before the game and I didn’t have any more details about where I could get my tickets.
Al Letson:So he calls Ticket Networks, customer service number.
Byard Duncan:And the guy on the other end took a minute and he looked for the tickets and came back and said, these tickets aren’t available. And I was like, wait a minute, how is that possible?
Al Letson:Remember Byard has already paid for these tickets. It gets put on hold. After a while the customer service rep comes back on the line and says, good news. He can get comparable tickets. And he proposes a new section, but Byard has the seating map of the arena pulled up and he notices.
Byard Duncan:But that section’s way farther away than the tickets I thought I had bought. And so I asked him, okay, those tickets are farther away. What do they cost? And he tells me, oh, they’re the same price as the tickets you bought. And at this point I’m like, well, isn’t that awfully convenient for you? That they’re the same price and their worst tickets. So here’s where I’m beginning to get really angry. There are two sides of me. One is investigative reporter curious patient and methodical. And the other side though is a rabid NBA fan. So angry sometimes. And I have to say I was experiencing both of these things in this moment. And unfortunately, both sides involve a lot of swearing, too.
Al Letson:Byard gets put on hold again, but this time he starts digging. He heads over to PACER, a big database of federal court records.
Byard Duncan:I go on PACER and look up Ticket Network, and I immediately find the complaint for a lawsuit that’s actually going on while I’m having this conversation with customer service. It’s from the New York Attorney General’s office.
Al Letson:It turns out the New York’s top lawyer had recently accused Ticket Network of engaging in what was described as a massive scheme to trick tens of thousands of unsuspecting consumers into buying tickets that the sellers did not actually have. It begins to sink in for Byard that he might be one of them. After more time on hold and some arguing he makes Ticket Network agreed to give him his money back. Then he gets real tickets. The day of the game directly from the Sacramento Kings website.
Al Letson:When a reporter has a bad experience, sometimes it turns into an opportunity to start digging. So that’s exactly what Byard did and what he found inspired this week’s show, which we first aired earlier this year.
Byard Duncan:After my experience with Ticket Network, I thought, okay, if I really want to understand what just happened here, I need to start by casting a pretty wide net. So I sent public records requests for 10 years worth of complaints to every state attorney general’s office in the country and to the Federal Trade Commission. The complaints I got back weren’t just about Ticket Network. They describe all sorts of problems with the industry’s major players, StubHub, Vivid Seats, and Ticketmaster too. One complaint that caught my eye was from Sharon Ballantine. She fell into several traps.
Sharon Valentin…:I am retired with my husband in Wilmington, North Carolina. I have a checkered background.
Byard Duncan:She means like an eclectic background. Not like she killed the guy.
Sharon Valentin…:I have been everything from a teacher in Thailand and in Taiwan to doing defense department, leading technical meeting planning, and ended my career as a farmer and managing a nonprofit.
Byard Duncan:Sharon and her husband are major supporters of the arts too. Opera, museums, historical events, live theater. She calls this stuff, the bread of life. She missed it a lot in 2020.
Sharon Valentin…:Mingle with others, listen to good music, go to a good play even to the movies.
Byard Duncan:Back in 2019, a couple of months after my own experience, Sharon saw mentioned in her local paper of a production of something rotten. It’s a Broadway musical about two brothers in the theater business in the 15 hundreds who were in competition with William Shakespeare.
Speaker 5:Hello, Will, I know you wouldn’t go down without a fight. [inaudible]
Byard Duncan:Sharon said she followed the web address on the ad. She landed on a website. She thought was the official box office for the Wilson Center, a theater at nearby Cape Fear Community College. It had ticket listings, a seating chart and directions. Pretty quickly though things started to feel a little off. For starters, she said the website couldn’t provide her with actual seat numbers. And right at the end of the transaction process, her total for two tickets skyrocketed to $481 and 93 cents. But since she assumed she was on the official site, she pulled the trigger anyway. She later discovered she could have gotten them directly from the Wilson Center for a total of just $170. Oh, and just like me, after the money left her account, she didn’t even have the tickets she wanted yet. Instead, when she called customer service for answers a representative told her basically sit tight, we’re working on it.
Sharon Valentin…:He said that they would email me the tickets. I said, all right, go ahead. I would like them right away. And he said, no, I can’t do that.
Byard Duncan:One reason. He couldn’t do that. He didn’t work for the venue itself. Without realizing Sharon had landed on, what’s called a secondary ticket market. A website where tickets get resold. She was confused and furious and didn’t want these overpriced tickets. She blurted out well, what do you suggest I do?
Sharon Valentin…:And he said, oh, we have a great answer for you for that. You go out and sell them on the secondary market.
Byard Duncan:So what exactly? She didn’t even have the tickets yet.
Sharon Valentin…:I thought, whoa, this is really a scam.
Byard Duncan:After Sharon hung up the phone, she decided to report this website to North Carolina’s Attorney General. The URL was box office-tickets.com.
Sharon Valentin…:Do you remember JFK’s old adage. Don’t get mad. Getting even.
Byard Duncan:The company affiliated with the website was the same one I dealt with. Ticket Network. And although Sharon was ready to get even they seem to prepared. A few days after Sharon filed her complaint, Ticket Networks legal team sent a response to the AG. It was a point by point dissection of all the things she should have noticed about the site. She should’ve seen the tiny disclosure on their homepage, that this was a resale marketplace where prices may be above the venues price. She should have noticed that her tickets had a so-called delivery dates when they would hopefully arrive. Finally, she should have realized the site, “Does not act as a primary sale box office.” Even though it’s called boxoffice-tickets.com. Ticket Network declared no refund is due from the seller.
