Seeing ‘Red’ after Taylor Swift debacle, states weigh concert ticket rules
More than a dozen states considered bills following the Eras Tour problems
Taylor Swift performs on opening night of The Eras Tour at State Farm Stadium in March in Arizona. The ticketing fiasco before the tour has prompted lawmakers across the country to consider new laws on live event ticketing (Kevin Winter/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management).
There’s no question what motivated state Rep. Kelly Moller to push for changes in Minnesota law on concert ticket sales.
“Really, it was the Taylor Swift debacle for me,” she said.
A self-professed Swiftie, the Democrat found herself among millions of other Americans unable to buy tickets last year to Swift’s Eras Tour.
She preregistered for tickets, but never received a code to buy them. And on the day sales went live online, she sat by as friends with codes got bumped out of the ticket queue for no apparent reason. Then Ticketmaster’s website crashed.
The ordeal convinced her that the concert ticket industry warrants more government oversight.
“I do think a lot of that is better served at the federal level, but that said, there are things we can do at the state level,” she said.
Moller introduced a bill this year that would force ticket sellers to disclose the full cost of tickets, including fees, up front to buyers in her state. It also would ban speculative ticketing — a practice in which resale companies sell tickets they don’t yet own.
The bill stalled, but Moller expects it to be reconsidered next year. It is part of a wave of legislation considered in more than a dozen states this year following the unprecedented disaster in the run-up to Swift’s Eras Tour, which is on pace to be the highest-grossing tour in history.
Swift and her legions of fans were outraged when Ticketmaster’s website crashed last November as it faced unprecedented demand from fans, bots and ticket resellers ahead of her tour. Social media blew up over the fiasco, and news organizations published story after story. It sparked bipartisan legislative proposals in Congress, though no bill has become law yet.
That’s led state legislatures to step in: Lawmakers of both parties across the country introduced new bills this year to regulate concert and live event ticket purchasing.
It’s a rare bipartisan issue in statehouses. But lawmakers are learning how complicated — and controversial — the world of online ticketing is. In several states, legislators are caught in the middle between companies like Ticketmaster and secondary sellers such as StubHub.
“There are a lot of issues that beg for a national focus, a national solution. But because of the political dynamics in Washington, D.C., we haven’t gotten very many solutions. … So states believe they have to act,” said California state Sen. Bill Dodd, a Democrat.
Dodd sponsored a bill this year that would ban so-called junk fees on tickets — fees tacked onto the base price that lawmakers view as deceptive. The proposal targets other services, including hotel and resort fees, but Dodd said concerts were a major driver. President Joe Biden called out junk fees in his State of the Union address in February and has publicly praised companies that have committed to transparent pricing, such as Airbnb and Live Nation, Ticketmaster’s parent company.
Dodd said he isn’t hostile to ticket marketplaces such as Ticketmaster and StubHub. He uses those sites to buy tickets to concerts and basketball games. But, he said, consumers should know the full price up front. The White House estimates junk fees cost Americans more than $65 billion per year.
“It’s outrageous,” he said, “and I think Californians are sick and tired of dishonest fees being tacked onto just anything.”
Dodd’s bill, which was backed by California Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta, passed the state Senate and is pending in the Assembly. It is one of several ticketing bills considered by Golden State lawmakers this session.
The state Senate unanimously passed a proposal from Republican state Sen. Scott Wilk that he said targets the “stranglehold” some companies have over sales. The bill would prohibit exclusivity clauses in contracts between a primary ticket seller such as Ticketmaster and an entertainment venue in California. Wilk said in his news release it would allow artists to work with other ticket sellers without the fear of retaliation from large ticket sellers — and ultimately reduce fees for consumers. It’s in committee in the Assembly.
‘The states are where it’s at’
Earlier this year, the Colorado legislature passed a bill that would have required sellers to fully disclose the total cost of event tickets, prohibited vendors from raising prices during the buying process and banned speculative ticketing.
But Democratic Gov. Jared Polis vetoed the act in June, saying it could prevent competition and “risk upsetting the successful entertainment ecosystem in Colorado.”
Chris Castle, an entertainment lawyer who tracks ticket legislation across the country, said the Colorado veto illustrates the industry’s ability to sway public officials.
Polis referenced concerns he heard from the National Consumers League and the Consumer Federation of America. Both of those consumer advocacy groups have received funding from secondary ticket marketplaces such as StubHub, the music publication Pitchfork reported.
“It’d be easy enough to say, ‘Well, I heard from the stakeholders, and I thought these guys had the better argument.’ But he didn’t say that,” Castle said of Polis. “He starts talking about these groups. And sure enough, it turns out, they’re all on the take.”
Conor Cahill, the governor’s spokesperson, did not answer questions about the influence of ticket marketplaces on the veto, but said Polis will apply a “consumer-first lens” to future legislation on the issue.
