Photo: Ollie Millington/Redferms
Shining A Light On The Murky Live Event Ticketing Marketplace
For music fans, buying tickets to see their favorite artist live can be an exciting feeling, but it can also be clouded with confusion, frustration and even danger.
Today in Washington, the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing titled “In the Dark: Lack of Transparency in the Live Event Ticketing Industry” to look at how to make the system safer for consumers. Fortunately, it's in the best interest of everyone involved in the live event ticket marketplace – save the scalpers – to finally put the fan first.
In that spirit, the hearing featured six witnesses from prominent players in the live event ticketing marketplace: Amy Howe (President & COO, Ticketmaster), Bryan Perez (CEO, AXS), Stephanie Burns (VP and General Counsel, StubHub), Ryan Fitts (VP of Legal Affairs, Vivid Seats), Don Vaccaro (Co-Founder and CEO, TicketNetwork), and Joe Choti (President & CEO, Tickets.com).
A wide range of ticketing issues were covered, including disclosing hidden fees, policing so-called "white label" websites, decentralizing consolidated market power, secondary market regulations and more. The online marketplace was a $9 billion business in 2017, according to Chairwoman Diana DeGette (D-Colo.). The year before, in 2016, the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act was signed into law to make improvements to the overall marketplace, a piece of legislation that received many mentions and references as it pertains to the current state of the marketplace during the hearing. The Recording Academy played a pivotal role in the development and passage of the BOTS Act.
For Ticketmaster's part, Howe discussed how the company has banned the sale of speculative ticketing, supported an industry-wide move towards all-in pricing, and blocks over 30 billion bot purchase attempts per month. Similarly, AXS's Perez talked about how their fees are determined by the client instead of the marketplace and also voiced support for all-in pricing starting in the primary market, not just in the secondary market.
Resale giant StubHub's Burns focused on the company's consumer-friendly policy of reimbursing or replacing fraudulent tickets sold on their platform. However, unlike Ticketmaster, StubHub is seeking to increase the transferability of tickets. This issue underscores the challenge of policing "white label" sites, resale websites that employ deceptive marketing practices, like using the names and logos of venues to look like official event venue websites.
Fitts, Vivid Seats' representative, stated their stance against transferability restrictions which allow large companies in the primary sales market, such as Ticketmaster, to control the price and availability of tickets as opposed to empowering fans to resell their purchased property. He drew the lines between limited transferability of tickets and the rise of fraudulent websites. Some artists, however, use transferability restrictions to ensure that tickets are sold to fans at face value instead of being resold on the secondary market at a much higher price that makes seeing a favorite artist unattainable. Vaccaro, of TicketNetwork, used his time to address how deceptive pre-sales and hidden tickets create a false sense of scarcity and how dynamic price changes in high traffic periods overcharge consumers.
The hearing comes after the Committee launched an investigation into the live event ticket marketplace to expose potential unfair or deceptive practices. And, as noted in Chairwoman DeGette’s opening statement, lawmakers plan to hold a subsequent legislative hearing on the “Better Oversight of Secondary Sales and Accountability in Concert Ticketing (BOSS) Act,” which was reintroduced in 2019. Furthermore, a 2018 report conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), and a 2019 Federal Trade Commission workshop show that the government is actively examining ticketing practices, and considering efforts to bring transparency and consumer protections to the marketplace.
The BOSS Act recently made headlines as long-time ticketing warriors Pearl Jam shared some criticism of the proposed legislation. The artists’ role in the ticket marketplace should not be overlooked by the government, as everyone holds an interest in making the system more transparent, accountable, and ultimately more fair for the fans.