Sharon Valentin…:I will tell you I was bullish stick. I had obviously been scammed and I thought this has got to affect other people too. I can’t be the first one.
Byard Duncan:Sharon is definitely not the first one to fall into what I’ve come to call a ticket trap. I’ve read thousands of pages of complaints from all kinds of people. Folks trying to go to music festivals and sports fanatics who have lots of experience buying tickets. They describe as sort of obstacle course of tricks and deceptions that major players in the secondary market have perfected over the years. Ticket Network for its part maintains that it helps create a competitive marketplace where more inventory drives prices down. We’re going to break down how it works. Step-by-step beginning with the website she thought was official.
John Breyault:My name is John Breyault. I’m the Vice President of Public Policy Telecommunications and Fraud at the National Consumers League.
Byard Duncan:I called up John to talk about these so-called white label websites like the one Sharon stumbled onto. Regulators and ticket buyers say they’re designed to deceive people into believing they’re on an actual box office site. The sites look official. Sometimes they’ll have the venues name and their web address or pictures of a marquee or a section about the place’s history. Back in 2014 Ticket Network and its business partners settled the lawsuit with the State of Connecticut and the FTC over these kinds of sites. As part of the discovery process Ticket Network was forced to hand over a list of all the web domains they’d registered. That document is 74 pages long. It includes the dresses like ChittyChittybangbangonbroadway.com, jerryseinfeldtickets.com, chicagowhitesoxtickets.org. Anyway, a list of forty two hundred and thirty four URLs all registered by Ticket Network.
John Breyault:As long as there’s money to be made scalping tickets, as long as there’s money to be made through these white label sites, the operators of them are going to get creative to try and really operate in the margins of what can be considered acceptable.
Byard Duncan:As part of the settlement, the FTC forbade ticket resellers from using the word official in most ads, websites, and URLs. It also said resellers could not misrepresent directly or by implication that a resale ticket site is an actual venue site. But consumer advocates like John are quick to point out that there’s a lot of wiggle room left for secondary sellers to operate.
John Breyault:If I’m selling Yankees tickets, for example, and my background on my website is pinstripes that may not necessarily be illegal under the terms of the consent order, but certainly I would think that denotes some kind of affiliation with the New York Yankees.
Byard Duncan:I found that white label sites have persisted for years since the FTC handed down its restrictions. It turns out it’s easy for consumers to feel duped even while the sites insist they’re following the government’s rules. Like that site where Sharon Valentine landed when she wanted to see something rotten. She said it had her fooled from the very beginning.
Sharon Valentin…:The advertising that was done, although the word official was not used, made it seem like it was official. So rather than go in and research another site, I thought I was going into an official website for the Wilson Center.
Byard Duncan:One of the most striking things I learned about these sites is that white labels had an average markup of roughly 180% over what you’d pay at the venue. That’s according to a study from the government accountability office. By comparison resale sites that don’t impersonate venues, their markup was usually about 74%. So in other words, the sneakiest sites had the biggest gouge. So Sharon, like many others tumbled into the ticket trap. First, she was directed to a secondary site when all she really wanted to do was find the actual venue. Next up the murkiness around what she’d actually end up paying.
John Breyault:I’m particularly concerned by the hidden fees that the ticketing industry charges American consumers at the very end of the purchase process.
Byard Duncan:This issue of hidden fees is such a big deal. The government has regulated it in other industries like airlines. And in February of 2020, the house of representatives committee on energy and commerce talked about it at this hearing on ticketing. Democratic, Frank Pallone New Jersey was the chair.
Frank Pallone:And we’re all familiar with this. She searched for a ticket online and mum prices initially displayed. But when you go to checkout, hefty fees are added and the final price is much higher than the original price shown.
Byard Duncan:Remember right at the tail end of her transaction, Sharon saw her total balloon to $481 and 93 cents. For two tickets, she later found out were worth $170. At one point in the hearing three of the industry’s major players, Ticket Network, Vivid Seats and StubHub are asked how exactly they come up with fees. First to answer his Ticket Network CEO, Don Vaccaro.
Don Vaccaro:On the sites that we control we determine fees by what the others in the marketplace are charging.
Byard Duncan:Vivid Seats.
Speaker 9:It’s market competition. So it’s subject to discipline by the market. If there’s a lower price, we have to match it.
Byard Duncan:StubHub.
Speaker 10:Because we’re a marketplace the sellers determine the price of the tickets.
Speaker 11:[inaudible] phase two our people are going to use your site. Is that kind of the market determiners?
Byard Duncan:So these companies are all basically locked into a game of chicken with each other. The main thing that really dictates where they set their fees and how they apply them is what the other guy is doing. Buyers tend to make decisions based on advertised prices, which are often already inflated. Then last minute fees get stacked on top of that. One consumer summed this up perfectly. “I’ve never gone grocery shopping and been hit with a suit packaging fee after scanning my Campbell’s cans.” I went back to Sharon again, with all of this.
Sharon Valentin…:Incredible. They don’t have any way to credibly tell the consumer what that fee is that is suddenly slapped on as you check out.
