It was a busy day for the live music industry in Washington today as senators introduced multiple pieces of legislation aimed at improving transparency and competition in ticketing.
One of the most common complaints among music fans in a long list of gripes about the modern ticketing industry is the hidden fees that get tacked on at the very end of a purchase, adding a deceptive extra costs customers won’t even see until they’ve already selected their seats based on a different price. The Transparency in Charges for Key Events Ticketing, or TICKET Act, could end that annoyance. Introduced on Tuesday by U.S. Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash) and committee ranking member Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the bill, if passed, would require ticket sellers for concerts and sporting events to disclose the total price of a ticket including fees right away. Fees themselves can be a significant addition for concert tickets, usually adding a 20 to 30-percent extra charge on tickets but sometimes well exceeding that. Joe Biden pushed for a reform on “junk fees” earlier this year.
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While passing the new legislation wouldn’t stop the actual fees themselves, it would certainly be a step forward in making the business more transparent for consumers. While the bill would pass all-in prices on a federal level, some states like New York already enacted the policy.
“When families budget for a night at a ball game or to hear their favorite band, they shouldn’t have to worry about being surprised by hidden fees that suddenly raise the final cost of tickets well over the advertised price,” Cantwell said in a statement. “The price they say should be the price you pay. This bill is one part of comprehensive legislation I plan to introduce to rein in deceptive junk fees driving up costs for consumers.”
The bill would also require ticket sellers to disclose “speculative ticket” listings in which they look to sell tickets they don’t actually have yet. Those listings are often noted in the fine print on ticket sites with phrases such as “zone seats.”
“Sports fans and concertgoers alike have experienced the frustration of expecting to pay the listed price for a ticket only to be hit with a slew of hidden fees at checkout,” Cruz said in a statement. “These unadvertised fees are a nuisance and deter consumers from following through with a purchase. The TICKET Act brings transparency to the whole ticketing industry, which is dominated by a few large players that can capitalize on these hidden fees.”
Hidden fees serve mainly the businesses that use them, but for years, ticketing executives have called upon government officials to pass legislation to require all-in pricing at a federal level. Without a change in the law, companies have said they’d be disincentivized for listing fee-inclusive prices even if it’s more transparent with fans because they’d look more expensive than their competitors who hide fees. For example, StubHub adopted all-inclusive prices nearly a decade ago but abandoned the practice in 2015 after the company’s market share dipped to other companies that initially appeared cheaper.
StubHub did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone‘s request for comment on the new bill.
The bill comes at a time of increased scrutiny regarding the ticketing and live music business spurred in part by fan outrage at Ticketmaster regarding the on-sale for Taylor Swift’s ongoing Eras Tour. Since then, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing in January, grilling Ticketmaster’s parent company Live Nation for over three hours about its dominance in the live music business. Live Nation has denied claims that it’s a monopoly and has looked to push the conversation beyond itself, calling on lawmakers to pass legislation to regulate scalping.
Recently, some artists have started to take the matter into their own hands; both Pearl Jam and U2 announced that both of their upcoming tours would use an all-in ticket strategy. The Cure also took much-celebrated measures for their tour, using non-transferrable tickets to limit scalping while also avoiding the platinum ticket strategy that prices tickets on demand, calling the latter practice “a scam” that artists can avoid.
Live Nation applauded the TICKET Act and once again called on lawmakers to look into other initiatives to improve the industry, including banning the aforementioned speculative ticketing strategy the bill would require sellers to disclose if passed.
“We appreciate the good work of Senators Cantwell and Cruz. This bill is a good starting point — we support all-in pricing — but in order to protect fans and artists more can and should be done, including: ensuring artists can determine how their tickets can be resold, banning speculative tickets and deceptive websites, and strengthening the BOTS Act,” the company said. “These are all common sense reforms supported by a wide array of artists, managers, venues and countless others involved in live entertainment, and they should be included in whatever reforms Congress considers.”
While an all-in ticketing mandate would be a more noticeable change for fans, it wasn’t the only legislation introduced Wednesday. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Richard Blumenthal introduced the Unlocking Ticketing Markets Act as well, which would “empower the Federal Trade Commission to prevent the use of excessively long multi-year exclusive contracts that lock out competitors, decrease incentives to innovate new services, and increase costs for fans,” according to the senators. Exclusivity contracts have been a talking point for Ticketmaster’s competitors as a major aspect in the company’s dominance over the business.
In a statement to Rolling Stone, a rep from Live Nation wrote: “The ticketing industry is more competitive than ever. Ticketmaster wins business because it offers the best product available for venues, and the length of contracts is generally decided by venues and the guaranteed payments they want to help support their expenses. We do not expect any of the proposed changes to have a material impact on our business as we historically add clients in competitive marketplaces.”
“Right now, one company is leveraging its power to lock venues into exclusive contracts that last up to ten years, ensuring there is no room for potential competitors to get their foot in the door,” Klobuchar said, seemingly referencing Ticketmaster but not mentioning it by name. “Without competition to incentivize better services and fair prices, we all suffer the consequences. The Unlock Ticketing Markets Act would help consumers, artists, and independent venue operators alike by making sure primary ticketing companies face pressure to innovate and improve.”
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