Inside Adele's All-Out Fight Against Scalpers

Is the pop megastar big enough to battle scalpers on her upcoming world tour?

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Adele
As Adele preps for her upcoming world tour, can the pop megastar win in her fight against scalpers? Sascha Steinbach/Getty

Adele's team has "done everything within our power to get as many tickets as possible in the hands of the fans," as her manager said recently, but the pop megastar's battle against scalpers for her sold-out 2016 world arena tour has been largely symbolic.

Tickets for Adele's recently announced U.S. tour sold out quickly Saturday when 10 million people swarmed Ticketmaster.com simultaneously — and many of those tickets soon landed on resale sites such as StubHub and eBay, including a floor seat at Seattle's Key Arena for $4,000 and a second-floor seat at Chicago's United Center for $5,000.

"Credit to Adele's manager for shining a light and trying to do something about it," Rob Wilmshurst, chief executive of See Tickets, the Nottingham, England, company that sold tickets for the singer's European tour, tells Rolling Stone. "But I'm not sure how effective it was. I don't think there's anything they could have done except clone her a few times."

Adele's attempt to cut off scalping follows a long line of fan-friendly artists — Bruce Springsteen, Miley Cyrus, Tom Waits, Metallica and AC/DC have used Ticketmaster's "paperless" system, requiring buyers to show credit cards and ID to get into shows, while Tom Petty once voided hundreds of tickets purchased through his website. But in recent years, with resale sites racking up billions of dollars, many artists have decided to work with Ticketmaster's TM+ or StubHub to profit from the secondary market rather than leaving it to scalpers and brokers. "The negative connotation that used to surround reselling tickets has essentially disappeared," Jon Landau, Springsteen's manager, told Rolling Stone in 2014. "A large part of the public has accepted this." 

Adele's tour is unprecedented — few stars have sold so many tickets, so quickly, while taking such a strong stand against reselling. Her approach is similar to that of Petty in 2006. Working with the British company Songkick, which helps artists sell tickets through their fan clubs and websites, Adele's team received 40 percent of the overall ticket inventory in Europe and 8 percent or more for U.S. shows, according to the New York Times

Adele's reps went through the lists of purchasers and refunded those that appeared to be brokers and scalpers. "It's pretty manual and it's going to be a little bit combative," Stuart Ross, a Red Light Management executive and tour director for Tom Waits who opposes scalping, tells Rolling Stone. "They're going to go back to a buyer and say, 'We're canceling your order because you placed multiple orders, which is against our terms of service.' You bought the tickets and then you're told, 'Sorry, we don't have any tickets for you.'"

The remaining tickets, of course, go into the pool sold via Ticketmaster, AXS and other live-sales conglomerates. Despite her prominence as one of the world's biggest pop stars — the singer has the rare ability to sell more than 3 million albums in a week — Adele has little control over what happens to tickets sold this way. "There's no smart answer," See Tickets' Wilmshurst says. "It's complicated in venues with various contractual relationships. It's a messy world."

The problem with Adele's strategy, resellers say, is her attempt to manipulate the free market for ticket sales. When demand is high and supply is low, prices go up, no matter how much Adele's team insists on hewing to the $50-$150 face-value range. "I don't think those are objectives that can be achieved in the market," says Scott Cutler, president of StubHub, which tried for weeks to make a partnership deal with Adele for this tour but couldn't resolve agreements on "marketplace dynamics."

Adele could fix the problem by adding dozens of shows, but she's already playing 105 shows worldwide, including six apiece at New York's Madison Square Garden and Los Angeles' Staples Center. Reps for Adele, as well as promoters Live Nation, AEG and Chicago's JAM, would not comment for this story, but many in the concert business say she's doing as much as she can to fight scalping. "It's unbelievably important," Ross says. "She's pricing her tickets [in a way] that's ethical and fair to her fans."

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