Rossen Reports

Why you can't get tickets to the hottest concerts

July 2, 2013 at 7:32 AM ET

Video: If you’ve ever tried to buy tickets to a favorite artist’s concert only to find it sold out almost immediately, you are not alone. NBC’s Jeff Rossen reports on how up to 77 percent or more of the tickets to the hottest concerts are being reserved for special groups before sales open to the public.

Inside the secret world of concert ticket sales: When you try to buy seats to see your favorite artist, ever wonder why they sell out so quickly? The answer may surprise you.

We've all been there. You want to see Maroon 5, or Pink. Your kids want tickets to Justin Bieber. The minute tickets go on sale you go online, credit card ready, and guess what? You're shut out. Entire arenas, sold out like that. So where do those tickets really go? We're pulling back the curtain to show you who's really getting those seats.

They're the hottest tickets in town, from Bieber to Pink to One Direction. For 11-year-old Jayden, One Direction would be a dream come true. So her mom tried to surprise her, going online to buy tickets the second they went on sale.

"Ten o'clock came, I pressed for, you know, 'best available,'" A.J. Hutchinson told us. "No tickets -- sorry, no tickets available. It's become impossible for the average person to get tickets."

So what's really going on here? Jon Potter is with Fan Freedom Project, a fans' rights group funded by ticket reseller StubHub, and what he found may stun you: By the time tickets officially go on sale, most may already be unavailable. "A huge percentage of these tickets will have already been sold before you have a chance to buy the two that you want," he told us.

"Who's getting them?" we asked.

"They're giving them to the high-end credit card holders who get the email three days before you ever knew the concert was going on sale. They're giving them to the fan club. And then many of them go to the artist or to the venue," Potter explained.

And, he said, the numbers for many concerts are staggering. For a One Direction show in New Jersey this month, documents reveal at least 64 percent of tickets were held back or sold to special groups, unavailable to everybody else.

Then there's Maroon 5. At a recent concert, same thing: 64 percent earmarked for VIPs and special groups. And even higher for Pink: For her concert at New Jersey's Izod Center, at least 77 percent of tickets of tickets were reserved for those special groups. The rest of the public had to fight for what was left.

But the most dramatic example is Justin Bieber. At his concert in Fresno, Calif., 92 percent of tickets went to special groups or were held back entirely. That means that of 12,000 seats, only 940 were set aside for the official sale date.

"This is very secretive," Potter told us. "There's only a few people in the room when they decide who's going to get tickets. They do not want us to know that artists are themselves holding back tickets, that venues are holding back tickets."

None of the artists would comment for our story. But a major tour company, Live Nation, told us presales are "open to the public" and "fans can participate in easily accessible ways."

But critics say they're not being open with fans. "The little guy gets shafted, as usual," said New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell.

Pascrell says this industry is out of control. Now he's drafted legislation for government oversight. "What I want is that people will know ahead of time how many tickets are going to go on sale for the general public," he told us.

"You want transparency," we said.

"Exactly what we don't have now is transparency," Pascrell agreed.

But tour promoters are fighting it, saying being more open would only help the scalpers. The congressman is trying to stop them too, making it illegal for professional scalpers to use high-tech computer programs to scoop up tons of tickets. "Thousands of tickets which you (and) I don't have a chance at," Pascrell explained.

"(That we'd) have to buy at a jacked-up price from the broker," we said.

"And that's what's happening right now. Give us some protection, that's what I'm talking about," Pascrell said.

So how do you get those tickets? There is no guarantee that you will. But, good news: We do have some tips to increase your odds.

Here's the takeaway: If you want to see an artist in concert, join their fan club. It's usually free to sign up online. That gives you access to some of those tickets.

Here's another tip: Be flexible. Wait until the day before the show to buy seats. Two reasons why: Some of those held-back tickets that aren't used may end up back at the box office for sale at the last minute. And if you're looking online, the prices often drop close to the show, as brokers try to unload tickets.

In response to our report, Live Nation issued this statement:

“More than 11k One Direction tickets were made available to fans. These were available through various onsales. The One Direction ticket sales -- as is typical -- were open, public, advertised in a variety of ways and included on the One Direction Facebook page. The claim that only 4k tickets were made available is untrue and used to manipulate fans to drive them to secondary ticket sites. “

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