Ticket tree in Hampton 2013

Ticket Bastards: Trade Baiting in the Phish Community

I want to commend Aviv Hadar for his article on Fall Tour ticketing issues. It’s one that every Phish fan should read, and it starts a much-needed conversation about ticket availability and the frustration many fans experienced this fall.

Ticket tree in Hampton 2013
Ticket tree outside Hampton Coliseum, 2013.

But while Aviv is rightly frustrated about the prevalence of scalped tickets on Stubhub and other sites, the most troubling problem I saw was one that involved fans paying too little for tickets.

In Santa Barbara, extras were all but impossible to come by a couple days before the show, yet they were all but impossible to even give away for free in the lot. As problematic as it is for fans to pay several times face value for tickets, as they did Halloween weekend, it’s just as troubling for fans to lose the full value of their tickets because of what happened in Santa Barbara.

So what exactly did happen in Santa Barbara?

Here’s my take on what went down.

  1. Halloween was an incredibly tough ticket, and everyone knew it would be.
  2. Santa Barbara was assumed to be a difficult ticket, because the Santa Barbara Bowl only holds around 5,000 people. [In fact, according to my mail order survey, the percentage of fans who got their SB orders filled was as low as those who got Halloween.]
  3. Many fans scooped up Santa Barbara tickets as trade bait for Halloween, thus denying tickets to many fans who intended to go to the Santa Barbara shows.
  4. Most of the trade-baiters couldn’t ever find their trade for 10/31 tickets.
  5. Santa Barbara was an out-of-town, midweek show for most fans; many who couldn’t find tickets decided not to make the trip.
  6. The trade-baiters tried to unload their Santa Barbara tickets, but since ticketless out-of-towners didn’t travel to SB, there was no one to sell to.
  7. Ticket trees.

If you don’t believe me, believe the guy I saw on the way in to 10/21, who said that four of his friends would’ve traveled down from San Jose with him if they had known there would be extra tickets floating around.

Now look. Trade-baiting is not entirely new. We’ve seen this in other 3.0 shows as well. But it’s reached a troubling place, and I think it’s high time that the band and the fans alike do what we can to solve the problem, so that tickets are ending up in the hands of fans that actually plan to see the shows.

So what can be done about this? From the band’s side, they ought to delay ticket shipment as much as possible. While mail order tickets are shipped a couple weeks before the tour begins, Phish should put whatever pressure they can on Ticketmaster to follow suit. And if fans would agree to it, push the delivery date even closer to the date of the shows.

For the fans, it’s a matter of re-orienting our ethics as a community. Trade-baiting should be looked down on in the same way that selling bootlegs or scalping were in the early days of Phish. CashOrTrade, which has been such an invaluable resource for allowing fans to get the tickets they need and unload the ones they don’t, can take the lead, discouraging trade-baiting on its site.

Finally, the scalping issues that Aviv writes about overlap with this issue: if 2,000 Halloween tickets that went to scalpers had instead gone to fans, that’s 2,000 fans who aren’t tempted to pick up other tickets as trade bait. While I believe that paperless tickets create more problems than they solve, there are many anti-scalping steps Phish can take that they aren’t yet taking.

Will all of this end the problem? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean it won’t help. When someone buys a ticket that they have no intention of using, and someone else is left in desperate search of that same ticket, everyone ends up losing. And we as a community should do what we can to put an end to this trend.