By KRISTIN M. HALL
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Country star Eric Church has been battling ticket scalpers for years as his popularity grew and he began selling out arenas. But he's taken his biggest step yet by cancelling more than 25,000 tickets to his spring tour that were purchased by scalpers and putting them back on sale for fans to purchase.
The "Springsteen" singer told The Associated Press he's going to do everything he can do to stop what he calls a criminal organization that's making millions.
"They buy thousands of tickets across the U.S., not just mine, and they end up making a fortune," Church said in an interview. "They use fake credit cards, fake IDs. All of this is fraud."
The tickets will be released on Tuesday at noon local time for the remaining stops of the 60-city tour. Previously purchased tickets for his tour stops in Canada, which start Feb 28 in Ontario, have already been released and more tickets for his shows in Washington and Oregon will go on sale on Feb. 27.
Church has used this same method to cancel tickets purchased by scalpers for a few individual shows previously, but never on this scale and few artists are as meticulous as Church is when it comes to verifying who is purchasing tickets for his shows.
"We're getting better at identifying who the scalpers are," Church said. "Every artist can do this, but some of them don't. Some of them don't feel the way I feel or are as passionate."
In a report last year, investigators in New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office cited a single broker that bought 1,012 tickets within one minute to a U2 concert at Madison Square Garden when they went on sale on Dec. 8, 2014, despite the vendor's claim of a four-ticket limit. By day's end, that broker and one other had 15,000 tickets to U2's North American shows.
The report said third-party brokers resell tickets on sites like StubHub and TicketsNow at average margins of 49 percent above face value and sometimes more than 10 times the price.
Over the years Church has tried a variety of methods to crack down on reselling tickets for money. He's used paperless ticketing, where buyers have to show a credit card at the door of the venue. He's also tried increasing the price of the tickets to make them less appealing to resellers and has increased screening of purchases through his fan club, which has access to the best seats before the general public, according to Fielding Logan, one of Church's managers at Q Prime South.
Church admits that a lot of these methods are arduous for the average fan, but he said he doesn't want his most loyal fans to pay inflated prices to see him perform. On this year's Holdin' My Own Tour, he's got no opening band and is playing two extended sets of hits from his entire catalog, including the multiplatinum album "Chief" and his most recent Country Music Association album of the year "Mr. Misunderstood."
"We're doing 39-40 songs," Church said. "I played three hours and forty minutes in Atlanta. I want the fans who are, by the last hour of the show, pulling me to the end."
Church's new tour is among the top 10 global tours with ticket prices averaging $60.67, according to Pollstar. He doesn't want to set prices at $500 for the closest seats because "that's not the people who have gotten me here."
Last year Congress passed legislation to make the use of computerized software used by ticket brokers to snap up tickets an "unfair and deceptive practice" under the Federal Trade Commission Act and allow the FTC to go after those who use it. But Church says that kind of legislation is toothless without enforcement and argues that very few scalpers are caught or prosecuted.
"They are not really backing it up with prosecuting these people," Church said. "I don't believe they will anytime soon."
But he said in the meantime, he can control who buys his tickets and he intends to do just that.
"Our fans know that as long as we tour, we're going to do everything we can to make sure they pay face value for the ticket," Church said.
Follow Kristin M. Hall at Twitter.com/kmhall
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