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Sports, music fans are being ripped off by dysfunctional ticket market, congressman says. It’s time for that to stop.

Paterson, July 8, 2019
Orinally printed in the Star Legder: https://www.nj.com/opinion/2019/07/sports-music-fan-are-being-ripped-off-by-a-dysfunctional-ticket-market-congressman-says-its-time-for-that-to-stop.html

A familiar script. You read that your favorite band is going to be in town. Excited, you rush online to buy tickets, only to find somehow, they’re all gone. The Prudential Center has about 17,000 seats, but how many tickets were actually offered for sale to the public? No one knows.

You bite the bullet and look at ticket options for secondary marketplace websites. After all, when will your favorite performer be back again? But comparison shopping is impossible. Some sites won’t tell you a full price until you click the purchase. You enter your credit card information. Only then do you see the list of fees added on at the end: service fee, processing fee, facility fee, promoting fee, not a one of which you can make heads or tails of. The tickets are now way more than you wanted to spend, but if you cancel and try to look for tickets again, the cheaper options are now sold out, too.

The scenario I outlined above is familiar to me. My interest in the corrupt live events market dates to when hungry Jersey fans found themselves locked out of Bruce Springsteen’s “Working on a Dream” tour and were sent to secondary sites that gouged them.

If it’s any consolation, these experiences didn’t only happen to you. They’re an indignity common to millions of Americans because of a dysfunctional $9 billion a year live events market. That market is dominated by Live Nation-Ticketmaster, which holds more than 80 percent market share and does whatever they want to their customers, free of real rules or serious competition.

Americans have been ripped off on sports or entertainment tickets for far too long. It’s past time for Congress to step in and protect consumers.

Recently, I reintroduced my legislation, the Better Oversight of Secondary Sales and Accountability in Concert Ticketing, or BOSS Act to do just that to bring transparency to a marketplace run amok. Of course we named it in honor of the Garden State’s favorite son.

My bill would make a host of needed changes. In the primary marketplace, sellers would be required to disclose all their changes and fees upfront before customers select a ticket. Holdbacks would be less opaque, restrictions on buyers trying to resell would be lifted, and refund policies would be fully disclosed.

In the secondary market where tickets are often resold, we would establish new and needed safeguards to protect customers from rampant speculation. Employees of venues, primary sellers, teams, artists, promoters, and box offices would be blocked from knowingly reselling tickets at jacked-up prices, and we would require “all-in” pricing so that consumers can comparison shop online for the best price across multiple sites.

If these changes can become law, fans will be better able to find affordable tickets and enjoy some live entertainment without being taken to the cleaners by unscrupulous brokers.

My legislation is cosponsored by my colleague, Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., D-6th Dist., the chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, and companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). We are committed to extensive hearings on the industry and enacting ticket fairness this Congress.

How did the market get this bad? Much of it can be traced back a decade when President Obama’s administration made the mistake of allowing the largest concert promoter and the largest ticket provider to merge into one entity. At the time, my colleagues and I pleaded with the administration to block the deal as we knew the joint company would smother competition in live entertainment, but regulators claimed the contrary, arguing that the merger would allow “strong competitors to take root, grow, and thrive.”

Needless to say their claims never came to fruition.

A study published last year by the New York Times discovered that the monopoly controls “nearly every aspect” of the ticket business, creating record-high prices and brutal fees. Similar conclusions were made by the Government Accountability Office after Rep. Pallone and I requested the agency evaluate the marketplace. The GAO found that primary and secondary ticketing companies impose fees averaging 27 percent and 31 percent of the original ticket price, respectively, and remarked on a marketplace rendered “not fully transparent” by a flotilla of fees and shady gimmicks that rip off consumers.

Since these reports, we have called on the Federal Trade Commission to aggressively give the ticket market closer scrutiny to provide relief to aggravated consumers. Furthermore, the Department of Justice should also investigate Live Nation-Ticketmaster’s practices and seek the breakup of the monopoly. So far we’ve seen some limited signs of progress.

Ultimately, any solution to the pervasive corruption will be found in actual federal regulation, and so in Congress. The marketplace remains a Wild West of speculation because it is so big and has never been subject to oversight. Passage of the BOSS Act will finally create that oversight. In short, it would allow Washington to heed the ghost of Tom Joad, the common man and woman, and create fairness for fans just trying to get a little entertainment in tough times.

I think the real Boss would support that.

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