The US market for an event and Broadway tickets, in particular, is very decentralized. This comes mostly from the division in the market into the primary and secondary ticket market (resellers). There’s a huge difference between the two, but their goal is one and the same – providing you tickets for any type of Broadway show, concert, or sports event.
There are many online and offline vendors (various websites, ticket brokers, event promoters) that will claim to sell the best tickets out there. They are what we call the secondary market. They are as credible and reliable as the venue’s box office. In this article, I’ll tell you the difference between the primary and the secondary ticket market, why and how the market is structured, what to avoid when shopping for tickets, and what the best practices are.
Primary and Secondary Ticket Market – wide and diverse
When buying tickets online you should keep in mind that there are many websites selling real tickets. They all vary in their ticket offers, ticket prices, and service fees. Multiple sites can feature the same ticket. But don’t just go for the website which spends the most amount on advertising. Often vendors will try to make up for their ad spending with inflated ticket prices and high service fees.
I’ll try to answer some common questions about the primary and secondary ticket market below in order to make your ticket shopping an easier, more pleasant experience. And save you a good amount of money.
Types of Vendors
There are roughly two types of online vendors out there – primary and secondary ticket market, both with their significant differences, pros and cons.
Primary vendors are those that are selling tickets to the public for the first time and this is what separates it from the secondary ticket market. These include the venue’s box office (if you are buying in person) and websites that work directly with the box office and the event’s producers.
The major advantage of the Primary market is the ticket price. Undoubtedly, they sell the cheapest tickets. The biggest disadvantage is that these cheaper tickets sell out quickly and in a long term. For example, Hamilton – one of Broadway’s prime shows pre-pandemic was completely sold out for more than six months ahead. And the seats after that were pretty scarce, too.
Another primary option are the TKTS booths. They have several advantages, like selling pretty cheap tickets for multiple shows, and many same-day tickets with up to 50% off. However, this can lead to some very long lines, and tickets may be over within a couple of hours. Their locations are easy to find. Their main one is in the heart of Times Square, a stone-throw away from Theater District. They have two smaller locations at South Street Seaport and at the Lincoln Center, so they are pretty easier to find and work perfectly for tourists due to their close proximity to major tourist attractions.
When buying a ticket for a TKTS booth you support their non-profit organization, dedicated to bringing the power of the performing arts to everyone since 1968.
The secondary vendors (sometimes called the “Secondary Market”) largely consist of websites reselling tickets that were purchased from the primary market. Ticket offers on these sites come from people who can’t make it to the event on time and want to resell their tickets. There are also ticket brokers who often buy in bulk ahead of time and try to resell their tickets at a profit.
These are the global leaders on the secondary market. They provide tickets for every event you can imagine – Broadway musicals, pop concerts, sports events (NFL, NBA, MLS, NASCAR), and all other sorts of entertaining events.
They take serious pride in being the largest ticket marketplace with tickets available for over 10 million live sports, music, and theatre events in more than 40 countries. StubHub has been at the forefront of ticket reselling for more than 20 years. They have introduced some innovations like the ticketing application, interactive seat mapping, 360-degree virtual views of seating, innovative price recommendation technology, and an algorithm that determines the best value on tickets.
Considered one of the vendors with the best reputation, Ticketmaster operates on four continents – North America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Australia. They formed a partnership with Live Nation to create Live Nation Entertainment, thus gaining access to their current markets. They provide tickets for hundreds of shows, concerts, and events. Furthermore, they are often used as a Primary market for large-scale musical tours like the ones of Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and Genesis.
Yet another one of the preferred secondary vendors, Vividseats is known to partner with some of the largest brands in the sports and entertainment industries. You’ll often see their logo along with those of ESPN, the Rolling Stone, LA Clippers, and many more! Vividseats strives to provide a 100% Buyer Guarantee in order to give customers full peace of mind, safety, and security.
A smaller, family-run operation, what Broadway Pass compensates in scale, they compensate in price and inventory. Another cool option is that they provide both an online store, and a physical location. It is located just next to Times Square. Furthermore, their prices are very close to face value, and they don’t feature service fees. Musical tickets are listed directly from the box office, including discounted tickets (the easiest and cheapest way to get tickets online). Moreover, they offer fairly-priced resale tickets from the secondary market.
One of the main separating features between the Primary and the Secondary ticket market is the service fees. They are charged by nearly everyone on the Secondary market (except for Broadway Pass). On rare occasions – even on the Primary market.