Byard Duncan:Okay. The last step in the trap, it’s maybe the wildest one. Remember Sharon paid for tickets, but when she asked Ticket Network to email them to her, they couldn’t do it. Something similar happened to me. The night before that NBA game, I hadn’t gotten my tickets either. Just a promise that they’d arrive eventually. These are signs that what we both bought were so-called speculative tickets. Tickets that brokers don’t even have in the first place. Instead, they advertise seats at dramatically marked up prices. Try to buy the actual tickets later and keep the difference. For really popular events though, sometimes brokers can’t even get tickets. So they back out on their sales. Ahead of the 2015 super bowl. Some people who’d bought airfare and booked hotels learned too late that the tickets they thought they had didn’t even exist. The Seattle Seahawks fan was in tears.
Speaker 12:For two weeks. I thought for sure, I was going to be in there. You don’t get to do that. It’s tough. It’s upsetting that you could just, sorry, we don’t have your tickets anymore.
Byard Duncan:The FTC tried to crack down on this too, sending out a warning letter to secondary market sites in 2010, demanding they make it obvious when tickets are speculative but that fine print can be easy to miss. In 2016, a Billy Joel fan in New York complained about seeing marked up tickets on StubHub before they were officially on sale. And in June of 2019, consumers in Rhode Island were misled into buying speculative Hamilton tickets. When they arrived at the theater, they learned they’d paid five times as much as some of the people sitting next to them. Many people like Sharon and me don’t realize that what we’re actually buying from these sites is just a promise that someone is going to try to get tickets for us. And it’s not just ticket buyers who lose out either.
Christy Grantha…:I’m Christy Grantham, the director of ticketing at the Wilson Center in Wilmington, North Carolina. And we seat about 1500 people.
Byard Duncan:You could say that Christy is the person, Sharon Valentine wishes she’d reached from the very beginning. Someone who actually would have sold her something rotten tickets directly. For years, Christy has seen up close the tactics that secondary sellers use.
Christy Grantha…:They’re selling tickets on Real Why. And I’m looking at my chart and no one’s bought any tickets on Real Why. They have no tickets to sell. And they’re selling them for $234 and I’m selling them for 30.
Byard Duncan:Again, that’s $30 from the venue and $234 on the secondary market for tickets they haven’t even bought from Christy yet. Okay. But so what about when they do buy them from her and sell them at a higher price, she’s still filling up the house. Right? So why does she care?
Christy Grantha…:I care a lot. And for a lot of reasons, I don’t want someone to spend their entire entertainment budget on one event that they really want to go to when they could come to five events, including that one that they really want to come to and they can have so many more wonderful experiences in my venue.
Byard Duncan:Except they get caught in the ticket trap. I should note here that Sharon did in fact get tickets to something rotten. Many folks who buy speculative tickets do end up with seats somewhere, but in Sharon’s case she says they weren’t the ones she thought she’d paid for. She told the state attorney general that she felt misled by Ticket Network. But I think the more important point here is how simple it all could have been. Sharon wanted to see a show. Christy was there about nine miles from Sharon’s home waiting to sell her tickets at a fair price. But secondary sellers like Ticket Network were able to swoop in, make lots of money and leave both of them frustrated.
Sharon Valentin…:This particular company could put Bernie made off to the shame. I mean, it was so beautifully organized.
Al Letson:After figuring out the machinery of the ticket trap. Byard wanted to talk to the people, pulling its levers, what they had to say. Next on Reveal.
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Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Today, we’re talking about the secondary ticket market where sports fans and concert goers sometimes feel ripped off. This has been going on for a long time. Even in the 18 hundreds, speculators were jacking up ticket prices for readings by Charles Dickens and PT Barnum’s circus. And for just as long people have been trying to bring it under control. Here’s Reveal’s Byard Duncan again.
Byard Duncan:This whole regulatory fight has been like a centuries long cat and mouse game. These days it plays out in the halls of Washington.
Devin Willi:I sort of wanted to share an experience that may have happened to me.
Byard Duncan:This is Devin Willis. It’s June of 2019 when she was an attorney at the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. She’s moderating a panel about deceptive practices within the world of online ticket sales. She talks about trying to buy tickets to Hamilton at a Philadelphia venue called The Forest Theater. She does a Google search
Devin Willi:And it takes me to this landing page. It shows Philadelphia Theater. It has the theater name underneath it for his theater.
Byard Duncan:You know, the drill by now.
Devin Willi:[crosstalk] right there in the middle. [crosstalk]
Byard Duncan:The tickets she sees are listed for $469 a piece. Worth it. She thinks for Hamilton on opening night.
Devin Willi:How the play was. So I must be at the right place.
Byard Duncan:She’s not. The actual tickets. She learns later that they’re not even on sale yet.
Devin Willi:Am I crazy? So I am now frantic. I go back and I’m trying to see, well, what did I buy? And who did I buy it from?
Byard Duncan:The point here is that even the people in charge of enforcing the rules around ticketing, they’re liable to get confused too. Today, there’s this big cluster of federal state and local regulations, all crosshatching, the U.S. They can be easy to get around the rules vary by jurisdiction. For example, ticket resale laws are incredibly strict in Arkansas, but brokers who live out of state still sell their. Federal regulators may make an example out of a company here and there, but it’s up to the states to really crack down. And they don’t always do that. I really wanted to talk to someone behind one of those companies. This is Don Vaccaro.
Don Vaccaro:Hi, is this Barnard?
Byard Duncan:This is Byard. Yeah. Is this Don?
