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.

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If Bieber's 23.5 million Twitter followers each wanted to see him play Madison Square Garden, where he'll play two shows in November, he could sell out the 20,000 capacity arena for 1,175 shows—or more than three years straight. His latest album, Believe, finally came out Tuesday after months of anticipation from his fans.

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Even Ticketmaster admits that, scalpers or not, Bieber would have likely sold out every show on the tour in a couple minutes.

"If he performed every night of his life, tickets would still sell out. I think people lost sight of how many people really want to go," says Jacqueline Peterson, a Ticketmaster spokesperson.

Then consider that when the clock struck 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 2—the so-called public on-sale for Madison Square Garden—only a fraction of the 20,000 seats were available.

Before that, thousands of tickets had been sold to members of Justin Bieber's fan club and to American Express card holders. Many other artists sell presale tickets to Citi credit card holders. The terms of these deals are also industry secrets and vary widely between artists. Budnick and Baron suggest that for an average concert, about 10 percent of tickets are sold through fanclub presales, but for artists such as Phish and Dave Matthews Band, it can be closer to 50 percent of all sales.

An investigation into Taylor Swift's September 2009 concert at Bridgestone Arena (then known as the Sommet Center) in Nashville, Tenn., found that of the 13,330 seats in the venue, more than 11,720 were already accounted for before the public sale. Exactly 5,000 of those went to American Express cardholders, double the number that went to Taylor Swift's fanclub. Others went to sponsors, producers, and marketers.

"Artists are incentivized to do these credit card deals—I haven't heard a number, but it's clearly being made worth their while," says Baron.

David Kells, who manages booking for Bridgestone Arena, where Bieber will play a (sold out) show in January, says each artist and artist management team, along with the arena, which is often owned by Live Nation-Ticketmaster, decides how many tickets will go on sale to the public.

"It completely varies," says Kells, who wouldn't comment on how many Bieber tickets went on sale to the general public. "Some do no presales at all, some do [American Express] and radio station presales, it's always different percentages. If [the arena] has an interest, we'll raise our hands and say we want to do one for our mailing list."

Kells says the presales "give fans more than one opportunity to get in line. They can sign up for a fan club or be part of the newsletter, so there's multiple opportunities."

Ticketmaster's Peterson admits that, "historically, this company and industry hasn't been that open," and it's trying to shed more light on ticket fees—but not necessarily ticket availabilities.

"In giving that number, that's information scalpers can use to assess demand … it almost provides too much of a blueprint for those scalpers," she says.

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Regardless, fans are sick of being shut out from attending concerts for face value. Ticketmaster's new CEO, Nathan Hubbard, has said the company wants to be more transparent with fans, but Baron says that's unlikely to come anytime soon.

"I know [Hubbard] thinks something has to be done, and we're heading in that direction," he says. "But it's transparency versus greed, and greed often ends up winning out."

A move towards transparency won't help the thousands of shut out Bieber fans, many of whom appear to be clueless about individual Bieber presales.

One guy who wasn't clueless? Blake Lawrence, a 27-year-old ticket broker living in Sacramento, Calif., who snagged hundreds of Bieber tickets across his 49 scheduled North American shows.

Far from a sketchy guy standing on a street corner, Lawrence's one-man shop is an incorporated business. He pays taxes and spends up to 60 hours a week working on his company.