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Ticketmaster change TicketsNow links policy post-Springsteen

By | Published on Tuesday 24 February 2009

Springsteen spoke, and the world changed.

As previously reported, Ticketmaster has come under increased criticism in North America in recent weeks for directing customers who visit its main primary ticket selling website to TicketsNow – the secondary ticketing re-sale site which Ticketmaster acquired last year – when it is unable, for one reason or another, to sell tickets to an event via its primary ticketing service.

Tickets are sold on TicketsNow by touts who buy tickets for in-demand events with the aim of selling them on for profit.

While the tout makes most of the profit, Ticketmaster gets a commission on each sale. The business logic, presumably, is that it they can’t make any money on a primary ticket sale, it’s better to make a lesser commission on a secondary sale than make nothing at all. Plus there’s always the chance they can make a commission on the same ticket twice.

But some consumer rights groups have expressed concerns at the close ties between Ticketmaster’s primary and secondary ticketing services, saying that many Ticketmaster customers directed to TicketsNow won’t realise the latter site is not an official suppler of tickets, and that the tickets there may be sold at vastly hiked up prices.

As previously reported, when the Consumers’ Association Of Canada said Ticketmaster’s promotion of its resale website was “a conflict, a monopoly, unconscionable” and that “while it may not be illegal, it sure is immoral and unethical”, a spokesman for the ticketing giant said that by linking to TicketsNow they were simply providing “an added value service” for their customers, explaining: “we’re trying to bring a much higher level of consumer protection to the whole resale space”.

But then Bruce Springsteen found out his fans were being redirected from his official tickets page on the Ticketmaster website to TicketsNow. He ranted about it a little on his website, and the Chief Executive of the ticketing giant, Irving Azoff, quickly issued a full apology and announced a review of the promotion of TicketsNow via Ticketmaster.

The whole matter then went legal when the New Jersey Attorney General stepped in to object about the promotional links. Presumably keen not to rock any boats as its proposals to merge with Live Nation go before US regulators, Ticketmaster quickly began negotiations with the AG and a settlement was announced yesterday which will see co-promotions between the two websites essentially cease.

According to the settlement, Ticketmaster will stop linking to TicketsNow for at least a year, and even then not without the AG’s permission. It will ensure secondary tickets (or the promise of) do not go on sale on TicketsNow before primary tickets are on sale via the main Ticketmaster site.

It will also commit to not use any clever search engine tricks so that a Google search for Ticketmaster takes punters to TicketsNow. There’s also a one off deal to the benefit of those Springsteen fans who lost out by being directed to TicketsNow from Ticketmaster.

Confirming the deal, New Jersey AG Anne Milgram told reporters: “This settlement swiftly and fairly resolves a significant issue for thousands of loyal Springsteen fans in the Garden State who believe that Ticketmaster tilted the playing field against their efforts to purchase tickets to the May concerts. Everyone deserves an equal chance to buy tickets on a primary ticket selling website and shouldn’t be steered to a re-selling website where the prices can be substantially higher”.

The agreement with Milgram will only apply in New Jersey, of course, though presumably the measures it is introducing there will be at least considered by Azoff’s more general review of the Ticketmaster and TicketsNow relationship. You never know, they might even address some of the concerns expressed by the Consumers’ Association Of Canada too.

It will also be interesting to see how Azoff’s review impacts on Ticketmaster UK’s relationship with its sister secondary ticketing website Get Me In.

Those two websites are not currently integrated, though the info page on the latter promises “we also plan to create integrated systems across the two websites which will allow consumers to compare ticket pricing and availability in the primary and resale categories, offering them greater choice and flexibility when purchasing their tickets”. Developments in the US and Canada might hinder those plans.