Ken Lowson Talks Breaking Brokers

Ken Lowson, a former scalper at Wiseguy Tickets, has been spending recent years working to protect the primary ticketing market and spoke with Pollstar at length about it.

Jonah Light / Jonah Light Photography
– Ken Lowson
Ken Lowson of Tixfan.

Lowson was one of the most important figures in North America’s secondary ticketing market having learned how to get past Ticketmaster’s CAPTCHA system before others. Using an army of bots to sometimes snap up entire allotments, Wiseguy was able to shape the secondary market, based on which brokers it would re-sell tickets to.

The feds eventually targeted Lowson and his associates for dozens of charges of wire fraud, but he managed to beat most of the charges, copping to one count of conspiracy and avoiding jail time. These days, his new company, Tixfan, advocates for fans and is becoming a champion of the “direct-to-fan” movement gaining momentum in Europe.

With the diversity of ticketing companies in the European market, artists have begun organizing into groups like FanFair Alliance to demand that companies take their tickets directly to fans for the cost advertised, cutting out as the middlemen. That’s the basic thrust of the direct-to-fan movement.

Making sure tickets end up in the hands of fans is also the point of Ticketmaster’s “Verified Fan” system, which was used for the record sellout of Harry Styles’ solo tour.

Ticketmaster said in an open letter that only 5 percent of the 45,000 Styles tickets were moving on secondary sites after the onsale, implying that 95 percent of those tickets got to fans, which would be a resounding success.

While it seems simple, placing an emphasis on cutting out middlemen and allotments has big implications for the current state of affairs in the concert industry, particularly in North America. With innumerable companies dedicated solely to the purchase and resale of tickets, some like StubHub have such a strong foothold that they can now enter the primary space.

Many are eager to demonize ticket brokers as “scalpers” with armies of shadowy bots, but most promoters and venues commonly deal directly with brokers, securing them tickets through presales and allotments.

“Guarantees” might seem attractive, Lowson said, but forcing audiences to go through a middleman who jacks up the price moves a financial burden onto the fans, and the more fans feel mistreated, the more they will move to alternative experiences as they emerge.

“The problem starts when [the process] is portrayed to the fans one way and then the business is done in another,” he said. “The ‘Boardwalk Empire’ rules of the 20th century cannot survive in a Wikileaks world. Ask Hillary Clinton.”

All the pieces are in place to begin the process of eliminating professional ticket scalpers and bot users, Lowson said, but he challenges primary vendors like Ticketmaster to be more transparent and consistently provide accurate numbers as to how many tickets are on sale at the advertised price, and how many of those get to fans. He also thinks the practices of disguising things like excessive allotments and held tickets, which ultimately cost fans, need to stop.

Cutting out brokers and making sure tickets get to fans at a fair price actually makes them more willing to spend in areas like fan clubs, merch, and VIP packages, he said, and Tixfan claims it can identify 140 such revenue streams.

With so many buzzwords coming and going, established players in the industry know to be wary of every Johnny-come-lately talking about “disruption.” Yet the success of Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan system, the growth of the direct-to-fan movement in Europe and the increasing acknowledgement that a healthy artist-fan connection is at the heart of any successful tour, all mean that professional ticket brokers may need to find something else to bring to the table.

Pollstar will soon publish additional excerpts from the Lowson interview.