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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A tour as hot as Bieber's is rare—Lawrence says less than 1 percent of concerts that go on sale by Ticketmaster will yield profits.

"I was buying in every presale. That's what a lot of people missed on—I was buying tickets an hour and a half into the fan club presale, in every spot of every arena," he says. "I could have bought 40 lower-level tickets per show."

His take on Bieber? Most of the tickets were gone during presales, and brokers like him are the ones that benefitted.

"I bought in every presale," he says. "During the public onsale, you were lucky to get one or two pairs in the upper level. It seems like 90 percent of the tickets on the market were purchased during the presales."

Bieber announced his tour and put fan club tickets on sale the next day, giving fans little time to learn about the first presale. Lawrence believes Bieber's management did that so that scalpers wouldn't have enough time to prepare, but says management miscalculated.

"It was a surprise. I think a good percentage of brokers didn't know about it in time, but they did a lot better job of keeping the normal fans out of the presale," he says.

Brokers like Lawrence subscribe to websites that will, for a fee, divulge ticket onsale times, presale passwords, and even offer buying recommendations. To bypass strict ticket limits, brokers create multiple Ticketmaster accounts, using credit cards linked to relatives' addresses, post office boxes, or buy prepaid cards that can be registered to any address.

[Album Piracy May Help Sell]

Budnick and Baron says the way Lawrence got his start—by selling for a few popular shows in college—is becoming more common as it becomes easier to buy tickets online. Brokers who buy up hundreds of tickets still exist, but a bigger problem, for the casual fan, is the fact that they're now competing against thousands of casual scalpers. Known in the broker industry as "beer money brokers" or "soccer moms," they're out to make a quick buck on more popular shows.

"Individuals see an opportunity to make quick money on shows like Justin Bieber—maybe they want to go with their best friend, so they'll buy four and then flip two, trying to subsidize their trip," Baron says. "These are moms and dads and college students from around the country, so there's more competition for good seats."

Joellen Ferrer, head of U.S. communications for StubHub, agrees.

"The majority of the sellers on our site are not brokers, the majority are individual fans," she says.

One thing that's overplayed in the scalping world, according to many in the industry, is the use of automated bots that can scoop up hundreds of tickets at a time. That's not to say bots don't exist—in 2010, the operators of Wiseguy Tickets pled guilty to counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and hacking after using bots for seven years to buy more than 1 million concert and sporting event tickets.

Ticketmaster won't say whether they saw an increased level of bot activity during Justin Bieber's onsales, but Peterson says that they "thwart thousands of [bot] requests" during every popular onsale.

Ferrer says the company overplays the bot card.

"A lot of Ticketmaster's argument is that scalpers are using bots to buy tickets," she says. "We get that all the time but I think it's misdirecting people. … If they were really a problem, we'd see way more tickets on our site."

Currently, about a tenth of any given event's tickets end up on StubHub, according to the company.

Ferrer says artist and promoter holdbacks are more to blame. She estimates, given activity on the site, that only about 10 percent of Bieber's Bridgestone Arena's tickets were available during the public sale. She said many people chose to buy tickets on StubHub before they were available to the public "because [fans] realized they didn't have a fair shot during the public sale."

That works out well for the sons and daughters of people with money to spare. While buying tickets from the source can be confusing and frustrating, buying tickets on StubHub is fairly straightforward.