Don Vaccaro:Yeah, Byard, I’m sorry. I apologize. Byard very simple to pronounce.
Byard Duncan:Don is the CEO of Ticket Network. The company affiliated with the sites where Sharon and I ended up. He founded it in 2002, but he first got into reselling tickets in the late 1970s.
Don Vaccaro:I went down to Madison Square Garden to buy some tickets for some friends to go to a concert.
Byard Duncan:When he arrived, he noticed that the Garden had just kicked off another sale for the rock band, Jethro Tull. This was pre-internet of course. So word hadn’t really gotten out yet. Don saw an opportunity.
Don Vaccaro:And I was actually able to get some great seats for that show and able to go back and sell them, make a profit.
Byard Duncan:This is what people used to just call scalping. Things took off from there. First, Don set up his own brokerage. Then he got into software. Today, this whole business has largely moved online and become much more regulated than the guy in a trench coat on a street corner days. Ticket Network became one of the largest secondary sellers in the U.S. In normal years, there’s more than five and a half billion dollars of tickets listed on their exchange. The first thing I wanted to ask Don is how does Ticket Network actually help fans?
Don Vaccaro:When you add to the supply of tickets, the equilibrium price goes down. Okay? It’s true in every marketplace.
Byard Duncan:Don views, primary ticket sellers, like the Behemoth Ticketmaster as these monopolistic bad guys, he says, what he’s doing is giving fans options, more places to buy tickets. But here’s the thing. There’s a key ingredient here that economists say is missing, transparency. On sites like the one Sharon visited people think they’re at the venues box office and they think they’re seeing the face value price. They also don’t expect huge fees right at the finish line. People don’t even realize they could be comparison shopping. In the thousands of pages of complaints I read about the markets major players. It was often the same story. Consumers felt deceived, manipulated, ripped off and according to a former New York attorney general there’s evidence that’s by design.
Byard Duncan:When the state’s top lawyer sued Ticket Network, back in 2018, the company had to hand over a bunch of internal documents. One of them was about their speculative listings. That’s when brokers sell tickets, they don’t actually have in hand yet. Ticket Network admitted these listings, “Create the appearance of plentiful inventory on the exchange. When there are little or no real tickets.” I’m wondering Don, in your view, do you think consumers would willingly buy speculative tickets if they understood what they were buying were speculative tickets.
Don Vaccaro:Here’s what I’d like to say to that is when you go to a hotel and you book a room in a hotel, do you think you’re booking the actual room that’s available? You’re not. You’re booking from a [crosstalk].
Byard Duncan:This is what it was like to try to get answers out of Don. He would change the subject to answer my question with another question. He even flat out denied that his company has received complaints recently.
Don Vaccaro:Personally, I don’t think we’ve had a complaint in the longest time from anyone.
Byard Duncan:This is just not true on top of complaints like Sharon’s that I got through records requests, others about Ticket Network are easy to find. They ‘re on the Better Business Bureau, Yelp, Twitter. But Don says Ticket Network is not the problem. He points his finger again at the big primary sellers like Ticketmaster. He says, customers are worried about being able to transfer tickets to someone else.
Don Vaccaro:And they’re concerned about the data that they give up and that they share when they’re buying a primary ticket or they’re transferring a primary ticket.
Byard Duncan:This is not what fans mentioned in the complaints I read. Almost all of them were worried about getting deceived and gouged by companies like Don’s. Although Don did admit.
Don Vaccaro:Well, we’re not perfect. No one’s perfect. We’re here to make our sites better. We can always do better.
Byard Duncan:One of the people in charge of making Don’s company do better is Rebecca Kelly Slaughter.
Rebecca Kelly S…:I think having competition in the ticket market place is great at every level, but I don’t think there’s any justification for companies to misrepresent who they are as sellers.
Byard Duncan:Rebecca is a commissioner at the FTC. She specializes in consumer protection and competition. Remember that the FTC cracked down on Ticket Network and two of its website partners for profiting from deceptive mimicking tactics. The three had to pay $1.4 million to the state of Connecticut or Ticket Network is based. Despite that crackdown though, sites like these are still all over the place. And I wanted Rebecca’s take on some examples I found. Here, I’m going to share my screen.
Byard Duncan:The official site for this is jonesbeach.com, which you can see that advertiser [crosstalk]
Byard Duncan:I show her two sites, a venues official site, then a secondary site with a lot of similarities. It’s really easy to confuse the two.
Byard Duncan:You can see they have a little seahorse. They have a picture of the venue. So I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about how it seems possible to conduct business like this while playing by the FTC’s rules.
Rebecca Kelly S…:I’m not going to say that conducting businesses like this does play by the FTC’s rules. And to be clear, the rules of the FTC are the laws of the United States.
Byard Duncan:By Rebecca’s own admission. This site very well could be operating illegally. So I asked her, why is it so hard to reign this stuff in?
Rebecca Kelly S…:There are a lot of violations out there to investigate and pursue, and our resources don’t even come close to allowing us to do that. The FTC had more, 50% more, 50% more full-time employees at the beginning of the Reagan administration than it does today. Our workload has increased astronomically in the intervening 40 years.
Byard Duncan:Congress has been trying to give the FTC more tools. In 2016, it passed legislation to stop the use of bots that vacuum up thousands of tickets in minutes, but nobody enforced it until this January. There’s also proposed legislation. Something called the Boss Act, which aims to further tighten restrictions on white label websites. The ones that often look like venue websites, but aren’t.
