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US Congress investigates ticketing industry

The United States House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday (21 November) opened an investigation into what it deems the “potentially unfair and deceptive practices” of the primary and secondary ticketing market.

Members of the Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to Live Nation/Ticketmaster, AEG, StubHub, Vivid Seats, TicketNetwork and Tickets.com, requesting information pertaining to the companies’ ticketing policies.

“The Committee, which has broad jurisdiction over consumer protection issues, is concerned about potentially unfair and deceptive practices occurring in the primary and secondary ticket marketplace, many of which have been documented in consumer complaints, press stories, and government reports,” write committee leaders.

In particular, representatives express concern over “high, hidden fees”; a “lack of transparency” surrounding ticket availability; the presence of speculative tickets – or those not yet in the possession of the seller – on secondary sites; the use of “deceptive” practices by white-label websites; and “limiting” restrictions on the transferability of tickets.

“This information will help demonstrate why we must pass my Boss Act to finally put into law hard regulation of the marketplace”

The Energy and Commerce Committee has previously taken action “to protect consumers”, such as banning tickets bots, or the use of software to bulk-buy tickets. In June, the Congress reintroduced the pro-transparency Boss Act (Better Oversight of Secondary Sales and Accountability in Concert Ticketing), following a workshop by the Federal Trade Commission into online ticket sales.

The act’s provisions include forcing primary sellers to disclose how many tickets will be offered for sale and make clear any fees up front, as well as prohibiting promoters and ticketing companies from restricting where buyers can resell their tickets.

Congressman Bill Pascrell, the principle sponsor of the act, comments that there is currently a “glaring lack of regulation” in the US ticketing marketplace.

“That one of Congress’s most powerful committees is investigating the worst anticompetitive and anti-consumer behaviour in the marketplace is a watershed moment,” continues Pascrell. “This information will help demonstrate why we must pass my Boss Act to finally put into law hard regulation of the marketplace.”

The ticketing companies have until Thursday 12 December to respond to the Energy and Commerce Committee’s request for information.

 


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TicketNetwork sues NYAG to defend speculative reselling

US secondary ticketing platform TicketNetwork is gearing up for a court battle with New York’s new attorney-general (NYAG) after she announced plans to sue for millions of dollars to prevent the site listing tickets sellers do not yet own.

The New York state assembly in June passed a bill aiming to protect consumers from “exploitative ticket reselling practices”, including tackling the practice of speculative ticket resale. The new legislation would also force resellers to disclose whether or not they have the ticket at the time of purchase and refund customers if they cannot deliver.

NYAG Barbara Underwood (pictured) took over from former Eric Schneiderman in May, and has continued her predecessor’s crusade to increase fairness and transparency in New York’s ticketing market. The attorney-general’s office has been investigating the sector since January 2016, when Schneiderman presented a report, Why Can’t New Yorkers Get Tickets?, that found ticketing is a “fixed game” in the US’s fourth most populous state.

TicketNetwork, a major resale marketplace, says it has been threatened with a multimillion-dollar fine to avoid facing a civil action from Underwood’s office over speculative resale. “According to the NYAG’s assertions, any time a seller offers a ticket for sale that the seller does not yet own, but will procure after an order is placed, the seller has automatically committed a fraudulent and unlawful act,” according to a statement from the company, “and TicketNetwork is allegedly responsible for this purportedly illegal conduct because it provides a marketplace through which such ticket offers are made.”

This, says TicketNetwork, is based on an “incorrect interpretation of state and federal [US] law”, with the company citing the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 – which “directs that providers of online interactive services are not responsible for the conduct of the independent sellers and buyers that use their web-based marketplaces” – in its defence.

“We have been forced to seek court protection in response to the AG’s baseless claims and threats”

It claims the bill signed into law in June allows resellers to list tickets before they have purchased them, provided that they disclose certain information about the tickets.

Alongside affiliated outfit Ticket Galaxy, the company has, therefore, filed a suit of its own in the New York supreme court, with the hope a judge will affirm its position “that it operates in full compliance with all applicable regulations and that the NYAG has no basis to allege that the company’s practices violate any state or federal law”.

TicketNetwork’s chief operating officer, Mike Honeyman, says: “We have been forced to seek court protection in response to the New York attorney-general’s baseless claims and threats against TicketNetwork. The NYAG knows full well that we have immunity under the Communications Decency Act of 1996 and that New York state laws and administrative guidance permit these types of sales.

“Despite that, the NYAG appears intent to press on with this course of action. Online commerce would be severely negatively impacted, and consumers would see a decrease in competition and an increase in costs if the protections afforded to online marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay and innumerable others were selectively ignored.

