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The Man Who Broke Ticketmaster

The most infamous ticket scalper of all time used bots to buy millions of tickets. Now he wants to stop them.
February 12, 2017, 7:30pm

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.

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"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.

The scourge of ticket bots and the immorality of the shady ticket scalpers using them is conventional wisdom that's so ingrained in the public consciousness and so politically safe that a law to ban ticket bots passed both houses of Congress unanimously late last year, in part thanks to a high-profile public relations campaign spearheaded by  Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.

But no one actually involved in the ticket scalping industry thinks that banning bots will do much to slow down the secondary market. Seven years after his Los Angeles office was raided by shotgun-wielding FBI agents, Lowson told me he's switched teams. Now, he's out to expose the secrets of the ticket industry in a bid to make sure tickets are sold directly to their fans.

Read the rest over at Motherboard.