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The secondary ticketing market is worth $15 billion. How long will fans have to pay?
Artists and fans are the big losers as bot-powered scalpers make a killing.
- The secondary ticketing market is predicted to grow to $15.19 billion next year.
- Artists, athletes, management, and venues see none of this revenue—it all goes to scalpers and ticketing agencies.
- Some companies are likely in breach of anti-trust laws, but no one seems to be regulating the industry.
Nils Frahm hit another level in an already impressive career when recently performing at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The German composer and producer has played in clubs and festivals for years. Presenting during the LA Philharmonic's season affords Frahm new audiences and opportunities in arts organizations around the planet. The invitation was worth it; the amount of equipment one man plays in two hours is simply staggering.
Frahm's show had been sold out for months. Yet staring from the side of the stage, a good fifth of the venue was empty. Some subscribers failed to show—their loss. There was another reason for the absence, as per a post-show conversation with his management: the secondary ticketing market.
The online event ticketing market is expected to reach $68 billion by 2025. By next year the secondary market will bring in over $15 billion. None of that revenue goes to the artists, management, or venues. Fans pay the price.
Frahm isn't the only artist suffering such a fate. Bruce Springsteen has repeatedly expressed frustration with scalpers. His Broadway debut, Springsteen on Broadway, pulled in $106.8 million at the box office over its 58-week run, yet the show demanded the highest average ticket price on the secondary market in history: $1,789.
Bikini Kill fans were excited when the band announced its reunion shows. As expected, tickets sold out immediately. The problem is that as fans waited online (virtually) for $40-$45 tickets, Stubhub was already listing them for up to $900. In fact, the company now advertises with "Sold out just means get them at Stubhub." Not exactly the moral beacon for fan-artist relationships.
After Taylor Swift lost an estimated $150 million due to the secondary market on her 2015 tour, she did the unimaginable: She purposefully inflated ticket prices for non-verified fans. The $700 price tag ensured bots and scalpers could not profit from her fans. Yet it also meant that her shows did not sell out.
Ticket scalper makes millions through StubHub scheme (The Investigators with Diana Swain)
Crafty and commendable business move, but not sustainable. Thousands of actual fans were blocked from seeing her perform due to rampant and practically unregulated scalpers. According to a new report, it's going to get worse: Ticketing websites are being warned to prepare for 40 percent of their traffic coming from "bad bots." The cost of extra security protocols and maintenance will translate into higher fees on tickets, forcing fans to once again pay the inflated price.
The ticketing industry is practically unregulated. Though President Obama signed the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act into law in 2016—which does not appear to be working—he also did the ticketing industry a disservice when his administration allowed the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster in 2010. Many experts agree that this is in violation of antitrust laws, but really, who's monitoring trusts when a few hundred thousand at Trump Hotel buys you insider access?
A little history about how we arrived here is in order. Trusts were all the rage in the 19th century. Corporations were given free access to acquire and consume whatever competition they chose. This became problematic when these companies grew more powerful than the government.
The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 was the first step in mitigating the power of corporations that were crossing industries and determining prices. Specifically, the law was designed to prevent any company from having the ability to artificially raise prices by restricting supply or controlling trade.
Instead of catering to congressional oversight, corporations just became slicker. Along with Benjamin Harrison, who signed the Sherman Act into law, the next two presidents prosecuted a total of 18 antitrust cases over the next eleven years. Enter Teddy Roosevelt.
Taylor Swift performs at ANZ Stadium on November 02, 2018 in Sydney, Australia.
(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
Over the course of his presidency, Roosevelt brought 44 antitrust suits to court. While the myth has him "for the people," Roosevelt was actually making sure that corporations would not acquire more power than elected officials. He also knew public sentiment was on his side. Offer too much power to a handful of companies and, as Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, who presided over Roosevelt's most famous case against Standard Oil, wrote in his decision,
"The nation had been rid of human slavery, fortunately, as all now feel—but the conviction was universal that the country was in real danger from another kind of slavery sought to be fastened on the American people; namely, the slavery that would result from aggregation of capital in the hands of a few individuals and corporations controlling, for their own profit and advantage exclusively, the entire business of the country, including the production and sale of the necessaries of life."
Many were aghast when presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren suggested breaking up tech giants such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google, because their power stifles competition and innovation. She's actually just revisiting Rooseveltian politics. She's also right, as Columbia law professor Tim Wu suggests in his latest book, The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age.
In a span of just years, Facebook acquired 67 companies, Amazon 91, and Google 214. Branching out into seemingly divergent industries—look, we're really a self-driving car company!—causes the public to overlook the fact that nearly all of Google's profits come from advertising revenue. Having a diverse portfolio of pet projects allow technology companies to masquerade as swingers while consolidating power and controlling supply, exactly what the Sherman Act was designed to protect against.
