Consumers lose when monopolies win at the (virtual) ticket booth

Image by Koshiro K via Shutterstock

OPINION – Buying a ticket to see your favorite performer or sports team should be simple. Decide how much you want to spend, settle on a date and venue, go online, complete the purchase and secure your ticket.

If your plans change, you should have the freedom to give your ticket to a friend or family member, or resell it if you prefer. After all, you bought it.

Unfortunately, as anyone who has tried to buy a concert or sports ticket in the last decade knows, the current process is anything but simple.

Often  the ticket you want isn’t even available. Maybe it was instantly vacuumed up by an illegal automated software program. Or held back by insiders for a future price hike, manipulating the ticket market.

If you’ve luckily secured that ticket, the nightmare isn’t over. First, you’ll pay whopping “convenience” and “handling” fees, which add on average 30% above the cost of your ticket, and in some cases are 60-70%. These fees show up when you think you’re almost done and are so desperate you’ll accept almost anything to get into the event.

And if your plans change, good luck trying to sell that ticket.

Then the ticket seller may prohibit you from transferring it anywhere other than through their own platform, all while charging you yet another fee.  Hidden software makes sure you don’t transfer your ticket, even to a friend or family member.

Feels like the fix is on. Why? Because the ticket industry is basically a monopoly, controlled by Live Nation Entertainment, which owns Ticketmaster. They represent artists, control venues, and run both the ticketing system you first used to purchase tickets, as well as much of the secondary market used to resell tickets. Ticketmaster also controls ticketing for almost all sports teams in California.

But there’s hope for consumers. Two bills are pending in the State Legislature dealing with the problem of hidden fees and a rigged marketplace in the ticketing industry.  Only one of those bills is supported by consumer groups. The other is the monopoly’s attempt to further rig the system in their favor.

Buying a ticket to see your favorite performer or sports team should be simple. Decide how much you want to spend, settle on a date and venue, go online, complete the purchase and secure your ticket.

The bill that gives consumers a fair deal is Assembly Bill 8, by Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) and Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks).

AB 8 largely aligns with the Ticket Buyer Bill of Rights, a set of principles leading consumer advocacy groups, including the Consumer Federation of California and Sports Fans Coalition, support. For example, fans should always know how much they will pay. Knowing the full price at the beginning is fundamental to consumer protection.

Yet that protection is often missing when a consumer buys concert or sports tickets and faces outrageous, hidden fees tacked onto the price at the very end of the process.

Once they buy tickets, consumers should have the right to transfer tickets if they can’t use them. AB 8 prevents primary ticket sellers from putting their thumb on the scale by monopolizing or restricting the transfer process.

And Friedman and Irwin’s introduced bill stopped concert promoters from holding back tickets to manipulate demand or create artificial sell-outs in the consumer’s mind.

The second piece of legislation, Senate Bill 785 by Anna Caballero (D-Merced), needs several amendments to fulfill its promises to consumers and not just serve the interests of the monopoly. Right now it gives consumers a raw deal.

SB 785 doesn’t empower consumers and doesn’t provide the transparency required to make the ticket industry responsive to the general public. The bill creates a big competitive advantage for primary sellers and presenters such as Live Nation/Ticketmaster.

Fans who wish to resell tickets are especially harmed by SB 785. The proposal lets promoters and original ticket sellers impose whatever terms and conditions they want on ticket buyers. For now, SB 785 puts consumers at the back of the line while the monopoly keeps you outside in the cold waiting to get in.

There are other problems with SB 785. The bill won’t bolster enforcement of laws against software programs that vacuum up tickets. Instead, it includes vague language that may even increase the use of such software.

At this time only AB 8 puts the consumer back in charge at the virtual ticket booth. Consumers deserve that real protection. We support legislative attempts to protect consumers who buy tickets. But the consumer’s best interests must come first, not the interests of ticket sellers or event promoters.

Robert Herrell is the Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of California. Brian Hess is the Executive Director of Sports Fans Coalition.


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