Business News Legal Live Business

Congressman welcomes FTC report on US ticketing market, says his BOSS Act is the solution

By | Published on Thursday 14 May 2020


US Congressman Bill Pascrell has welcomed a short report published by America’s Federal Trade Commission on the ticketing business Stateside, which is based on a day of discussions the government agency hosted last year. Pascrell says that his proposed BOSS Act would deal with many of the issues raised in the FTC’s document.

Pascrell is a long-time critic of the US ticketing sector and especially its biggest player, Live Nation’s Ticketmaster. He has proposed fiercer regulation of the market at various points over the years, with the latest version of his proposed BOSS Act published in the wake of last year’s big FTC-organised ticketing debate.

Those proposals seek to regulate both primary and secondary ticketing. Although – unlike in other countries, where new rules have been considered to restrict the resale of tickets by third parties – the BOSS Act would actually prevent promoters from stopping the resale of tickets to their shows. However, it would introduce new transparency obligations in the secondary market similar to those being considered and introduced elsewhere in the world.

The need for more transparency – across the board – is a key finding in the FTC report, so that customers better understand who they are buying a ticket from and what options are available to them. Linked to that is the need for ticketing platforms to be upfront about the total price of buying a ticket from the off – including in online advertising – rather than adding booking fees and other charges during the ticket buying process.

The report also discusses the effectiveness of the 2016 BOTS Act, which banned the use across the US of software employed by touts to buy up large numbers of tickets from primary ticketing sites. And another issue in the secondary market – speculative selling, where touts advertise for sale tickets they don’t yet have – is also considered.

Commenting on the report, Pascrell says: “The FTC’s findings show a ticket marketplace in turmoil and in desperate need of changes. My BOSS Act legislation will address, head-on, many of the legitimate complaints and fears raised by consumers and highlighted by the FTC’s workshop to impose broad regulation over a wild west market for the first time”.

He then thanks the FTC for staging last year’s debate and publishing this week’s report, adding that he urges the agency to “keep looking and use their full powers to take action on behalf of American consumers”.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the ticketing debate somewhat, so that the main current concern – in the US and the rest of the world – is how ticketing platforms are handling the huge number of shows and events that have been cancelled or postponed as a result of shutdown. A big question is whether cash refunds are available for cancelled and postponed shows, and how quickly those refunds will be processed.

This has led to some new sparring between Pascrell and Ticketmaster, most recently via the letters page of Billboard. In a letter to the trade mag, co-signed by fellow House Of Representatives member Katie Porter, Pascrell says that thousands of Americans with tickets to events postponed as a result of COVID-19 have been left in “financial limbo” because of “anti-consumer policies at the country’s largest ticket sales company: Ticketmaster”.

The letter references allegations that Ticketmaster changed its policies on refunds after the COVID-19 shutdown began, allegations that have already led to legal action in the US. For its part, Ticketmaster says it simply clarified its existing policies on its website, which is to say that – with postponed shows – it is ultimately up to each show’s promoter to decide if and when to offer refunds, though – it adds – most promoters will make refunds available as soon as a rescheduled date has been announced.

But, Pascrell and Porter say, Ticketmaster should be doing much more to get cash refunds to people who have tickets for cancelled or postponed shows.

The ticketing firm’s US President Jared Smith has already responded to that letter, arguing in his own note to Billboard that Pascrell and Porter “either misunderstand or elect to misrepresent the realities of our business and refund policies”.

“It is entirely disingenuous and flatly wrong to claim that we have ‘pointed the finger at others'”, he goes on. “To reiterate, Ticketmaster is a platform that allows event organisers to sell tickets directly to consumers. The fact is, the money we need to refund fans is held by our clients, many of whom are the same independent venues, promoters and arts companies the representatives claim they are trying to help”.

Moreover, Pascrell argues, Ticketmaster is doing more than anyone else in the ticketing market to make refunds available and get those refunds paid.

“Ticketmaster is currently offering refunds on 100% of cancelled events and has already worked with event organisers to begin offering refunds on more than 80% of the nearly 30,000 events that have been cancelled, postponed or rescheduled”, he writes. “So far, we have already processed over $600 million in refunds, a number that grows every day”.

Meanwhile Ticketmaster’s parent company Live Nation – also one of the ticketing firm’s most significant clients – is “leading the way” and “offering refunds on 95% of rescheduled shows and working hard to move postponed shows into new dates or cancel them”.

“In contrast”, he adds, “not a single one of the other major ticket marketplaces (Stubhub, Vivid Seats, Gametime and SeatGeek) are offering cash refunds on postponed or rescheduled events, under any circumstances. Even worse, the largest ticket resale marketplace in the US, StubHub, is now not even providing refunds on any cancelled events”.

“Regardless, we will continue to do our work with an entire industry that has come together to overcome these challenges in unprecedented ways”, Smith concludes.

It remains to be seen how Pascrell and Porter respond to Smith’s critique of their COVID-19 refund complaints. And then, once shutdown is finally over, how the debate around the wider regulation of the US ticketing market proceeds in the future.