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John Kehoe

Legislators Should Take Closer Look at Restrictive Ticketing

As the first director of the Department of Consumer Affairs in California, appointed by then-Governor Ronald Reagan, I see a growing trend in the ticket industry that I believe raises serious consumer concerns. I’m talking about restricted ticketing.

California is the home to dozens of professional sports teams, popular Division I college sports and major concert venues. The live event industry is critical to our state’s economy. However, event producers and ticket companies have put in place – and in a rather sneaky way – anti-consumer restricted ticketing policies that strip ticket owners of their property rights, undermine the free market and needlessly restrict consumer choice.

When you buy a ticket to a Giants, Angels or 49ers game, or to see your favorite artist preform, you assume that you are free do with that ticket what you choose. You can attend the event, give away your ticket, or resell it at whatever price you and the buyer agree to. .

The bottom line is you purchased a ticket, and now the ticket is your property.

However, according to Ticketmaster and the venues, artists, producers and sports teams they do business with, you don’t own the ticket they do, and they can control what you do with your ticket through restricted ticketing.
With restricted ticketing, you never get a physical ticket. Instead, fans are required to show the purchasing credit card and a matching photo ID to enter a concert or game. That means the person who bought the ticket has to check in personally at the venue, and everyone who may be in that person’s party has to arrive at the same time and enter together. No more handing out or emailing tickets ahead of time and meeting friends at your seats, no more giving away tickets to friends, colleagues or clients, and no more reselling tickets.

Far worse is the damage these ticketing schemes inflict on the free market.

Restricted tickets empower teams and venues to create mini-monopolies where they control not only initial ticket sales, but also every resale or free transfer of fans’ tickets. This enables the powerful players in the California entertainment industry to impose arbitrary price controls on ticket resales, further restricting consumer choice and manipulating the free market at will. As any economist will tell you, noncompetitive markets inevitably lead to higher prices, higher processing fees, lower-quality service and fewer choices for consumers.

This issue is not unlike others that I grappled with as a consumer advocate for the last four decades. During that time I’ve been committed to preserving property rights, the free market and individual liberties. We need strong consumer-minded provisions that ensure the following:

Fans Own Their Tickets – Ticket buyers maintain the right to decide how a ticket is used, given away or resold to other consumers, at what price and on what platform, without any undue restrictions imposed by event producers or ticketing agencies.

Free market pricing – Event producers and ticket sellers cannot impose arbitrary price restraints by setting minimum or maximum prices on consumer ticket resale.

Strong anti-bot laws – Some unscrupulous ticket brokers have taken advantage of the secondary market and use sophisticated ticket buying software, called bots, to cut in front of fans in the virtual ticket buying like and buy up all the best tickets in seconds. Use of this software should be illegal and should carry stiff penalties for offenders. Ticket sellers should also be required to report suspected bot use to the authorities.

This legislative session policymakers tried to reign in the ticketing industry to restore a consumer-friendly ticket marketplace with the introduction of AB 329, authored by Assembly Member Richard Pan. AB 329 would have made it unlawful for any ticket issuer to prohibit or restrict consumers from giving away, donating or reselling tickets as well as made bot use illegal.

Unfortunately the Assembly Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media gutted this legislation and eliminated critical consumer protections. Now only the only provisions that remain are laws making bots illegal. While this is an important component the amended law does not go far enough.

If Ticketmaster’s anti-consumer business practices continue to go unchecked, fans in Californians will have no control over the tickets they buy and will give even more power to the ticketing monopolies.