October 2, 2022

Scalping Battle Putting ‘Fans’ in the Middle

It’s the summer concert season and, as usual, many fans are frustrated that rampant ticket scalping online has made seeing their favorite performer almost as much a frustration as a thrill. But now a new group says it wants to help.

This week a new nonprofit group, the Fans First Coalition, announced itself with a mission of protecting ordinary consumers from predatory ticket scalpers. The group appeared to have broad support from the industry, including prominent artists like R.E.M., the Dixie Chicks, Maroon 5 and Jennifer Hudson.

What fans might not know is that the coalition is financed by Live Nation Entertainment, the parent company of Ticketmaster, and that it has grown out of a lobbying fight between Live Nation and StubHub, the biggest legal online ticket reseller, over control of the multibillion-dollar secondary ticketing market.

Muddying the waters further, there is another group with a confusingly similar name, the Fan Freedom Project, which also claims to represent the interests of consumers. But it is largely financed by StubHub, a division of eBay.

The organizations, which were introduced with the help of Washington public relations firms, are of a sort typically referred to as astroturf groups. They are unusual for the entertainment industry but to political watchdogs, the idea of powerful interests creating apparently populist nonprofits is all too familiar.

“This is a classic,” said Ellen S. Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, which monitors lobbying, “where you find many so-called grass-roots organizations financed by interested industries to fight battles. The campaigns present them as ground-up activities, but they are really nothing more than fronts for particular interests.”

For both sides of the issue, appealing to ordinary fans could help improve longstanding image problems. Anyone can sell tickets on StubHub, but a large portion of its users are brokers, or professional scalpers — not a very beloved constituency. Ticketmaster has long been criticized by fans for the surcharges it adds to tickets (some of which go to pay theaters and promoters).

Over the last decade many states have lifted scalping restrictions, allowing a robust secondary market to develop online. That often pushes ticket prices for the most in-demand shows out of most consumers’ reach, but the market dynamics can also help fans; a StubHub spokesman said that so far this year almost half the tickets there have sold for less than face value.

Both the Fan Freedom Project and the Fans First Coalition say they support basic consumer protections. But they differ over paperless ticketing, a technology that has also become the contentious lobbying issue between Ticketmaster and StubHub, which have spent the last year fighting state by state to influence legislation on ticketing.

Paperless ticketing works like an airline e-ticket, with no traditional ticket printed when a customer places an order. Instead, a fan shows his credit card at the theater box office to enter the show, guaranteeing that the person who originally placed the order is the same one attending the event. 

The technology is favored by Ticketmaster and some artists as an antiscalping measure. But it is viewed as a threat to the market dominance of StubHub, which sold more than $1 billion in second-hand tickets last year.

StubHub and the Fan Freedom Project believe that a ticket should be treated as a commodity to be traded or resold at a buyer’s discretion. “As fans, we should be able to sell or give away our tickets to anyone we choose, anytime we choose, in any way we choose,” the Fan Freedom Project says in its mission statement.

Last year, Ticketmaster failed to prevent a change to New York’s scalping law, supported by StubHub and scalpers, which required that consumers have the option for paper tickets. Similar fights have spread to Minnesota, North Carolina, New Jersey and Tennessee, and a bill has been introduced in Congress that would prohibit many restrictions on reselling tickets.

“This issue may get settled on K Street rather than Main Street,” said Gary Bongiovanni, the editor of Pollstar, a concert industry trade publication.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=045b7e5a402da0894e4a02a946bd7f86

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