You Won't Belieb It: Behind Justin Bieber's Instant Concert Sell Outs

The concert ticket industry is one of the least transparent processes in entertainment.


A quick YouTube search for "Justin Bieber tickets" will turn up videos spanning a range of emotions—overjoyed teenagers who scored tickets to a show, crestfallen parents who disappointed their pre-teens, plenty of tantrums, and even a group of nine-year-olds excitedly singing an original song begging the Biebs for tickets to his upcoming "Believe" tour.

But mostly, you'll find anger, and much of it is directed at one group—ticket scalpers.

Holly Wickline of Fredericksburg, Va., knows that better than anyone. She's the president and founder of Moms 4 Bieber, a fan club that's gained nonprofit status and tries to secure tickets for kids whose parents can't afford it. Since Bieber tickets went on sale earlier this month, she's heard from dozens of heartbroken parents who couldn't get tickets for their kids.

"I was so let down by the entire experience and the worst part was having to tell my son … that I failed him again," writes a Canadian parent in E-mails Wickline shared with U.S. News. Another parent said she was "tearing up" when she was unable to get tickets and another says she took up extra work shifts, only to be shut out at the box office.

"You want to make your kids so happy—granted, they don't have to have everything, and they'll be OK if they don't go to the concert," says Wickline, who was able to get tickets in Washington, D.C., for her two "Bieber aged" children. "But you picture that smile on your kid's face and it's hard to not want to put it there for something as little as a concert ticket with their idol."

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In those E-mails, parents seemed to blame one group of people more than any other: Ticket brokers, more commonly known as scalpers. But much of that blame might be misguided.The rise of a secondary ticket market, which has moved off the street corner in the hours before the show and onto legitimate sites such as StubHub, has undoubtedly had a huge impact on ticket sales—but often, artists themselves are complicit in the ticket resale process. The economics and distribution of concert tickets is one of the least transparent processes in entertainment, and a litany of factors can make a show sell out in seconds.

"There's such a profound misunderstanding amongst the general public, who go to maybe two shows a year, who don't participate in the process regularly," says Josh Baron, co-author of Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped. "They have no idea what exactly they're facing—they're only seeing part of the iceberg."

One of the concert industry's worst-kept secrets, according to Baron and his coauthor, Dean Budnick, is the fact that many artists sell tickets directly on the secondary market or at least make deals with large scale brokers to sell their tickets at marked up prices.

"There's no question that for decades, artists have been one of the primary contributing suppliers of tickets to the secondary market," Budnick says.

In a plot uncovered by the Wall Street Journal in 2009, Van Halen and Ticketmaster's then-CEO Irving Azoff, spearheaded a deal with brokers to sell 500 of the best seats from as many as 20 concerts directly to brokers. Those brokers kept 30 percent of the profits, the remainder was split between Ticketmaster, the band, and its management, to the tune of $1 million. More recently, leaked documents from Katy Perry's management company show that the artist reserved the right to hold back tickets from each concert to sell directly on StubHub or another ticket reselling avenues.

Attempts by U.S. News to reach Justin Bieber's management team were unsuccessful, and there's no evidence to suggest the artist is holding back tickets to sell on third party sites. Bieber's concerts were going to sell out in minutes regardless of whether he's holding back tickets or not.

It has been nearly two years since Justin Bieber toured the United States. Since then, the teen heartthrob has become perhaps the most popular man in the world.