Rebecca Kelly S…:I mean, I will seek in my mind for a good faith argument for why they are good for consumers. And I can’t find one.
Byard Duncan:Also it would curb the practice of selling tickets you don’t even have yet.
Rebecca Kelly S…:This has been the topic of enforcement attention for a decade, and the problem is still there. So it is clear that more needs to happen.
Byard Duncan:Under President Biden’s Slaughter anticipates more momentum at the FTC around consumer protection issues like ticketing.
Rebecca Kelly S…:It’s an area that we know congress cares about. We know the American public cares about, and we need to continue to care about.
Byard Duncan:Until then fans will have to protect themselves. I learned the most important thing you can do is scrutinize the website before you buy your tickets, read the fine print and look for phrases like resale marketplace or prices may be above or below face value. If you really want to be certain you’re buying from the venue, consider picking up the phone and just giving them a call. And hey, if the show is legitimately sold out, but tickets are available at a premium on the secondary market. To a certain extent that’s just supply and demand in action. Maybe it’s out of reach or maybe it’s worth it to you, especially after a whole year without live events.
Al Letson:That was Revels by our Duncan who plans to see his beloved Golden State Warriors in-person as soon as they start playing again, this fall. Our story was produced by Katherine Mackowski, who can’t wait to take her daughters to see weird Al Yankovic. I’ll be tagging along with both of them. Since this story first aired Byard has written an in-depth guide to help fans like you avoid deceptive practices when buying tickets to read it text, trap to 474747. You can text stop at any time and standard data rates apply. Again, text trap to 474747.
Al Letson:Reveal. Ike Sriskandarajah is looking forward to see in Friday night, classic movies and concerts at his favorite theater here in Oakland. They’re still closed up, but he dropped by to ask when we might be able to go back and what it’ll be like when we do.
Leslee Stewart:Hi.
Ike Sriskandara…:Hi.
Leslee Stewart:Nice to meet you.
Ike Sriskandara…:Nice to meet you.
Ike Sriskandara…:I met Leslie.
Leslee Stewart:Leslee Stewart, General Manager at Paramount Theater in Oakland, California.
Ike Sriskandara…:Hey, thanks.
Leslee Stewart:This is Jason.
Ike Sriskandara…:And Jason.
Jason Blackwell:Jason Blackwell, Assistant General Manager.
Ike Sriskandara…:I usually shake hands, but we won’t do that anymore.
Ike Sriskandara…:They let me do something I’ve been wanting to do since the pandemic began.
Ike Sriskandara…:This is not my first time.
Ike Sriskandara…:Be inside a theater. But not just any theater.
Speaker 20:A new error in motion picture history was ushered in with the gala opening of the magnificent $3 million paramount theater.
Leslee Stewart:Coming into the paramount theater. You’re walking into 1931.
Ike Sriskandara…:Jason heads through the dark lobby for the switch box.
Jason Blackwell:So here we go.
Ike Sriskandara…:Soft, amber light starts to fill the room and you can see on the walls, these golden maidens, they look like they’re just waking up and it all feels like sunrise.
Ike Sriskandara…:I can’t tell you how happy that just made me.
Jason Blackwell:All the lights coming on. It’s fun.
Ike Sriskandara…:It is as elegant as the Empire State building with a concession stand.
Speaker 20:There are managed super relatives which apply to the paramount.
Ike Sriskandara…:For 90 years. This landmark theater has hosted movie premiers, later Concerts, lectures, even naturalization ceremonies. But since the coronavirus.
Leslee Stewart:Our last show was Buddy Guy and Friends March the third, 2020.
Jason Blackwell:That was the last time we had anyone in the building.
Ike Sriskandara…:The poster for a canceled jazz show from March 11th of last year, still hangs in the lobby.
Leslee Stewart:Honestly, I thought we’d be closed for a month. Maybe a few weeks. Maybe May. Never thought that we would be in this situation.
Ike Sriskandara…:At first, they explored the idea of roping off six feet between seats, but that reduced their 3000 person theater to 450. That’s small and audience wouldn’t cover the costs. So they rescheduled all of their events from last spring to the fall then to early 2021. And now….
Leslee Stewart:I’m actually now rescheduling the rescheduling events to 2022.
Ike Sriskandara…:Baby Shark live show has been rescheduled now four times.
Leslee Stewart:Poor Baby Shark. He’s just swimming from month to month. It’s very sad.
Ike Sriskandara…:It is sad. In the meantime, the Paramount secured a federal PPP loan for about $250,000, but they’ve still had to let staff go. The Paramount and 1100 other venues are looking to their trade group for guidance from the likes of Russ Simons.
Russ Simons:I’m a part of the International Association of Venue Managers. And I lead that group’s COVID-19 industry response.
Ike Sriskandara…:The group put out a detailed and wide ranging guide to safe reopening. Not an easy task, given that the concerns of the Paramount are very different from the Superdome or from a venue in Arkansas where local health rules have allowed for indoor concerts since May. Generally, speaking though, here’s what many Americans might expect when we do take our seats. The first is a lesson the industry learned after 9/11. Before the attack events staff tried to mostly be invisible.
Russ Simons:Following the security issues. And 9/11. What we learned was is the public is desirous of a visible and obvious presence.