“We are asking the court to reaffirm that online marketplaces are protected under federal law, as it is apparent that the NYAG’s office needs a reminder of this longstanding principle. In addition, given the recently enacted New York law, we are confident the curt will determine that we are in full compliance with the law.”

 


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Advocates urge New Jersey to veto changes to ticket holdback law

A group of US secondary ticketing advocates have penned a letter urging New Jersey governor Phil Murphy not to sign a bill which would abolish 17 year-old laws capping ticket holdbacks to 5%. Already a controversial move, the bill was made even more so by the fact it was quietly fast-tracked through legislature without any public hearings on the matter.

Now, Scot X. Esdaile of US Minority Ticketing Group (USMTG), Tom Patania of NJ Ticket Brokers, Gary Adler of the National Association of Ticket Brokers (NATB) and Darnell Goldson of TicketNetwork have come together to urge Murphy to reconsider the proposed changes, which have been heavily pushed by venue owners in the state.

In the letter, the group stress the need for the live event sector to be centred on consumers and their protection. It points out that while the new amendments operate under the guise of being consumer-friendly with some good measures, the overall outcome would harm both consumers and local small businesses alike.

This sentiment is echoed by Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of the NJ Citizen Action advocacy group. Reacting to the proposed bill, she admits some of the parts of the bill are positive, but questions “why, at the same time, it’s removed some really important consumer protections, like the 5%.” She also pointed out the necessity for public hearings, saying: “These were all things we would have talked about if we had the opportunity go to a hearing and testify.”

“These were all things we would have talked about if we had the opportunity go to a hearing and testify”

The letter calls on research by the New York Attorney General which found more than 50% of tickets are commonly held back from big concerts and shows. A smaller pool of available tickets leads to soaring ticket prices and frustrated fans. This was certainly the case in 2009, when New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen held back some 2,262 tickets (12%) from public sale. Sixty per cent of the ten best sections in the venue were holdbacks, with only 108 of the seats closest to the stage available to the public.

Alongside the criticism of the removal of 5% on holdbacks, the letter also points out a number of other faults with the bill. Proposed changes would remove consumer protections regarding season ticket holders being able to lawfully sell tickets back to the venue for events they aren’t able to attend.

It also adds uncertainty to consumers’ ability to gift, sell or donate tickets they have purchased – the bill gives power to ticket issuers to revoke tickets for any reason without conditions.

However, as stated by consumer advocates and politicians alike, the bill does propose some important, consumer-friendly measures. These include a ban on venues overbooking concerts, a ban on ‘bot’ technology and a clear refund policy.

 


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Expedia launches concert ticket sales platform

Expedia.com, one of the world’s most popular travel booking sites, has moved into concert ticketing through a partnership with resale site TicketNetwork.

Expedia, which already offers airline tickets, hotel reservations, car hire, tours and tickets to attractions such as museums and galleries, has launched Event Tickets, which adds secondary-market tickets to more than 95,000 concerts, sports matches and other live events to its offering for US customers.

“We know travellers are looking for unique and authentic experiences while in-destination,” says Jen O’Twomney, vice-president of Expedia’s Local Expert division.

“Adding event tickets to our product offering makes all the sense in the world”

“They want to catch a baseball game at a stadium they’ve never been to, or see a show that isn’t playing in their hometown. There’s also a growing trend to build entire trips around events, to attend a music festival, follow a specific artist on tour or root for your team at an away game.

“Adding event tickets to our product offering makes all the sense in the world and gives us another way to help travellers get the most out of their vacation.”

Expedia’s ticketing debut follows the launch of primary platform Ryanair Tickets by the eponymous Irish low-cost airline last November.

Photo: © Travelarz / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0 PL)

 


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TicketNetwork acquires bankrupt ScoreBig

Bankrupt secondary ticketing site ScoreBig has been snapped up by rival operation TicketNetwork.

As of 12 November, ScoreBig is under the management of “a subsidiary of TicketNetwork”, says the Connecticut-based company, which has “acquired and licensed select assets of the company formerly known as ScoreBig Inc., which went out of business in September of 2016”.

“TicketNetwork [has] no responsibility for anything that occurred on or related to the website or business prior to 12 November 2016”

TicketNetwork, which lists tickets to concerts, sporting events and theatrical shows, is, however, keen to emphasise that is has “no responsibility for anything that occurred on or related to [Scorebig] – whose former owners are facing lawsuits over thousands of dollars allegedly owed to ticket resellers – “prior to 12 November 2016”, and directs all creditors to ProofOfClaims.com to recover their money.

Before going into administration, ScoreBig operated under a model that would be illegal in many countries (in violation, for example, of the UK’s Consumer Rights Act 2015), deliberately concealing resellers’ identities to enable venues to offer discounts on tickets without “cannibalising their own box offices or angering season ticket holders who paid full price”.

 


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