A furor over reports of rampant ticket scalping for the Tragically Hip's farewell tour has spurred a new debate about regulation of the industry, with the Ontario Attorney-General saying she would investigate the issue.
On Tuesday, fans of the Canadian rock band said they were virtually shut out of a ticket presale for four of the group's final shows, accusing scalpers of snatching reams of tickets. Searches for the tickets on Ticketmaster, the official seller, yielded no results moments after the sale went live, while resale websites, such as StubHub and Kijiji, were flooded with far pricier tickets.
Registered members of the band's official website had been given a special access to buy tickets from Ticketmaster to the four shows, which were added to the tour due to demand, after presale tickets for the original dates were snapped up and later resurfaced on resale sites. But the fans found themselves empty-handed again.
The practice has drawn the ire of fans, who were hoping to catch a final glimpse of the band after the Hip announced last week that lead singer Gord Downie had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.
"What they're really doing is to capitalize on a horrible situation," Jay Strosberg, a lawyer who launched a class-action lawsuit in 2009 that led to Ticketmaster being forced to shut down its own resale website. "[Scalpers] know that the performances are numbered."
At a news conference Tuesday, Ontario's Attorney-General said she would investigate the issue and that she sympathizes with fans who would have to pay such tremendous prices to see the band. Prices for tickets to the Kingston show ranged from $720 to $5,000 on the website StubHub, a drastic increase from the original asking price of $116.
Ontario is one of three provinces that has legislated restrictions on the price of resold tickets. The police are responsible for investigating and laying charges, but in Ontario, Mr. Strosberg said, the act is rarely, if ever, enforced.
"I think there were less than 15 people who were prosecuted under the Act. So if you're not going to enforce it, why is it on the books?" he said.
However, John Karastamatis of Mirvish Productions, a theatre company that has tried to crack down on ticket scalping at its shows, said there's nothing the government can do to stem the reselling of concert tickets.
"It really depends on the consumers. As long as there are people willing to buy tickets at exorbitant prices, this marketplace will exist," he said. "It's on the Internet. Have they been able to control the Internet? They have not. It's the Wild, Wild, West."
Representatives from StubHub did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
On Monday, the company released a statement on its website saying it would be making a donation to the Sunnybrook Foundation in support of brain cancer research after fans who were unable to secure seats during the earlier presale expressed outrage. StubHub did not disclose the amount of the donation.
The band will play 15 shows across Canada in July and August, kicking off with a July 22 concert in Victoria. The tour will conclude with a show in the band's hometown of Kingston on Aug. 20. CBC said Tuesday it is in talks to broadcast that show.
The four additional dates announced Tuesday are in Vancouver (July 26), Edmonton (July 30), Calgary (Aug. 3) and Toronto (Aug. 14). Tickets for those shows go on general sale to the public Friday through Ticketmaster and its partners.
The tour is in support of the Hip's upcoming album Man Machine Poem, due for release on June 17.
Mr. Downie's doctor told reporters last week that the 52-year-old performer has been cleared for the shows, but will be closely monitored for exhaustion and other health issues that could emerge on the road.
Spokespeople for Ticketmaster and the Tragically Hip did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
With a report from The Canadian Press
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said it is illegal to buy and sell tickets in Ontario for more than their original asking price. In fact, it is allowed under certain conditions. This online version has been corrected.