Irate pop concert fans bay for the scalps of unscrupulous ticket sellers
After failing to secure a ticket online for a September concert by Taiwan pop star Jay Chou, a fan identifying herself only as Tracy paid 60,000 yuan (US$8,371) to a scalper for two front-row tickets.
The part-time actress from Jiangsu Province expressed her frustration about the cost on the social media platform Xiaohongshu. She said she had to work for a whole year to afford the tickets for herself and her boyfriend, also a Chou super fan.
"I despise ticket scalping, but it was the only way for me to get the tickets," she said. "I guess I will just have to consider it the price of an important moment of my youth."
China's live performance circuit is enjoying a big rebound after COVID lockdowns, and along with that popularity, scalpers are seizing their opportunity.
Chou's concert in the northern city of Tianjin in September was sold out within 30 seconds of going on sale. Then the scalping began.
The Taiwan singer, known for his unique musical blend of rhythm and blues, pop, rock and classical elements, has become immensely popular across Asia since his debut in 2000.
A concert he performed earlier this month in the city of Haikou in the southern island province of Hainan drew 154,600 attendees and generated 976 million yuan in tourism revenue, as fans poured in from across China.
The 130,000 tickets available for Chou's highly anticipated concert in Tianjin sold out quickly after four rounds of releases on the Damai online platform.
The concert did not enforce the mandatory requirement for ticket buyers to use their real names, leaving a gaping hole for scalpers to exploit. Tickets were resold at exorbitant prices on various second-hand platforms.
Scalpers were demanding as much as 19,800 yuan for a ticket in the front three rows of indoor seating. One pair of tickets originally priced at 2,000 yuan were listed for sale at 75 times that price.
Ticket scalping is not confined to China. It's a practice that curses worldwide concerts, including by such top performers as Taylor Swift, Adele, Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber.
The increased incidence of shocking scalping practices has followed in the slipstream of a booming box office.
The China Association of Performing Arts Industry reported a 137.2 percent surge in ticket sales in the first half of 2023 amid an 81 percent increase in performances.
At the same time, there was a significant increase in public complaints about ticketing, according to the China Consumers Association. It received 1.1 million negative comments during the mid-year 618 shopping gala this year.
Scalpers employ two primary strategies: one is using fan accounts and ID information for ticket purchases; a second is to deploy specialized software that increases the chance of securing a ticket on official platforms.
To tackle the issue, authorities and ticketing platforms are continuously upgrading their technology to combat scalping and fake users. But the effort is falling short of ending unscrupulous practices.
Xie Weili, a security and risk control manager of a ticketing platform, said the latest technology has successfully blocked 99 percent of scalper applications, but it's difficult to distinguish genuine buyers from people hired by scalpers to buy tickets.
Some concert organizers have introduced quiz-style, ticket-purchasing systems to identify bona fide purchasers. These quizzes typically ask questions related to the artist or event in an attempt to single out true fans.
Yet, this approach has faced criticism from netizens who argue that a deep appreciation for an artists' works doesn't necessarily mean being well-versed in their personal lives or daily activities. And scalpers have simply circumvented the ploy by developing databases of potential quiz questions.
Scalpers also hire people online – mainly new university graduates – to memorize the answers before applying for tickets online.
Allegations that some concert organizers and ticketing platforms collude with ticket scalpers are also on the rise.
That suspicion was fueled by one concert sale in May, when 300,000 tickets for a concert by Taiwan's Mayday band were sold out within five seconds of appearing online.
Concert's organizer Hua Yue Fei Fan later released a statement denying any collusion with ticket scalpers and assuring the public that the ticket sales were transparent.
Some experts have proposed stricter adherence to requiring ticket buyers to use their real names and then linking the tickets to those specific individuals. This approach would prohibit lending or resale of tickets.
Some city concert venues, led by Shanghai's Mercedes-Benz Arena, have implemented strong real-name registration, requiring both ID verification and facial recognition checks during entry to performances.
Pan Helin, a researcher at Zhejiang University's International College of Business, called the real-name ticket process "the most effective approach" to curbing rampant scalping.
The Market Management Department of China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism also said it supports real-name ticketing, stating that it would address illegal practices such as hoarding and speculative ticketing.
However, implementing real-name ticketing isn't always as easy as it sounds and can cause inconvenience for genuine fans and concert-goers.
Before the Malaysian singer Fish Leong's concert in Shanghai, which required real-name tickets, more than 200 ticket-buyers formed a WeChat group to ask for refunds and voice their grievances.
Some cited illness, incorrect buyer information, duplicate purchases and scheduling conflicts as reasons for seeking ticket refunds.
Zhu Wei, deputy director of the communication law research center at China University of Political Science and Law, said it's imperative to establish effective ticket-refund mechanisms and ticket-exchange systems to protect consumers' rights.
A comprehensive solution to tackle scalping must be found, Zhu said.
Some concert fans are taking matters into their own hands and calling for a public boycott of scalper tickets. A campaign by those advocating ethical ticket purchasing during the Mayday concerts in Beijing adopted the slogan "Say No to Scalpers" and garnered nearly 90 million online views.