They might be considered a pain in the side by customers. But from a vendor’s perspective they are what turns them on profit, and essentially – keeps them in business. These “service fees” might include Service Fee, Order Processing Fee, Delivery Fee, Facility Fee, Resale Fee, and more, depending on the chosen vendor.
A way to keep safe from scammers (for them – in a moment) is by verifying the provider that sold you the ticket. So you want to look and make sure that they’re part of a member association for ticket sellers. You want to make sure that there are other folks that you know of, or you can look up comments who have dealt with this company.
Like I mentioned above, service fees are set by the respective vendor, but usually vary around 20 to 25% of the cost of the ticket. Although I’ve seen instances with both higher or lower fees.
- StubHub charges both the seller and the buyer with a fee. There are fees on both sides. The sell-side fee is 10%-15%. The buy-side fee is usually 25%+.
- Ticketmaster charges a fee of around 20 – 23 % of the price of the ticket. There is usually a service fee per ticket and an order processing fee per order that varies by event. (The order processing fee is not usually charged on retail outlet and box office purchases.)
- Vivid Seats charges anywhere between 15% and 24%.
- Broadway Pass does not utilize any service fees. They shop tickets directly from the Primary market and sell them at a price, very close to face value. This leads to a considerably lower ticket price.
Pros and Cons of the Secondary Market
The secondary market is where things get interesting because you can get great deals there (lower than the primary market) but, since sellers are naturally looking to make a profit there, you can also overpay significantly compared to other places.
To make things more complicated, many of the secondary market websites (Stubhub, Vividseats, etc.) often spend a lot on advertising and are well optimized, so in the majority of cases, they are among the first results which come up in a Google search about event tickets.
Why should you pick the secondary market?
Why would you ever want to buy from the secondary market? Well…. To start with – it may be your only option. If the primary market is sold out, the only place you can find tickets is the secondary market. If this is the case, then you would probably pay considerably more than what the seller bought them for … but at least you will find tickets for the show.
The second reason why you might want to check the secondary market is last-minute deals. If the particular date and time are not selling well, resellers are strongly motivated to lower their prices below face value and get any amount for their tickets that are about to expire. This can be a gamble but sometimes it is worth exploring.
The risks along the way – what should you avoid
Buying from classified websites (like craigslist) or internet forums is never a good idea! It is way too easy for someone to Photoshop and make something look like a real ticket. Make sure when buying online, that you are buying from a verified vendor.
What about scalpers and people saying tickets outside of the venue?
Well, as you might guess, this is also risky and not recommended. Fake tickets exist and are often sold that way. However, it is true that you might also find a great deal this way. It is much more difficult to falsify a paper ticket than an e-ticket, so make sure the tickets look legitimate and always check if the date printed on the ticket is correct. Scalpers can be all kinds of people – brokers who are trying to get rid of their inventory, people who can’t make it to the show, etc. If you decide to go this way – be extra careful.
Reselling legislation: the Better Online Tickets Sales (BOTS) Act
The growing percent of ticket scalpers lead to the signing of the BOTS Act in 2016. This act was created to thwart attempts by individuals and organization to automate the process of purchasing tickets en masse using ticket bots. Later, these tickets are often resold on third-party sites for profit at a markup over face value, or at a loss. This activity is also referred to as ticket scalping. The BOTS Act outlawed the resale of tickets purchased using bot technology and set a fine of $16,000 for violations of the act, which is enforced by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
The State of New York has adopted a particular form of the BOTS act. And I quote:
Application of Law:
Businesses domiciled outside the state of
New York are subject to New York law when selling tickets to
events held in the state of New York, regardless of the where the
buyer and seller are domiciled. (N.Y. Arts & Cult. Aff. Law § 25.03)
Price Cap: No owner or operator of a venue may demand any
premium or price in excess of the face value of the ticket, plus
lawful taxes, whether such premium or excess price is designated
as price, gratuity or otherwise. (N.Y. Arts & Cult. Aff. Law § 25.29)
Exclusions: The price cap does not to apply to:
• reasonable service charges for special services, including, but
not limited to, sales away from the box office, credit card sales or
delivery services; or
• offering tickets for initial sale by means of an auction. (N.Y. Arts
& Cult. Aff. Law § 25.29)
Definition of Resale: “Resale” means any sale of a ticket for an
event at a venue in the State of New York and includes sales by
any means, including in person, by telephone, mail, delivery service,
facsimile, internet, email or other electronic means. (N.Y. Arts &
Cult. Aff. Law § 25.03)
Reseller License: Ticket resellers, including internet websites,
are required to obtain a license from the Secretary of State for
each location at which business will be conducted. If the reseller
demonstrates that its business provides a service to facilitate
ticket transactions without charging any fees, surcharges or
service charges above the established price of the ticket on every
transaction, except a reasonable and actual charge for the delivery
of tickets, then the fees for licensing will be waived. (N.Y. Arts &
Cult. Aff. Law § 25.13)
Licensed Reseller Requirements: Licensed resellers have the following requirements, among others:
• Bond: A licensed reseller must file a bond in the sum $25,000,
with two or more sureties or an authorized surety company (N.Y.