Why you can't get tickets: The Ticket Game (CBC Marketplace)
Across industries, Wu writes, the biggest corporations are dominating: Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors control northward of 70 percent of global beer sales; after breaking up AT&T's monopoly, they've now emerged next to Verizon as a giant, purchasing DirecTV and Time Warner along the way; rampant criminality in the pharmaceutical industry allows companies to increase the price of drugs by 6,000 percent on a whim. Martin Shkreli might be in jail, but Daraprim remains $750 a pill, up from its initial cost of $13.50.
Wu includes Ticketmaster in his list of problematic companies. Live Nation owns, leases, operates, or has exclusive booking rights to 157 venues worldwide. That forces all of those shows to be managed by Ticketmaster. While Ticketmaster claims that it wants to circumvent the secondary market, the truth is they lost the race to Stubhub. That didn't stop Ticketmaster from acquiring the reseller, TicketsNow, for $265 million in 2008.
Interestingly, Ticketmaster considered selling the company the following year in fear of antitrust laws while being courted by Live Nation. Worry not—TicketsNow remains a wholly owned, independently-operated subsidiary. Yet the bond remains strong, as Ticketmaster was accused of recruiting scalpers in 2018.
I don't know any music fan (and I didn't even touch sports) who hasn't been frustrated by the ticket-buying process. The connection between a musician and fan is sacred. Having attended hundreds of concerts in my lifetime, I've experienced some of the most incredible experiences there. The sense of community and camaraderie is transcendent.
Once again, the capitalistic inclinations of the few undermine a human ritual. A few shady players have wedged themselves between fans and artists, while presenters and ticketing agencies conspire to create a new trust that plows forward unregulated. The connection between artist and fan severed, the majority in this cycle remain powerless. In plain language, it sucks and no governmental body is doing anything about it.
Roosevelt was aware of something important. He knew that if public sentiment grew loud enough, the pitchforks would come out. He wasn't breaking apart capitalism but attempting to save it. The regulation of industries was to ensure corporations would still profit; he wasn't stifling them. It's not certain we'll make the same choice this time, but until this elephant is addressed, fans will continue to lose.
Why music affects everyone's emotions differently
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.
- The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
- It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
- Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
David Schmidt, a geology professor at Westminster College, had just arrived in the South Dakota Badlands in summer 2019 with a group of students for a fossil dig when he received a call from the National Forest Service. A nearby rancher had discovered a strange object poking out of the ground. They wanted Schmidt to take a look.
"One of the very first bones that we saw in the rock was this long cylindrical bone," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "The first thing that came out of our mouths was, 'That kind of looks like the horn of a triceratops.'"
After authorities gave the go-ahead, Schmidt and a small group of students returned this summer and spent nearly every day of June and July excavating the skull.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College
"We had to be really careful," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "We couldn't disturb anything at all, because at that point, it was under law enforcement investigation. They were telling us, 'Don't even make footprints,' and I was thinking, 'How are we supposed to do that?'"
Another difficulty was the mammoth size of the skull: about 7 feet long and more than 3,000 pounds. (For context, the largest triceratops skull ever unearthed was about 8.2 feet long.) The skull of Schmidt's dinosaur was likely a Triceratops prorsus, one of two species of triceratops that roamed what's now North America about 66 million years ago.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College
The triceratops was an herbivore, but it was also a favorite meal of the Tyrannosaurus rex. That probably explains why the Dakotas contain many scattered triceratops bone fragments, and, less commonly, complete bones and skulls. In summer 2019, for example, a separate team on a dig in North Dakota made headlines after unearthing a complete triceratops skull that measured five feet in length.
Michael Kjelland, a biology professor who participated in that excavation, said digging up the dinosaur was like completing a "multi-piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle" that required "engineering that rivaled SpaceX," he jokingly told the New York Times.
Morrison Formation in Colorado
James St. John via Flickr
The Badlands aren't the only spot in North America where paleontologists have found dinosaurs. In the 1870s, Colorado and Wyoming became the first sites of dinosaur discoveries in the U.S., ushering in an era of public fascination with the prehistoric creatures — and a competitive rush to unearth them.
Since, dinosaur bones have been found in 35 states. One of the most fruitful locations for paleontologists has been the Morrison formation, a sequence of Upper Jurassic sedimentary rock that stretches under the Western part of the country. Discovered here were species like Camarasaurus, Diplodocus, Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus, and Allosaurus, to name a few.
|Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons|
As for "Shady" (the nickname of the South Dakota triceratops), Schmidt and his team have safely transported it to the Westminster campus. They hope to raise funds for restoration, and to return to South Dakota in search of more bones that once belonged to the triceratops.
Studying dinosaurs helps scientists gain a more complete understanding of our evolution, illuminating a through-line that extends from "deep time" to present day. For scientists like Schmidt, there's also the simple joy of coming to face-to-face with a lost world.
