Ten months later, Swift’s U.S. tour is over, along with most of the meaningful reforms that consumer advocates and industry groups hoped to pass this year. One proposal has so far failed to make progress in the U.S. Senate. At the urging of some consumer groups, the Democratic governor vetoed the Colorado legislation.
In California, home to iconic studios like Capitol Records and influential clubs like Whiskey A Go Go and Hollywood Bowl, an initial string of strong legislation has been watered down into a single bill banning hidden fees, New York and Connecticut States have similar regulations. It’s done, and most major industry players have committed to doing it themselves.
“That’s it? This is California, a state that is a national leader on so many consumer protection issues, and this is all we have to do?” said Robert Herrell, executive director of the Consumers Federation of California. “It’s embarrassing. It’s not enough.”
Slow progress in changing the way tickets are sold and resold highlights not only the strength of industry opposition, but also regulatory difficulties in a market disrupted by technology. Gone are the days of queuing at the box office to ask what seats are available and how much they cost.
Today, almost all tickets are sold online and downloaded to mobile phones or other devices. Consumers often don’t know how much they’re paying until they hit the buy button, and the fees and charges are sometimes nearly as high as the fare.
Venues often don’t disclose how many seats are available for a particular event and instead release tickets in batches, leading consumers to spend more for fear of missing out, according to consumer groups.
Some bad actors use software to quickly buy tickets in bulk and then resell them at a higher price. They’ll even sell tickets before they get them, a practice known as “voting tickets,” which consumer groups say is dangerous and doesn’t guarantee tickets. Some even mimic venue websites, convincing consumers that they are buying tickets directly.
A seemingly simple issue of consumer rights has been confounded by sharp divisions among venues, ticket sellers, consumer groups and artists.
Music Artists board member Jordan Bromley said artists and venues want to limit the ways fans can resell tickets in an attempt to combat “secondary market sweeps, jacking up prices, and fan-gouging.” Alliance, an advocacy group representing artists.
Consumer groups argue that buyers can do what they want with tickets, including upsells. That divide was part of the reason Colorado’s Democratic Gov. Jared Polis vetoed a bill earlier this year even though it also contained pro-consumer policies such as a ban on hidden fees, price hikes and speculative tickets Sale.
In California, anger among consumer groups has centered on Live Nation Entertainment, which owns Ticketmaster and controls most ticket sales and venues for touring music artists in the US. But the debate is spreading to the Artists, major men’s professional sports teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco 49ers, and independent venues that hold 1,000 people or fewer, including more than 600 in California alone.
Julia Heath, president of the California chapter of the National Association of Independent Venues, said most were blunt and said “this is an attack on Ticketmaster and Live Nation.” “What actually happened was that they were targeting them, but they were hitting other people as well.”
The biggest disagreement is whether to allow teams, venues and artists to limit the ways fans can resell the tickets they buy.
A bill that would allow teams, venues and artists to restrict fans from reselling tickets passed the Senate but failed to pass Congress this year after raising concerns from consumer groups. The bill’s author, State Senator Anna Caballero, has promised hearings on the issue once the Legislature adjourns.
Councilman Laura Friedman introduced a bill that would ban venues and artists from restricting resale. The measure also requires venues to disclose the number of tickets available for an event to prevent “strandedness”. Ultimately, after industry backlash, the bill was amended to remove both provisions.
“It was very difficult. From the beginning the lobby group opposed the bill and worked very strongly and in concert,” Friedman said, adding that she was disappointed that the bill wasn’t strong enough.
Industry groups were also disappointed. Heath, who represents independent venues, called it a “do nothing bill.”
“A lot of the issues we raised went away, but we also thought it was a missed opportunity,” she said. “There are some issues in the ticketing space that need to be addressed at the moment.”
Not everyone is disappointed. Jenn Engstrom, director of the California Public Interest Research Group, said while it would be nice to address all of these issues, banning hidden fees would still be a win for consumers.
“I’m only concerned with incremental change,” she said. “It’s a good first step.”