Ike Sriskandara…:Back then The Paramount printed the word security on their cruise jackets. Audience members saw security everywhere. This time the audience will see janitors everywhere. Concessions will work differently too. Instead of waiting in line, you may be ordering on your phone and picking up at a window and Russ says, there’ll be fewer choices.
Russ Simons:The truth of the matter is, is we probably had too many menu items by a good 60%. And if we were having a genuinely honest conversation, perhaps 80.
Ike Sriskandara…:Goodbye, Soft Pretzel. Next, and this is probably the most important venues we’ll ask about your health records.
Russ Simons:I think you probably see a hybrid where some zones of the building or sections or levels may be vaccine oriented.
Ike Sriskandara…:In the venues they’re going to have to figure out how to pay for it. All of this will take time.
Russ Simons:I don’t see this being a successful endeavor in the next three to six months, but I believe that the work that’s being done in the next three to six months could make the second half of this year a lot more entertaining for your listeners.
Ike Sriskandara…:It’s not looking great for summer Blockbusters, but come Nutcracker season.
Russ Simons:Yeah, I feel pretty good about the Nutcracker this December. I do.
Ike Sriskandara…:If that happens, I hope I get to see it in my favorite theater.
Al Letson:That was Reveal’s. Ike Sriskandarajah. The paramount theater will be reopening on August 7th with comedian Franco Escamilla. The Oakland ballet is scheduled to perform the Nutcracker there in December.
Al Letson:The pandemic shut down concerts and plays all over the world, including Kpop concerts. A few moved online. In fact, one sold more than 700,000 tickets. In a moment what one fan discovered after she got a rare closeup look inside the world of Kpop. You’re listening to Reveal.
Amy Mostafa:Reveal is brought to you by Progressive. Are you thinking more about how to tighten up your budget these days, drivers who saved by switching to progressive save over $700 on average and customers can qualify for an average of six discounts when they sign up. A little off your rate each month goes a long way. Get a quote today at progressive.com. Progressive casualty insurance company and affiliates national annual average insurance savings by new customers surveyed in 2020. Potential savings will vary discounts, vary and are not available in all states and situations.
Amy Mostafa:I’m Amy Mostafa, the Production Manager here at Reveal. Reveal is a nonprofit news organization. And we rely on support from listeners like you. Become a member by texting the word Reveal to 474747 standard data rates apply. And you can text up at any time. Again, text Reveal to 474747. Thank you.
Al Letson:From the center for investigative reporting and PRX. This is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. It’s not just fans in the U.S. who are anxious for sports events and concerts to open up again. It’s Kpop fans all over the world.
Al Letson:A South Korean boy band BTS is one of the most well-known Kpop groups in the U.S. Fans copy their dance moves by their clothes and hang on their every tweet. Kpop has become a culture of its own and it’s a huge international business. And where money’s involved things can get complicated. Yoohyun Jung is a data journalist who first followed Kpop as a fan. Then she got a rare look at the business side. We first heard this story about her experience earlier this year.
Yoohyun Jung:Kpop gives me an odd sense of pride. When I see BTS, I feel like they’re beautiful national treasures, and I’m like a sloppy broke journalists in the U.S. but, hey, we’re the same. I was born in Korea, but spend half my life here and in Canada. And Kpop is one of those things that has kept me connected to my roots. When I was in the fifth grade, I was going to school in Vancouver and my parents used to send me CDs of this boy band called GOD. I swear, went to bed with that CD. And then later when I lived in Arizona, I really liked this other group called Super Junior. But in 2017 is when I fell hard, really, really hard.
Yoohyun Jung:In the Spring of that year, I started watching a South Korean reality TV show called Produce 101. It was a cutthroat competition style show where week by week viewers would vote for their favorite contestants out of 101 boys. That’s why it’s called Produce 101. And at the end of the season, the top 11 would become a boy band called Wanna One that’s W-A-N-N-A-One. Something about voting for someone every week and watching them get so emotional over whether they were going to make it made me feel like I was responsible for their success. People are literally campaigning for their picks, like they would for political candidates.
Speaker 24:[foreign language].
Yoohyun Jung:This contestant is thanking his supporters for voting for him. And when the contestant I was rooting for got picked in the end, I felt like I had an hand in it.
Speaker 25:All together let’s shout. We love you Wanna One.
Audience:We love you Wanna One.
Yoohyun Jung:None of this would be fun without other people. And it’s so easy to bond with who love the same thing as you do. There are massive networks of community surrounding Kpop. To me, the fandom was like a doorway to Korea. Every time it checked out of real life and went online to see what was going on there, I would be tuning into Korean culture and talking about Korean things. Mostly, I was just so excited to speak Korean again.
Speaker 27:[Korean]
Yoohyun Jung:I really crossed the point of no return when I went to see Wanna One performance in-person. In the summer of 2017, Produce 101 had ended. And the 11 boys selected from the show were finally going to make their debut. And it turned out that the band’s first public appearance was going to be in the U.S. at a Kpop convention in Los Angeles called Kcon. Obviously it was fate. There was absolutely no way I wasn’t going.
Yoohyun Jung:Kcon was awesome. Wanna One was awesome. I was having a great time but then there were also moments when I was starting to feel like, wait a minute, this is kind of shady. Every single thing was commodified to the max. Kpop has figured out this formula for making money. And it’s been chemically engineered to make you crave more and more like fast food. Everything is for sale, music, merchandise, even an artist’s time. Like for instance, at Kcon organizers were selling cheaply made merchandise for a chance to meet Wanna One. I’m talking about things like banners, fans, and lights sticks, things that no one was ever going to use.
