National view: An open, competitive ticket market will protect consumers from abuse
The National Consumers League was formed to protect consumers from economic injustice and to promote confidence in the marketplace. One area we have addressed closely in recent years is the consumer experience in buying tickets to live events. Th...
The National Consumers League was formed to protect consumers from economic injustice and to promote confidence in the marketplace. One area we have addressed closely in recent years is the consumer experience in buying tickets to live events. There is today a growing use of so-called "restricted" tickets as a means to foil scalpers. While restricted tickets may be a well-meaning effort, their use has had the unintended effect of depriving consumers of their right to sell, give away or transfer tickets or do anything else they might want with tickets after they've been purchased.
Basically, if you buy a ticket, you should own it.
With restricted tickets, your ticket is tied directly to the consumer's credit card. The same credit card and photo ID are then swiped before the ticketholder is allowed into an event. For example, let's say you want to sell the ticket to your friend because you're unexpectedly out of town and can't make it to a concert. With restricted ticketing, you can't. Indeed, the ticket you own under this scheme may be impossible to transfer.
We with the league agree scalping is a concern for consumers. However, we believe the industry should be focused on dealing with how scalpers get tickets in the first place instead of adopting policies that treat all consumers like scalpers. For example, Minnesota already has a law banning the use of automated bulk ticket-buying software, known as "bots." However, the law's penalties appear not to be severe enough to deter scalpers.
Consumers are also kept in the dark about how many tickets are actually available for purchase at a given event. This is due to the widespread allocation of tickets to special groups instead of the general public, a practice known as "holdbacks." Undisclosed holdbacks are a widespread problem for consumers in the concert industry. For example Justin Bieber fans in Tennessee recently were shocked to learn that only 1,001 seats for a 14,000-seat arena went on sale to the general public. The rest of those seats - many of them the best in the house, were holdbacks, reserved for members of Bieber's fan club, VIPs, and credit card rewards program participants.
The concert industry's use of undisclosed holdbacks is wrong and penalizes consumers three times over. First, it hurts consumers who waste time trying to buy a small number of tickets under the erroneous assumption they have a chance at most of the seats in a venue. It hurts those consumers again when they then go to the secondary market and pay inflated prices for tickets based on the hype created by the artificially engineered sellout. And, all too often, a consumer who does pay a premium for a ticket is hurt a third time when tickets to the allegedly "sold out" show are later made available once the show's promoter realizes it held back too many tickets and has to rush to fill a venue.
The National Consumers League wants more transparency when tickets go on sale. That means when Jason Aldean plays at the AMSOIL Arena, it should be divulged publicly just how many of the 8,500 seats actually will be available when tickets go on sale to the general public.
Only through an open, transparent and competitive ticket market will consumers be protected from fraud and abuse on the ticket-resale market.
John D. Breyault is vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud for the Washington, D.C.-based National Consumers League (nclnet.org). He wrote this for the News Tribune.