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "You don't ever think that these things will ever happen."
In ancient Greece, the Olympics were never solely about the athletes themselves.
Because of a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases, the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2021 Olympics will unfold in a stadium absent the eyes, ears and voices of a once-anticipated 68,000 ticket holders from around the world.
Events during the intervening days will likewise occur in silent arenas missing the hundreds of thousands of spectators who paid US$815 million for their now-useless tickets.
After 48 years teaching classics, I can't help but wonder what the Greeks – who invented the Games nearly 3,000 years ago, in 776 B.C. – would make of such a ghostly version of their Olympic festival.
In many ways, they'd view the prospect as absurd.
In ancient Greece, the Olympics were never solely about the athletes themselves; instead, the heart and soul of the festival was the experience shared by all who attended. Every four years, athletes and spectators traveled from far-flung corners of the Greek-speaking world to Olympia, lured by a longing for contact with their compatriots and their gods.
In the shadow of dreams
For the Greeks, during five days in the late-summer heat, two worlds miraculously merged at Olympia: the domain of everyday life, with its human limits, and a supernatural sphere from the days superior beings, gods and heroes populated Earth.
Greek athletics, like today's, plunged participants into performances that pushed the envelope of human ability to its breaking point. But to the Greeks, the cauldron of competition could trigger revelations in which ordinary mortals might briefly intermingle with the extraordinary immortals.
The poet Pindar, famous for the victory songs he composed for winners at Olympia, captured this sort of transcendent moment when he wrote, “Humans are creatures of a day. But what is humankind? What is it not? A human is just the shadow of a dream – but when a flash of light from Zeus comes down, a shining light falls on humans and their lifetime can be sweet as honey."
However, these epiphanies could occur only if witnesses were physically present to immerse themselves – and share in – the spine-tingling flirtation with the divine.
Simply put, Greek athletics and religious experience were inseparable.
At Olympia, both athletes and spectators were making a pilgrimage to a sacred place. A modern Olympics can legitimately take place in any city selected by the International Olympic Committee. But the ancient games could occur in only one location in western Greece. The most profoundly moving events didn't even occur in the stadium that accommodated 40,000 or in the wrestling and boxing arenas.
Instead, they took place in a grove called the Althis, where Hercules is said to have first erected an altar, sacrificed oxen to Zeus and planted a wild olive tree. Easily half the events during the festival engrossed spectators not in feats like discus, javelin, long jump, foot race and wrestling, but in feasts where animals were sacrificed to gods in heaven and long-dead heroes whose spirits still lingered.
On the evening of the second day, thousands gathered in the Althis to reenact the funeral rites of Pelops, a human hero who once raced a chariot to win a local chief's daughter. But the climactic sacrifice was on the morning of the third day at the Great Altar of Zeus, a mound of plastered ashes from previous sacrifices that stood 22 feet tall and 125 feet around. In a ritual called the hecatomb, 100 bulls were slaughtered and their thigh bones, wrapped in fat, burned atop the altar so that the rising smoke and aroma would reach the sky where Zeus could savor it.
No doubt many a spectator shivered at the thought of Zeus hovering above them, smiling and remembering Hercules' first sacrifice.
Just a few yards from the Great Altar another, more visual encounter with the god awaited. In the Temple of Zeus, which was erected around 468 to 456 B.C., stood a colossal image, 40 feet high, of the god on a throne, his skin carved from ivory and his clothing made of gold. In one hand he held the elusive goddess of victory, Nike, and in the other a staff on which his sacred bird, the eagle, perched. The towering statue was reflected in a shimmering pool of olive oil surrounding it.
During events, the athletes performed in the nude, imitating heroic figures like Hercules, Theseus or Achilles, who all crossed the dividing line between human and superhuman and were usually represented nude in painting and sculpture.
The athletes' nudity declared to spectators that in this holy place, contestants hoped to reenact, in the ritual of sport, the shudder of contact with divinity. In the Althis stood a forest of hundreds of nude statues of men and boys, all previous victors whose images set the bar for aspiring newcomers.
“There are a lot of truly marvelous things one can see and hear about in Greece," the Greek travel writer Pausanias noted in the second century B.C., “but there is something unique about how the divine is encountered at … the games at Olympia."
Communion and community
The Greeks lived in roughly 1,500 to 2,000 small-scale states scattered across the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions.
Since sea travel in summertime was the only viable way to cross this fragile geographical web, the Olympics might entice a Greek living in Southern Europe and another residing in modern-day Ukraine to interact briefly in a festival celebrating not only Zeus and Heracles but also the Hellenic language and culture that produced them.
Besides athletes, poets, philosophers and orators came to perform before crowds that included politicians and businessmen, with everyone communing in an “oceanic feeling" of what it meant to be momentarily united as Greeks.