Yoohyun Jung:And the more you bought the higher the chance you had but there was no guarantee. So fans were lining up in droves to spend thousands of dollars on garbage. Even after feeling uncomfortable about that experience I still went to Wanna One concerts and spent a ton of money buying random useless stuff to get into fannie bans. That’s what you do when you’re addicted. You lose control.
Yoohyun Jung:Then in 2018, I moved back to Korea for family reasons. Later, I got a job working for a Kpop radio program. I was like, sweet. I’ll get to see Kpop idols all the time. And I did. And it was totally cool for awhile. I’d walk in the building and literally Super Junior would be in the elevator. Remember I said, I liked them in high school. Yeah, well, they’re on the elevator. Another perk was getting tickets to TV shows where Kpop X promote their latest music. At the end of the show, all the different groups come out on stage and they announced the number one artist of the week to congratulate them.
Yoohyun Jung:There was one week where all the artists came out at the end and the whole stage was brightened pink. Everybody’s cheering the winner. And I realize all the young people are just props for the grownups. And the goal is to make huge amounts of money off of them. And I’m one of those people who’s making a living from these kids. It reminded me very much of a puppet show. It’s hard to reconcile that kind of experience with also being a fan and a consumer. Now that I knew how the sausage was made, I couldn’t help, but feel icky about what I was buying.
Yoohyun Jung:Being a fan started to become not very fun. And there were some truly miserable moments especially as I attended more Wanna One concerts all over Asia. But the experience that really took the cake was in Malaysia. I think the event company overbooked the show, thousands of people were trapped in these two standing sections that were not meant for that many people. It’s hot and humid. And even before the show begins, I’m looking around at all these petite Malaysian teens and women who already look like they’re going to faint, then boom, the music starts. And the fans in the back start pushing people in the front who were already squished to the max are now passing out. I’m near the front row, screaming my head off for help. I make eye contact with one of the Wanna One members.
Yoohyun Jung:And I remember seeing this horrified look on his face. They stopped the show. The band is now asking people to please be safe. But then these girls who are on the verge of passing out there were screaming not to be taken out like, no, please let me stay. They didn’t want to miss the chance to see their idols.
Yoohyun Jung:The funny thing is the event company still carried out this extra meet and greet event after the concert, you’d think they’d have shut the whole thing down, but no, these idols were products. And we were going to consume them as scheduled because money had been paid for their services. They still had to smile, look cute and do the whole Kpop idol thing. I was still excited to see them up close. But when I finally did, I saw that they were exhausted and horrified. I think I said to them, are you okay?
Yoohyun Jung:It was clear to me that they weren’t. Even if there isn’t a disaster like this one, that’s common for Kpop idols to be overworked. They talk constantly. They sign contracts with companies that invest a ton of money in them from when they’re really young. The companies control everything about the artist’s lives including what they eat, who their friends are, where they go to school, but only a fraction of these idols make it big or even make enough money to break even. Some of them end up with mountains of debt to the companies they sign on with. Some artists end up struggling with mental health issues. At least three high-profile Kpop idols have died by suicide in recent years. Others make the news for different reasons. By being involved in crime, the charges and convictions range from DYs, drug use, tax ovation and even sexual assault.
Yoohyun Jung:Those stories really got to me when I was working for the Kpop radio show. Part of idolizing something requires that you take the human out of it, but if you’re in the industry, you’re forced to see the human side of Kpop, which meant I couldn’t stay a willing customer. It took some time to give up being a fan though. It helps that my favorite group Wanna One had a natural end. They disbanded in January, 2019 when their contract ended. I went to the final concert, mostly for my own closure. And then there was a revelation this year that the votes and rankings for the entire Produce 101 franchise were rigged. The shows top producer Ahn Joon Young ended up going to prison. To think that the thing you were so addicted to was a fraud that ought to sober you up.
Yoohyun Jung:I still love Kpop and all its glory. The catchy music, the dance routines and the flashy music videos. And it’ll always be that thing that connects me to my culture but you can love something without letting it change you. There are people out there who are counting on you to lose control and turn over your bank accounts like I did.
Al Letson:Yoohyun Jung is a data journalist living in Hawaii. She’s also a musician and scored some of the music in this story.
Al Letson:Our lead producer for this week’s show is Katharine Mieszkowski. She had help this week from Ike Sriskandarajah and Taki Telonidis edited the show. Thanks to reveals Andrew Donohue, Soo Oh, and Melissa Lewis, Victoria Baranetsky is our general counsel, our production managers, Amy, the great Mostafa, score and sound designed by the dynamic duo Jay Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Fernando, my man, yo Arruda that helped today [inaudible], Steven Rascón and Claire C-Note Mullen.
Al Letson:Our digital producer is Sarah Merck. Our interim CEO is Annie Chabel, Sumi Aggarwal is our interim editor in chief and our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme is by Comarado Lightning. Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation. The Democracy Fund and the Inasmuch Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson. And remember there is always more to The story.

