AOL Expands Online Ticket Business

America Online is expanding its ticket-sales business. It will provide a place for people who are buying and selling sports and concert tickets to meet and do business. The tickets can be sold for more than face value. But some in the entertainment industry consider AOL's move to be online scalping.

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If you want to go see Coldplay or U2 perform this summer, you might have some trouble getting a ticket unless you're willing to pay big bucks online. The Internet has turned into a huge market for secondary ticket sales. AOL has announced it is increasing its presence in the secondary ticket market. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI reporting:

When tickets went on sale this summer for the Rolling Stones concert at Connecticut's Rentschler Field, they were snatched up almost immediately, says concert promoter Jim Koplik.

Ms. JIM KOPLIK (Concert Promoter): It sold out in 30 minutes, 30,000 seats in 30 minutes.

ZARROLI: Koplik believes one reason the tickets sold so fast is that many customers bought extra so they could turn around and sell them at a profit. There's nothing new about this, of course. For as long as there have been hot concerts, there have been people buying and selling tickets to them and trying to make a few bucks in the process. But the Internet has made it much easier for sellers and buyers to hook up. There are hundreds of Web sites that now sell tickets to sold-out events. Some acquire tickets directly from brokers. Even AOL has gotten into the business. Gino Yoham is executive director of AOL Tickets.

Mr. GINO YOHAM (Executive Director, AOL Tickets): We're seeing it grow, you know, significantly. Our sales have gone up in the secondary phase over the course of this year by about 300 percent. So we're starting to connect to that audience and we're seeing them respond.

ZARROLI: AOL has a partnership with stubhub.com, one of the biggest secondary ticket sites. And this week, it announced it would team up with a second site called TicketsNow.com. These sites sometimes offer tickets for well above face value. For instance, you can buy a great seat for Paul McCartney's upcoming concert in Miami on TicketsNow.com, but it will cost you more than $1,700. Manuel Gonzales(ph) went to one of the sites a few years ago to buy Grateful Dead tickets. He says they were selling for two to three times their face value.

Mr. MANUEL GONZALES: The tickets were outrageous. They were overpriced. They would pump up the value, I mean, as much as they could. I mean, I guess because they can get away with it, they charge you what they can.

ZARROLI: This kind of ticket selling can violate the law in some states, but it can be difficult for states to regulate Internet ticket sales. AOL says it expects people using its site to obey local laws, but the company says as a middleman it isn't responsible if they don't. Jim Koplik says that when concert sales get overheated because of the Internet, something he thinks happened with the Rolling Stones' tickets, it distorts the market.

Mr. KOPLIK: There are tons of people that would have loved to have bought tickets at the authorized price that the artist and the promoter set it at, but instead there were people buying tickets and creating a black market or a secondary market that they, in turn, profit in.

ZARROLI: AOL officials note that the ticket Web sites don't just offer overpriced concert tickets, they also provide a place for people to sell tickets they've bought but can't use. In that sense, they say, they can also be a good place for consumers to find deals. Jim Zarroli, NPR News.

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MONTAGNE: I'm Renee Montagne.

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