Arts & Cult. Aff. Law § 25.15)
• Records of Sales: Every licensee shall at all times keep full
and accurate records showing the prices at which all tickets
have been bought and sold and the names and addresses of the
person whom they were bought. These records must be retained
for at least 10 years. Twice annually, every licensed reseller must
report to the department of state the total number of, and average
resale price of, all tickets to each ticketed event (N.Y. Arts & Cult.
Aff. Law § 25.25)
Required Refund Guarantees:
• Anyone who resells tickets or facilitates the resale or resale
auction of tickets between independent parties by any means
must guarantee to every purchaser a full refund of the amount
paid by the purchaser (including, but not limited to, all fees,
regardless how categorized) in the following events:
– If the event has been cancelled, in which case actual handling
and delivery fees need not be refunded if the guarantee
specifies that those fees will not be refunded
– If the ticket does not grant the purchaser admission to the
event, unless the ticket was cancelled due to an act or omission
by the purchaser
– If the ticket is not as described, unless the purchaser preapproved a substitution of the ticket
• Prior to the payment of a refund, it is the obligation of the seller and
purchaser to first make a good faith effort to remedy any disputes, if
the reseller and purchaser agreed to terms established by the reseller
or website manager for the disposition of disputes as a condition to
facilitate the transaction (N.Y. Arts & Cult. Aff. Law § 25.07)
Refunds are generally impossible to get, both on the primary and the secondary ticket market. Please keep this in mind. If you don’t make it to the show this ticket is considered used. Once you purchase your tickets, the only way to recoup your money if you cannot make it to the event is to resell your tickets on the secondary market. In rare cases, some venues will allow you to past-date your tickets. This means that they will offer you another date where you could use your ticket. The date and seat are up to the venue/promoter and there is no guarantee that you will be able to make this particular date. If you need help with past-dating please email us at email@example.com and list yours.
History of ticket reselling
Since when there were tickets, there were people who bought them and later sold them on profit.
The first well-remembered case to scalping dates way back to 1860s! You might find the event surprising – it was the second US tour of popular English author Charles Dickens of the United States!
It was a vicious industry back then! Primary market prices for the author of Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, and David Copperfield had a face value of $5, but were resold on the Secondary Market for more than $50, and no one mentions the service fees. All jokes aside – thing were pretty grim, and were closer to the organized crime than to modern companies like Ticketmaster and StubHub. Those that resold tickets were called “ticket speculators” and “sidewalk men” because they stood on the corner of the street, just like modern-day drug dealers. And just like modern-day gangs, speculators resorted to shooting to get the best spots.
To acquire tickets, speculators used “proxies” to buy from theaters and other venues. Much like they do today, theater managers, artists, and other players within the primary ticket market allowed speculators to sell tickets directly on the secondary market.
In the 1800s, ticket reselling was not limited to theater productions and live events. Speculators also resold train tickets. While this sounds shady, it was a legitimate business.
These resellers organized a group called the American Ticket Brokers’ Association. The association’s aim was to eliminate disreputable resellers from the business. At one point, the faction had 150 members.
Many websites selling real tickets and they all vary in their ticket offers, ticket prices, and service fees. The same set of tickets can be listed on multiple sites at the same time.
Often vendors will try to make up for their ad spending with inflated ticket prices and high service fees.
Primary vendors are those that are selling tickets to the public for the first time, while the secondary ticket market consists of websites reselling tickets that were purchased from the primary market.
It is often the only option, especially when you try to purchase tickets at the last moment. Sometimes, the secondary market provides some great deals, like if a certain performance is not selling well and the vendors have dropped their prices significantly.
Try to avoid classified websites (like craigslist) or internet forums. It is easy to create a fake ticket that looks real by image-editing software.
Scalpers are another issue to be careful with. This is the major “outlet” for selling fake tickets. You may be able to strike a great deal, but this is a risk that we don’t recommend.
Most of the theaters do not offer refunds. They consider the ticket used, whether you managed to attend the show or not. Some venues still allow you to past-date your tickets.