Byard Duncan is a reporter and producer for  engagement and collaborations for Reveal. He manages Reveal’s Reporting Networks, which provide more than 1,000 local journalists across the U.S. with resources and training to continue Reveal investigations in their communities. He also helps lead audience engagement initiatives around Reveal’s stories and assists local reporters in elevating their work to a national platform. In addition to Reveal, Duncan’s work has appeared in GQ, Esquire, The California Sunday Magazine and Columbia Journalism Review, among other outlets. He was part of Reveal’s Behind the Smiles project team, which was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2019. He is the recipient of two Edward R. Murrow Awards, a National Headliner Award, an Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, and two first-place awards for feature storytelling from the Society of Professional Journalists and Best of the West. Duncan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Ike Sriskandarajah

Ike Sriskandarajah is a senior reporter, producer, and fill-in host for Reveal. He has worked on projects that have won an Emmy, two medals from Investigative Reporters and Editors, and awards from Third Coast, the Education Writers Association, and the New York Associated Press Association. He was a narrative audio producer at The New York Times, making investigative episodes for "The Daily." Sriskandarajah is from Wisconsin and reports from New York City.

Yoohyun Jung

Yoohyun Jung is an education reporter at the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson. She reports on education policies and practices and sometimes cute kids doing cool things. A graduate of the University of Arizona School of Journalism, Jung started her reporting career as a Eugene C. Pulliam fellow on the page one team of the Arizona Republic. Jung, a native of South Korea, is an alumna of The New York Times Student Journalism Institute, a training program for young journalists of color. In January 2016, she and a team of Arizona journalists organized a data journalism training and hackathon called News Hack Arizona, which sought to boost data and programming literacy among local journalists. Jung has experience in multiple platforms, including radio and photography.

Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. She's also been a senior writer for Salon and Fast Company. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Slate and on NPR's "All Things Considered."

Her coverage has won national awards, including the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award two years in a row, an Online News Association Award, a Webby Award and a Society of Environmental Journalists Award. Mieszkowski has a bachelor's degree from Yale University. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Taki Telonidis is the senior supervising editor for Reveal. Previously, he was the media producer for the Western Folklife Center, where he created more than 100 radio features for NPR’s "All Things Considered," "Weekend Edition" and other news magazines. He has produced and directed three public television specials, including "Healing the Warrior’s Heart," a one-hour documentary that explores how the ancient spiritual traditions of our nation’s first warriors, Native Americans, are helping today’s veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Telonidis also was senior content editor for NPR’s "State of the Re:Union." Before moving to the West, he worked for NPR in Washington, where he was senior producer of "Weekend All Things Considered" between 1994 and 1998. His television and radio work has garnered a George Foster Peabody Award, three Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards and the Overseas Press Club Award for breaking news. Telonidis is based in Salt Lake City.

Amy Mostafa is the production manager for Reveal. She is pursuing a master's degree in journalism with a focus on audio and data at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is a Dean’s Merit Fellow and an Islamic Scholarship Fund scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on KALW and KALX.  Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office. 

Brett Simpson (she/her) is an assistant producer for Reveal. She is pursuing a master's degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where she focuses on audio, print and investigative reporting. She has received fellowships from the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, the National Press Club, the White House Correspondents’ Association and the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center. She is also the graduate researcher at UC Berkeley's Investigative Reporting Program. Most recently, Simpson reported breaking news for the San Francisco Chronicle and covered the coronavirus outbreak in the San Francisco Bay Area for The New York Times. She received a bachelor's degree in English at Princeton University, where she twice won the Ferris Prize for Outstanding Undergraduate Projects in Journalism. Simpson is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is the sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. A composer and multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the scoring, recording, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He co-founded a film scoring boutique called Manhattan Composers Collective and worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio geared toward media and ad spots. Arruda worked with clients such as Marvel and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck + Company, Buck and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles such as Krychek, Dark Inc., the New York Arabic Orchestra and Art&Sax. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker.” Arruda has scored extensively for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which have premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. Arruda is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Sarah Mirk (she/her) is a digital engagement producer for Reveal. Since 2017, she has worked as an editor at The Nib, an online daily comics publication focused on political cartoons, graphic journalism, essays and memoirs about current affairs. She works with artists to create nonfiction comics on a variety of complex topics, from personal narratives about queer identities to examinations of overlooked history. Before that, Mirk was the online editor of national feminist media outlet Bitch, a podcast host and a local news reporter. She is also the author of several books, including “Year of Zines,” a collection of 100 handmade zines, and “Guantanamo Voices,” a collection of illustrated oral histories of the world’s most infamous prison. Mirk is based in Portland, Oregon.

Kevin Sullivan is the executive producer of Reveal’s public radio show and podcast. He joined Reveal from the daily news magazine show “Here & Now,” where he was senior managing editor. There, he helped lead the expansion of the show as part of a unique partnership between NPR and WBUR. Prior to radio, Sullivan worked as a documentary film producer. That work took him around the world, with stories ranging from reconciliation in Northern Ireland to the refugee crisis during the war in Kosovo.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sullivan launched an investigative unit for CBS in Baltimore, where he spearheaded investigations on bioterrorism and the U.S. government’s ability to respond to future threats. He also dug into local issues. His exposé of local judges found widespread lax sentencing of repeat-offender drunken drivers. Other investigations included sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, and doctors who sold OxyContin for cash. Sullivan has won multiple journalism awards, including several Edward R. Murrow awards, a Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition award and an Emmy. He has an MBA from Boston University.

Sullivan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Al Letson is a playwright, performer, screenwriter, journalist, and the host of Reveal. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Letson national recognition and devoted fans.