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US government to put the spotlight on the ticketing market

By | Published on Friday 5 October 2018

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The Federal Trade Commission in the US has announced that it will hold a public session next March putting the spotlight on the ticketing business – with both the primary and secondary ticketing markets set to be discussed.

The event – called a ‘public workshop’ by the government agency – follows that report earlier this year in the New York Times that accused Live Nation and its Ticketmaster business of anti-competitive behaviour, and the more recent reports in the Canadian press over the ticketing giant’s relationship with touts. Though Ticketmaster itself was keen to point out that the FTC session is a simple workshop involving the whole live entertainment industry, and not a probe looking into any one player in the market.

Announcing the event yesterday, the FTC said: “The online event ticket industry has been a frequent topic of consumer and competitor complaints, and FTC staff is seeking public input in advance of the workshop, including possible discussion topics and potential participants”. It added that the session would bring together a “variety of stakeholders, including industry representatives, consumer advocates, trade associations, academics and government officials”.

Specific issues on the agenda include “practices that prevent consumers from obtaining tickets, mislead consumers about price or availability, or mislead consumers about the entity from which they are purchasing”. The event, the FTC concluded, “will discuss the current state of the online event ticket marketplace, shed light on industry-wide advertising and pricing issues, and explore ways to address deception beyond traditional law enforcement”.

Of course, in recent years the loudest debate around ticketing has been on the resale market and the practices of touts and the secondary ticketing platforms they utilise.

While that debate of late has been more active in Europe than America, there’ll be plenty of familiar touting topics on the FTC’s agenda. Including touts advertising tickets they don’t actually have yet. And the way resale sites list prices and market themselves on search engines. And the use of so called bots by touts to access tickets (and the BOTS Act passed in the US that attempts to restrict the use of such software to hoover up tickets to in-demand events).

But it won’t just be about touting. The primary ticketing market will be discussed too, with some issues on that side US specific, while others are relevant worldwide.

Ticketmaster said yesterday that it “welcomes and looks forward to participating in the FTC workshop on online ticketing in March 2019”. It then added: “To be clear, this is an industry wide workshop – not a probe. We encourage other ticketing companies to take part in educating consumers and lawmakers on the opportunities and challenges in the ticketing industry and to join us in further action to improve the consumer ticket buying experience, including aggressive enforcement of the BOTS Act, the elimination of speculative ticket sales and restrictions on deceptive marketing and misleading ticketing URLs”.

With the recent hoo haa around the report on Ticketmaster’s involvement in the secondary market Stateside, events like this could result in the anti-touting movement gaining new momentum in the US, as it has in Europe in recent years. In the UK, the government instigating a review of the secondary ticketing market in 2015 helped to rally those in the music community who wanted the ticket resale market to be better regulated, many of whom had previously given up pushing for such legal reforms.

However, an organisation representing ‘ticket brokers’ in the US also welcomed the FTC workshop yesterday, hoping it would deal with some of the issues faced by its members. The National Association Of Ticket Brokers – which describes itself as “an association of professional ticket resale companies that ‘do resale the right way'” – said it hoped the FTC event would put the spotlight on “anti-competitive practices” in general and the dominance of Tickemaster in the US ticketing market in particular.

It’s Executive Director, Gary Adler, put out a statement in which he mused: “For anyone who enjoys live events and purchases tickets, or who works in the ticketing business and competes with the giant Ticketmaster, it is welcome news today that the Federal Trade Commission will convene a workshop to examine the anticompetitive practices that NATB has been warning about for a long time”.

Citing those recent media reports about the Live Nation company’s operations, he went on: “The Department Of Justice is already reportedly investigating Ticketmaster against complaints that it may be violating the consent agreement it entered into when it merged with Live Nation, and now the FTC has announced it will look into practices that limit ticket availability on the primary market and mislead consumers about ticket prices and availability”.

“The FTC specifically announced that it will explore ways to address deception beyond traditional law enforcement”, he added, “and this is terrific because hopefully, for the sake of consumers and a competitive ticket market, much needed change will result from this process. The frustrations that consumers face today in accessing the tickets they want and at a price they consider reasonable or at market value stem almost entirely from practices related to the initial ticket supply and how it is tightly controlled at every turn”.

Concluding, he wrote: “This primary market for tickets, from sports to music, is overwhelmingly monopolised by the Live Nation/Ticketmaster giant. The lack of vibrant competition in the market combined with Live Nation/Ticketmaster’s hands on so many levers to restrict ticket sales and resale is why tickets are more difficult to access and more expensive to purchase, a situation that harms consumers and needs fixing. We look forward to participating in this FTC workshop”.