OPINION: In new policy on tickets for sports, concerts, etc., keep tickets ‘transferable’
New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is to be commended for engaging the difficult issue of ticketing for sporting events and concerts in his recent report “Why Can’t New Yorkers Get Tickets?” Schneiderman’s constant focus on consumer protection has brought real relief to New Yorkers in every region of our diverse state. He has forced positive changes in the business practices of industries as varied as banking, health care, financial services, pharmaceuticals and energy.
While we reasonably expect his office again to serve us well, there are concerns around ticketing that need and deserve a nuanced approach. A hammer in search of nails would be too akin to the steamrolling favored by an earlier occupant of his office.
Starting with easy and obvious areas of agreement: (a) more transparency is needed at every step of the ticketing and ticket resale market, and (b) there must be steps to prevent automated purchasing computer programs (known as “Bots”) from buying up vast blocs of tickets for immediate resale. Both issues involve the availability of tickets to consumers in the first, initial market.
Bots buy up thousands of tickets in seconds, keeping them from fans. Bot programs are increasingly sophisticated and able to avoid the “making sure you’re not a computer” test we see on website purchase pages. Like flash stock trading marginalizing other investors, Bots cause enormous damage to the ticketing market.
Some venues hold tickets back, not putting all of them out for purchase at the same time. What goes on sale isn’t what is really available. Holding tickets back impacts the market, drives up prices and negatively impacts consumers’ wallets. Held-back tickets then appear on secondary ticketing platforms owned and controlled by the hosting venues. Nobody but the venue is sure how many tickets are truly available, or when they become available. Before attempts are made to regulate the secondary ticketing market, more information needs to be made publicly available concerning the first ticketing market. Again using a stock market analogy, if every first day of ticket sales to a game or show is an Initial Public Offering, we need similar disclosures to prevent self-dealing.
Where we disagree with the attorney general is on some of the complicated industry issues that require more examination. Despite first glance appeal of two issues — restricted ticketing, otherwise known as paperless ticketing, and price caps on the secondary ticketing market — there is a further problem involving credit cards.
Under a restricted ticketing scheme, when tickets for an event are purchased, those tickets are tied directly to the purchaser’s credit card. Buyers must have and show that same credit card with a photo ID to get inside the event. In effect, these tickets become non-transferable, causing worries across the political spectrum. Progressives, conservatives and libertarians share concerns on this, as do advocates for communities and families struggling financially.
Schools, parents and nonprofits care deeply, as restricted ticketing would drastically impact the ability to raise funds with donated tickets for programs and services. Fans oppose restricted ticketing because it runs counter to how real people in the real world use their tickets. And this practice negatively impacts the unbanked segment of our population, which the city’s Office of Financial Empowerment estimates to be 825,000.
The construction of stadiums and event venues are almost always heavily subsidized with taxpayer dollars. It is grossly inappropriate for them to then turn away from our communities and schools in pursuit of greater profits on tickets that have already been sold once, as non-transferable tickets could only be handled on a venue’s own resale platform.
Concerning price caps on tickets being resold, such efforts smack of command economy tactics. While arenas and concert halls are a type of civic space, which suggests restricted ticketing as inappropriate, tickets are not public goods and attending a game or concert is not a right. The market confers value. Hot games with great teams bring higher prices, as does top-tier musical talent. Poorly ranked teams playing each other force lower prices. But all this is fluid and subjective, with little room for government to dictate price.
Schneiderman has taken on an interesting issue, deserving our attention and praise. Drilling down, we hope he understands who benefits and who gets hurt in each of the fascinating facets under the broader headlines he’s recently earned.
Leave a Comment
Leave a Comment