The event ticket. Is it personal property or is it a license granted to the buyer?
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
I can see the story line crawling across the screen now. And like Star Wars the movie, “Ticket Wars” the litigations appears to be one hard fought episode after another; A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi. Quite a Trilogy of litigations, and that’s just the beginning. Like Star Wars, Ticket Wars, is an ongoing battle, represented by different characters, fought on different battlefields, defending different fronts. The history goes back to the 1990’s with an anti-trust investigation into Ticketmaster’s pricing practices. The investigation was reined in by then Attorney General Janet Reno because of “fledgling competition” entering the market. Today the battle continues, not in a galaxy far, far away, but in court rooms and legislative committees across the country. The lawsuits range from consumer class action to anti-trust and include allegations of deceptive practices, contractual rights, anti-competitive practices, and “Mafia-like” strong arm tactics. I believe there is a potential opportunity to reference the “Dark Side” here.
A New Hope
The battle between Ticketmaster and StubHub began shortly after StubHub was acquired by eBay in 2007, for a reported $310 million. Ticketmaster had recently filed a federal law suit against three ticket broker operations and the company that provided them the software. In the lawsuit against StubHub, Ticketmaster alleged that StubHub was violating its exclusive contracts between venues and Ticketmaster. StubHub was the “place” people could go, giving them “New Hope” at reclaiming money from events they were unable to attend.
Two separate incidents involving StubHub preceded the 2007 suit. The first involved the New York Yankees, who denied more than 200 season ticket holders the right to buy playoff tickets and barred them from 2007 season tickets because they were suspected of selling their season tickets on StubHub. The second was a lawsuit filed by the New England Patriots in an attempt to bar StubHub from reselling team tickets as, reportedly, fans were showing up to the game with phony or voided tickets that were purchased through StubHub. That would certainly “deflate” a New England Patriot fan’s spirts. You didn’t think I was going to let that opportunity pass, did you?
The Empire Strikes Back
During all these legal maneuvers, the state legislators finally became involved. In 2010, The “Empire State” became the first state to strike back and pass legislation protecting the rights of consumers who wish to transfer tickets to others as they see fit. Similar legislation was introduced in states that include New Jersey, North Carolina, Florida, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Minnesota.
Return of the Jedi
The latest volley between the two ticketing giants was launched by StubHub who, in a federal lawsuit, alleges the NBA’s Golden State Warriors engaged in an “anti-competitive scheme” that attempts to block season ticket holders from using StubHub to resell their tickets. The lawsuit charges the Warriors and Ticketmaster “not only profit from the resale of tickets on the secondary market but that they engage in monopolistic practices that block any competition.” Andrew Flanagan writes, in his March 31, 2015 article in Billboard, titled “StubHub Sues Ticketmaster Over Alleged Hard-Line Resale Rules”, StubHub representative Glenn Lehrman tells Billboard that “What this really is about is tying the primary [market] to the secondary.” When asked how tickets are treated with regards to ownership — essentially, who legally owns a purchased ticket — Lehrman says that StubHub (unsurprisingly) thinks of tickets as “a piece of property like anything else,” not a license granted to a buyer, as Ticketmaster’s alleged treatment of the season tickets implies. But even if it were, “there is precedence in antitrust law,” says Lehrman.
StubHub’s federal lawsuit is not the only battle front for Ticketmaster these days. There are several states whose legislatures have either crafted, or are in various stages of crafting, legislations concerning Ticketmaster’s “Restrictive Ticket Policy”. It’s difficult to believe that the Jedi Warriors championing the consumer’s cause, comes to Missouri in the persons of two legislators; a former Republican and current Democrat Representative. The two are working in a Bi-partisan way to pass HB- 939 which challenges Ticketmaster’s “Restrictive Ticket Policy”. Rep. Tracy McCreery (D) and former Rep. Carl Bearden (R) believe whether you view this issue as a free market, property rights, or consumer choice issue, it is important to ensure that when a consumer purchases a ticket they will always have the right to transfer the ticket whenever and however they would like. Florida has 2 bills, House Bill 463 and Senate Bill 742, designed to place stricter rules on the re-selling of tickets. As of this week, neither of the bills made it to their respective floors in the House or Senate. It appears the possibility of the bills successfully navigating through the Florida legislature is about as good as the odds C-3PO gave the Millennium Falcon to navigate through the asteroid field. But we all know what happened there.
Notice I made no reference to the Death Star, Jabba the Hut, or Darth Vader, and the subject provided me with AMPLE opportunity to do so. No matter which side of the Ticket Wars you are on, I believe the more competition in the market place, the better it is for everyone. Competition makes businesses work harder and smarter for the consumer’s dollar AND drives prices down and fan experience up. Who owns a purchased ticket is in the hands of the courts and the legislators, which normally doesn’t leave me with a “warm and fuzzy” feeling. Let’s hope the lawmakers and judges will allow the “Force” to guide them to proper decisions.
Where do you stand on the Ticket Wars issue? Is a ticket a piece of property, like StubHub argues, or is it a license granted to a buyer? Let me know your thoughts. Please comment below and share this with a friend and/or associate.