A deal is a deal. Unless that deal is made on Stubhub, it would appear. Here’s a cautionary tale for anyone who dabbled in online ticket event sales, brought to light earlier today by a website named TheLeadSports.com.
Click on that link for all the details, they deserve the traffic, but here’s the tl;dr version: A Kobe Bryant fan named Jesse Sandler bought tickets for the Lakers’ last home game this year a few weeks *before* Bryant declared he was retiring. Overnight, predictably, prices for what had become Kobe’s last game skyrocketed. Prices went from $195 to $1,500 a ticket.
That’s when StubHub sent Sandler an email saying his ticket sale had been canceled. If he wanted to see the Kobe game, he had to pay the new market price now.
Sandler’s disappointment aside, this raises an important question about online ticket marketplaces: Who owns the ticket after a sale? Apparently, the seller does. And that’s remarkable.
StubHub emailed a statement to me about the situation. Here’s the initial statement:
“We are currently trying to reach this customer to make the situation right,” spokesperson Cameron Papp wrote. “This was a poor experience for Jesse and we will do everything we can to get him into this game. As a marketplace that oversees thousands of transactions a day, buyer and seller errors and discrepancies can occur. However, every customer is protected by our Fan Protect Guarantee so we will do everything in our power to make this situation right.”
But how can their be Go Backsies on StubHub sales? I spoke to someone I know who works at a NYC ticket broker, and she said this kind of thing happens all the time. Sometimes, as happened with the Super Bowl last year, ticket brokers sell tickets they don’t actually have, in the hopes that prices will go down and they can fill the orders later — a bit like shorting a stock. If prices don’t go down, a whole bunch of people are left thinking they’ve bought tickets they never actually get.
But in this case, the answer is simpler, my source said. Many pro teams don’t release “physical” tickets until 48 hours before a game. That means…the seller has them. And the seller can do whatever he or she wants to do with them. Online marketplaces like StubHub can assess a penalty to sellers who fail to deliver promised tickets, but in situations like this, the penalty is a pittance compared to the profits.
Here’s what StubHub said to me about the ownership issue:
“As a marketplace, we simply oversee the transaction to ensure it is safe and secure. Sometimes, teams will not release tickets to sellers until 24 – 48 hours before the event. We oversee thousands of transactions a day and there are rare occurrences when a seller does not fulfill an order. The reality is that these instances happen less than 1% of the time,” Papp wrote. “When these instances do occur, buyers are protected by our Fan Protect Guarantee. Oftentimes, we are able to provide the buyer with comparable tickets. This is what should have happened in this instance and the way this buyer was treated was a mistake. We are now doing our best to make this situation right for the buyer and have been attempting to contact him this afternoon.”
It’s all well and good to refund a consumer’s money if they get screwed out of ticket, but as I’m sure you’ve realized by now, there’s often a lot more at stake than the amount of the transaction. People plan entire vacations around ticket sales (as happened in the Super Bowl situation).
What advice can I offer StubHub buyers for protection? Well, not much, in this situation. I’ve always been a StubHub fan, as I think the service has cleaned up the often ugly business of scalping tickets. It also tried to nudge the industry towards more clear, up-front pricing (though that effort ultimately failed, and now StubHub obscures fees like almost everyone else). For what it’s worth, you can easily find stories of StubHub finding tickets for consumers in situations where they are about to get screwed like this.
Ultimately, the lesson is this: Until you physically have tickets, you don’t have tickets. Keep that seed of uncertainty in your mind every time you deal with an online ticket broker.