Now, there's no way we could explain the miracle of TV to the Greeks and how its electronic eye recruits millions of spectators to the modern games by proxy. But visitors to Olympia engaged in a distinct type of spectating.
The ordinary Greek word for someone who observes – “theatês" – connects not only to “theater" but also to “theôria," a special kind of seeing that requires a journey from home to a place where something wondrous unfolds. Theôria opens a door into the sacred, whether it's visiting an oracle or participating in a religious cult.
Attending an athletic-religious festival like the Olympics transformed an ordinary spectator, a theatês, into a theôros – a witness observing the sacred, an ambassador reporting home the wonders observed abroad.
It's hard to imagine TV images from Tokyo achieving similar ends.
No matter how many world records are broken and unprecedented feats accomplished at the 2020 games, the empty arenas will attract no gods or genuine heroes: The Tokyo games are even less enchanted than previous modern games.
But while medal counts will confer fleeting glory on some nations and disappointing shame on others, perhaps a dramatic moment or two might unite athletes and TV viewers in an oceanic feeling of what it means to be “kosmopolitai," citizens of the world, celebrants of the wonder of what it means to be human – and perhaps, briefly, superhuman as well.
The ancient Greeks wouldn't recognize some aspects of the modern Olympics.
Vincent Farenga, Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences
A new brain imaging study explored how different levels of the brain's excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters are linked to math abilities.
- Glutamate and GABA are neurotransmitters that help regulate brain activity.
- Scientists have long known that both are important to learning and neuroplasticity, but their relationship to acquiring complex cognitive skills like math has remained unclear.
- The new study shows that having certain levels of these neurotransmitters predict math performance, but that these levels switch with age.
Why do roughly one in five people find math especially difficult?
You might blame teaching methods, which some argue explains why the U.S. lags behind other countries in standardized math test scores. You could point to math anxiety, which affects about 20 percent of students and 25 percent of teachers, according to surveys. And there are also medical conditions that make math difficult, such as dyscalculia, a learning disability that disrupts the normal development of arithmetic skills.
But another explanation centers on neurotransmitters. In a new study published in PLOS Biology, researchers explored how the brain's levels of GABA and glutamate relate to math abilities over time in students of varying ages. The results showed that levels of these neurotransmitters can predict students' performance on math tests. However, this relationship seems to flip as people get older.
GABA and glutamate are responsible for regulating brain activity. In the mature brain, GABA is the brain's main inhibitory neurotransmitter, helping to block impulses between nerve cells in the brain, which can calm feelings of stress, anxiety, or fear. GABA is made from glutamate, the brain's major excitatory neurotransmitter that helps send signals throughout the central nervous system.
Researchers have long known that these neurotransmitters play crucial roles in learning, development, and neuroplasticity. That is partly because they are thought to help trigger developmental windows (or "sensitive periods") during which neural systems become more plastic and better able to acquire certain cognitive skills.
"Importantly, sensitive periods vary for different functions, with relatively simple abilities (e.g., sensorimotor integration) occurring earlier in development, while the sensitive period for acquiring more complex cognitive functions extends into the third decade of life," the researchers wrote.
GABA, glutamate, and math
Still, the exact relationship between GABA, glutamate, and complex cognitive functions has remained unclear. The new study explored that relationship by focusing on associations between the neurotransmitters and math abilities, which "provides a unique cognitive model to examine these questions due to its protracted skill acquisition period that starts already from early childhood and can continue for nearly two decades," the researchers wrote.
For the study, the researchers measured levels of GABA and glutamate in the left intraparietal sulcus (IPS) of 255 students, ranging from primary school to college. The participants completed a math test as their brains were imaged. About a year and a half later, the participants repeated the same process.
"The longitudinal design allowed us to further examine whether neurotransmitter concentration is linked to MA [mathematical abilities] as well as predict MA in the future," the researchers wrote. "Crucially, adopting this design allowed us to discern the selective effect of glutamate and GABA in response to natural (i.e., learning in school) rather than artificial environmental stimulation, thus allowing us to test the knowledge gained from lab-based experiments in high ecological settings."
The results suggest that GABA and glutamate play an important role in math abilities, but that the dynamic switches with age. For the young participants, higher GABA levels in the IPS were associated with higher scores on math tests. The opposite was observed among older students: higher glutamate levels correlated with higher scores. Both results held true on subsequent math tests.
Although the study sheds light on how neurotransmitter levels at different stages of development contribute to learning some cognitive skills, like math, the researchers noted that acquiring other skills may involve different processes.
"Our findings may also highlight a general principle that the developmental dynamics of regional excitation and inhibition levels in regulating the sensitive period and plasticity of a given high-level cognitive function (i.e., MA) may be different compared to another high-level cognitive function (i.e., general intelligence) that draws on similar, albeit not identical, cognitive and neural mechanisms," they wrote.