Ken Lowson, the former ‘supertout’ who, as CEO of notorious ticket-harvesting operation Wiseguy Tickets, built a $25m secondary ticketing empire using one of the first-ever ticket bots, has spoken to IQ about his transformation from scourge of the industry to a campaigner against “corruption” in ticketing – and his belief that the ongoing war on bots is a distraction from a “dirty” business model that prevents fans from knowing how many tickets are put on sale.
In a phone call from the LA office of his new business, Tixfan, Lowson (pictured) – an energetic, sharp-minded obsessive-compulsive who gets by on a couple of hours sleep a night – speaks candidly about his troubled legal and personal history, the rise and fall of Wiseguy and his current efforts to clean up what he calls the “swamp” of the primary ticketing market.
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.
A man considered a pioneer of the use of bots in the ticketing industry has claimed Ticketmaster could identify and ban supertouts in a matter of minutes.
While Ticketmaster has recently introduced its anti-bots Verified Fan programme to acclaim from some users, artists and promoters, there is still widespread criticism of the ticketing industry’s general response to scalping.
American Ken Lowson, described by the Daily Record as “the most notorious ticket tout in history”, told the newspaper that it would take him a matter of minutes to recode Ticketmaster’s platform to immediately flag up and ban supertouts.
However, he suggested there is a lack of will in dealing with scalpers because the major primary ticketing agencies have links to secondary marketplaces.
By the time shotgun-wielding FBI agents raided his office, Ken Lowson, a former insurance salesman, had become America’s greatest ticket scalper.
From 2001 to 2010, according to the FBI indictment, his company, Wiseguy, had bought and resold 2.5 million tickets and made more than $25 million in profit. The kid from Arizona was living a wild life of drink, drugs and parties in Los Angeles.
He was charged with hacking and defrauding ticket sellers like Ticketmaster. The secret of his success was in the servers the FBI confiscated: computer programs, also known as ticket bots, that automate the process of buying tickets online. The bots grab all the best tickets before human buyers, and then flip them for resale on other sites.
In February 2005, after the band won its third Grammy of the night, U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr. stepped to the microphone and made an announcement about the band’s upcoming Vertigo tour: “Due to circumstances beyond our control, a lot of our long-suffering fans didn’t get tickets,” he said. “And I’d like to take this opportunity on behalf of the band to apologize for that.” There was a very specific reason die-hard fans couldn’t buy tickets. Ken Lowson, the most successful and notorious ticket scalper in history, had bought nearly all of the 500 general admission tickets that were made available to the band’s fan club for each show.
“When the sale dropped, we took 496 in New York, 492 in Boston, 496 in LA,” Lowson, the former CEO of Wiseguy Tickets, told me in one of our many phone calls over the course of the last six months. “They apologized on the Grammys because of us, and then they had a second round of sales to make up for it. We took all the good tickets in that second round, too.”
U2 is one of dozens of artists that has addressed the fact that their tickets weren’t being sold directly to fans. For more than a decade, Wiseguy was the biggest name in ticket scalping. The company fundamentally broke Ticketmaster, using one of the first ever automated “ticket bots” to buy and flip millions of tickets between 1999 and Lowson’s eventual arrest on wire fraud charges in 2010.
Inventor of ticket bots Ken Lowson speaks with CBCNN’s Andrew Nichols, following the release of a survey by the Ontario Governor Generals Office asking fans for input on ticket sales and how to stop scalpers.
Three men who ran a multimillion-dollar ticket-scalping business by evading the online security safeguards of companies like Ticketmaster and Major League Baseball were sentenced on Thursday at a federal court in Newark to probation and community service, avoiding as much as five years of prison time.