Blogs & Comment

Time for Ticketmaster to pay up

Ticketmaster is a bully. Anybody who has tried to buy tickets to a major sporting event (or concert) knows that. Consumers pay outlandish fees for a service so slight it scarcely deserves mentioning. Ticketmaster even forces you to pay if you print your own tickets. What a scam.
In a recent article in Canadian BusinessI pointed out that Ticketmaster allows an illegal activity to occur on its TicketsNow website. In short, Ticketmaster lets people scalp ticketscharge more than the face valueand thats illegal in Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta. Such activity is no different than the guys who hawk their wares near the arenas and stadiums, but nobody has ever paid much attention to the online guys. Until now.
The Canadian Competition Bureau, the U.S. Department of Justice and others have issued subpoenas to Ticketmaster, forcing it to turn over information about whos selling what and for how much on TicketsNow. Online scalpers who were getting a free pass from the law may find themselves in some trouble, especially if that information is passed on to, say, the respective governments revenue agencies.
The subpoenas and a couple of Canadian lawsuits targeting Ticketmaster have brought attention to the whole ticket resale business. I feel for the little guys on the street who endure harsh weather, harassment and the odd visit from the police. Sure, theyre committing a crime, but Ive always felt cleaner dealing with them than with Ticketmaster. For one thing, you know what the price is upfront and you can haggle, perhaps even get a bargain once a game is on.
Over at Ticketmaster, the ticket price is one thing, the final bill quite another. Anyone who thinks a $100 ticket costs just $100 will get a shock when they see the final tab. The service fees are just as ludicrous at TicketsNow, so Ticketmaster gets paid twice. No wonder it loves the business.
But lets get back to the little guys. Want to put a hitch in their giddyups? Tell them scalping is connected to organized crime. Heres a sample of the outcry I received after writing that in a recent column:
It looks like a few bad apples have spoiled your mindset, wrote one woman who has family in the resale business. I can agree that street scalpers can be vicious but they can also be very humble.
An angry phone message from a California broker informed me that, Nobodys hooked up with organized crime, dude. Thats BS.
And another broker challenged me: That statement is so far fetched and reckless that I cant even begin to imagine that your editor let that fly. I challenge you to back up your statements with facts and examples.
Well, I cant let a challenge go unanswered, so heres a sampling of the articles I handed to one of our fact checkers:
From Associated Press in 2006: While coaching UMass, new Nets coach John Calipari gave three tickets to the NCAA Final Four to an alleged ticket scalper who was linked to organized crime and banned from working in Las Vegas casinos, the Boston Globesays.
From the Boston Heraldin 2002: A violent ring of scalpers, some with lengthy criminal records and ties to organized crime, has come to dominate Boston’s street-level ticket resale racket, reaping large illegal profits year round at the area’s major sports and entertainment venues.
From the Gotham Gazettein 2001: Last summer, an organized ring of bribery schemes that diverted Yankees and Mets tickets from ticket agents to scalpers was discovered by the Attorney General and Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
Indeed, articles linking scalping and organized crime date back to the turn of the century, probably even before that. But such details obscure my main point, which is that Ticketmaster should be regulated, its fees made more reasonable and it should not be in the resale business, whether its legal or not in a particular jurisdiction.
Normally, Canadian Businesswould tell the government to stay out of the way, but Ticketmaster has abused its near-monopoly status and consumers for years. Because it dominates the ticket-selling business, it has a greater duty of care to ensure that its not taking advantage of the public. It hasnt passed that test, so now its time to pay the piper.