Federal Mandate on Up-Front Ticket Pricing Imminent? | Athletic Business

Federal Mandate on Up-Front Ticket Pricing Imminent?

Three of the country's biggest ticket sellers told a congressional committee Wednesday that they would support a federal mandate to disclose "all-in" ticket prices, as reported by ESPN.

Current industry-wide practice is to reveal any fees related to ticketing only after a fan has entered personal payment information. The new practice would require ticketing fees would be revealed up front.

Amy Howe, Ticketmaster's chief operating officer, told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce that the total ticket price "should be disclosed from the outset, not at the end of the purchase process" and that there should be "robust enforcement of this requirement."

Wednesday's hearing centered on three common practices: speculative ticket sales, deceptive websites and hidden fees. The practices came up in a vast majority of consumer complaints between 2012 and 2017, according to a nationwide analysis of reports to state attorneys general conducted by ESPN.

An ESPN investigation during the 2018 season found most of the major ticketing companies required customers to input their personal information, including name, address and email address, before revealing fees ranging from 8 to 40 percent.

Some members of Congress have called ticketing practices anti-consumer and deceptive. Committee chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said he was particularly concerned about high fees. "Millions of Americans shop on the internet for tickets," Pallone said. "In some ways, the internet has made this experience more convenient, but it has also led to consumers being ripped off as they try to navigate a ticketing industry that for too long has operated in the dark."

Stubhub and AXS also said they would support "all-in pricing." Stubhub general counsel Stephanie Burns testified that the company tried all-in pricing between 2014 and 2015 but moved away from the practice because consumers found it confusing, as competitors' prices did not include fees and appeared lower in search engines.

Both Ticketmaster and Stubhub agreed that fans are also hurt by speculative ticket sales, or when someone sells a ticket before actually possessing it. Another ESPN investigation found Seattle Seahawks fans lost more than $1 million on speculative tickets for Super Bowl XLIX in 2015.

However, representatives of the companies testifying butted heads on the issue of transferability — the ease of transferring tickets digitally from one person to another. Stubhub general counsel Stephanie Burns testified that, for some events, fans who want to buy tickets originally issued by Ticketmaster must create an account with Ticketmaster to receive their seats, even if the resale purchase was made on a third-party site such as Stubhub.

Ticketmaster's Howe said the procedure is aimed at cracking down on fraudulent tickets. But Burns countered that the practice is just a way to prevent competitors from reselling its seats. Ticket Network chief executive Don Vaccaro later noted that the practice also allows Ticketmaster to collect valuable data about the people buying and selling its tickets.

Pallone, whose committee staff has been investigating ticketing industry practices since November, is pushing for passage of a bill known as the Better Oversight of Secondary Sales and Accountability in Concert Ticketing Act. The bill appears to have at least some bipartisan support, ESPN reported.

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