The National Consumers League has no problem being associated with groups like StubHub, said John Breyault, the organization’s vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud. He said the group shares a common belief with resellers that the marketplace needs more competition, not less. But it still disagrees on some specific issues, he said.
“There are problems at every level of the industry including in the secondary market that we are trying to address through both our advocacy at the state level and our advocacy at the federal level,” Breyault said.
Bills in several states backed by StubHub aim to protect so-called transferability of tickets — that is, the customers’ right to pass on or resell tickets they purchase.
Six states — Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Utah and Virginia — currently protect the right of fans to transfer or sell tickets. Without that right, some advocates say Ticketmaster’s terms and conditions can ban transferring tickets or require that they be resold on their own platform.
StubHub makes no secret of its efforts to educate and persuade state lawmakers.
“The states are really where it’s at in a lot of ways,” said Laura Dooley, the company’s head of global government relations. “Our industry right now is almost exclusively regulated at the state level.”
This year, the company has tracked nearly 70 ticketing bills proposed across 25 states. Dooley said many state lawmakers introduce new regulations with good intentions, but don’t always understand the industry.
As an example, she pointed to state efforts to ban bots — software that can bypass security measures in online ticketing systems and buy tickets in bulk faster than humans.
Ticketmaster cited bots as a major cause of the Eras Tour fiasco. Bots are banned by federal law, though that regulation only has been enforced once since 2016, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Dooley said StubHub isn’t opposed to state bot bans, but does push legislators to consider enforcement measures in crafting their bills. That’s because regulators need cooperation from the industry and access to ticketing software to monitor for bots, Dooley said.
Dooley contends some lawmakers’ proposed solutions don’t target root causes, including the unique way live event tickets are sold, generally through exclusive deals with one retail platform.
“When you have millions and millions of people wanting to buy a product and they’re being asked to buy that product at the same time on the same day through an exclusive retail provider — in this case Ticketmaster and in many cases Ticketmaster — that system is going to be overloaded, right? And it’s going to be a frustrating experience,” Dooley said.
Ticketmaster did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.
Brian Hess, executive director of the nonprofit fan advocacy organization Sports Fans Coalition, pointed out thatlawmakers have a variety of interests to consider: the primary ticket markets like Ticketmaster, the artists, the consumer, and secondary markets like StubHub.
“Ticketing fights are far more contentious than anyone anticipates,” he said. “Each side of the market likes to blame the other side, and consumers are stuck in the middle.”
The Sports Fans Coalition is in part funded by secondary marketplaces like StubHub and lobbies on ticket legislation across the country.
Hess said federal regulators should not have allowed the 2010 merger of Live Nation, an event promoter and venue operator, with Ticketmaster, a ticket provider.
“They are the monopoly in the industry,” he said. “They were the ones that botched Taylor Swift’s tickets, and they’re the ones that continue to have ticket sale problems when they launch new shows.”
A bipartisan focus
Texas Republican state Rep. Kronda Thimesch said she saw firsthand how bots can distort the marketplace and prevent customers from purchasing tickets.
That’s what she blamed for her own daughter’s unsuccessful attempts to buy Swift tickets last year.
“Fans then have to resort to paying hundreds, if not thousands, over face value to resellers in order to see their favorite artist,” she said.
That’s why she introduced a bill banning ticket-buying bots in Texas, which was signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
Thimesch noted that ticket issues aren’t just a problem for Swift fans — country star Zach Bryan named his December live album “All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster.” Thimesch said she is open to exploring more ticketing legislation when the Texas legislature reconvenes.
More than 1,500 miles away, Massachusetts Democratic state Sen. John Velis has a similar outlook. He’s interested in diving deep into the world of ticketing. But he’s starting off small.
“I think the art, if you will, of legislating is you kind of go little by little,” he said. “I think ticket pricing is a great and very logical place to start.”
Velis introduced a bill that would require upfront transparent ticket pricing and ban “dynamic pricing,” a practice in which sellers adjust prices based on demand. While he’s interested in eventually exploring ride shares or other services, his legislation is so far focused on concert and live event tickets, he said.
Before the Eras Tour mess, Velis said he got interested in the issue after hearing constituents and co-workers complain about exorbitant fees on live event tickets. Tickets advertised for $100 can sometimes end up costing double that once all the fees are tacked on, he said.
“I just thought to myself, ‘That is so incredibly wrong,’” he said. “If someone wants to spend their hard-earned money at $10,000 a ticket to go see Taylor Swift or Jay-Z or the Boston Celtics, giddy up. But I just want that consumer to know going into that initial transaction that they’re going to be spending $10,000.”
Velis said his bill should receive a hearing soon in the state Senate.
Jurisdictional bounds are likely to prove complicated, he acknowledged. After all, consumers often buy tickets for events in other states. But he said his bill is solely aimed at protecting consumers — a notion he says is hard to oppose.
“In my experience, this is without a doubt a bipartisan issue,” he said. “I’ve experienced nobody raising a concern from a partisan politics standpoint.”
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