Ticketing rules punish some fans, critics say
By State House News Service | December 2, 2015, 13:25 EST
BOSTON – You managed to score tickets to the big show, but something unexpected came up and you can’t go. Now what?
You could try to resell them, or give them to a friend – unless you purchased restricted paperless tickets that require the purchaser to present their credit card to gain entry to the venue. In that case, you’re often stuck, and critics say that’s not fair.
Legislation under consideration on Beacon Hill (S 142) would require that consumers be offered the option at the time of sale to purchase non-restricted tickets without additional fees that can more easily be transferred.
Some major ticket vendors, including Ticketmaster, use paperless ticketing as means of keeping tickets to live events off the resale market and prevent fans from getting priced out of events by scalpers and resellers that buy tickets in bulk to turn a profit. Critics, however, say the practice lets large ticket brokers or sports teams completely control the inventory, and in the process make it nearly impossible to give tickets as gifts or resell on your own.
“This is a denial of service cloaked in a fair ticketing practice that benefits no one, it just hurts fans. It also means that tickets are virtually impossible to resell or even give away to a friend or donate to a charity,” said Northeastern University professor Philip D’Agati, who specializes in the intersection of sports and politics.
A host of groups testified on Tuesday before the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure in favor of two bills that would redesign a ticket marketplace in Massachusetts that some described as “archaic” and “outdated.”
Groups representing bus companies, livery services and travel agents urged lawmakers to act after years of inaction and debate over how to best regulate the ticket resale market to provide alternatives to restricted paperless ticketing so that they can better serve their customers.
The tour groups said paperless ticketing restricts them from offering customers package deals with tickets and transportation to live sporting, music and theater events because they can’t purchase and transfer the tickets to consumers.
In addition to addressing concerns with paperless ticketing, the same groups and individuals testified in support of a separate bill (H 237) filed by Boston Rep. Michael Moran that would repeal a law put in place more than 90 years ago restricting the resale price of tickets to live events to no more than $2 above face value, plus reasonable service fees.
The law, according to some who work in the ticketing industry, is seldom, if ever, enforced, but requires that they and their customers operate in a “gray area” of the law when they go on sites like StubHub to resell tickets.
“The days of back-alley scalpers in trench coats selling tickets are thankfully behind us,” said Chris VanDeHoef, director of government relations for TicketNetwork, based in Connecticut.
VanDeHoef’s company does not actually buy or sell tickets, instead providing the platform for users to trade in tickets. Moran’s bill would repeal the price cap, but require agents to comply with a series of consumer protection measures, including upfront rebate policies and protections if something goes wrong with a purchase.
The change in the law would allow users of services like TicketNetwork or ticket resellers like Ace Tickets to engage in well-established business practices without operating on the margins of state law that could be enforced at any time.
“Basically, the law is way outdated,” VanDeHoef said.
Written by Matt Murphy