Like most Americans, I enjoy attending live entertainment events. But also like most Americans, I find the complex world of online ticket sales as user-friendly as the Healthcare.gov website. Navigating a mass of specialty pre-sales, credit card promotions, online ticket queues and a swath of venue and seller fees makes attempting to attend a concert or sporting event a costly and complicated experience.
Which is why I tend to prefer to get my tickets secondhand, on an open market on StubHub, where I might pay a little more than the suggested retail price of the ticket, but can choose my seats and my budget in a straightforward, ostensibly free-market atmosphere.
I suppose if I were really pressed for time, I could also purchase my tickets from someone holding them up in a fan shape outside of an event venue. But in most states, despite the secondary online markets where tickets can sell for more than face value, selling tickets person-to-person on a street corner for even a penny over the printed price is a crime.
The law, of course, that prohibits person-to-person sales of tickets over face value, is unquestionably designed to curb a market and preserve the profits of a few, while ostensibly making tickets more expensive for the average consumer. Under the guise of preventing counterfeiting and venue integrity – and eliminating middle men – ticket companies have long objected to any change in the law that opens ticket sales up to the free market, even as technology and consumer demand has long passed them by.
In Michigan, Rep. Tim Kelly has introduced a bill that would loosen the ban on person-to-person ticket sales, or ticket “scalping,” allowing free competition in a secondary marketplace for event tickets. In the Legislature and in the public square, there has been little opposition. From those who are working to protect their stranglehold on ticket sales, however, there have been a few thin arguments.
Clearly, venues and ticket sellers are concerned about activities like counterfeiting, scalping and “bulk ticket purchases,” all of which, they say, ruin the consumer’s purchasing experience. But innovations in technology like electronic ticketing have already made counterfeiting tickets more difficult, and while the practice of counterfeiting is a serious crime, it has little to do with consumer choice.
Scalping and bulk ticket purchases already happen, as anyone who has ever attempted to purchase a wristband for a summer music festival like Lollapalooza already knows; “scalpers” or “ticket sales companies” purchase nearly all of a festival’s wristband passes and turn to sites like StubHub to sell them at twice their face value, with the blessing of ticket sales companies who have forged deals with online retailers like StubHub specifically to allow ticket resales. Consumers still pay, sometimes twice face value for tickets to these events, but because the transactions take place on a clean, well-designed website that accepts credit cards and allows users to trumpet their purchases on social media, rather than through an exchange outside of the music venue itself, they are magically deemed acceptable.
That makes the law inconsistent at best and a troublesome burden on the free market at worst.
Ultimately, opposition to allowing person-to-person ticket reselling is about maintaining a strict hold on profit. Ticketmaster, for example, already controls more than 80 percent of ticket sales, but is one of the most vocal opponents of ticket re-selling. Unless, of course, you sell the ticket through Ticketmaster’s own online resale website, where Ticketmaster is able to take a cut of any profits made by reselling a ticket for more than face value, and can charge a fee to transfer the tickets from one consumer to another.
In any other industry, we would consider this kind of inconsistent law, which protects the profits of a small group of producers, a travesty. But in the realm of event ticket sales, we are uniquely willing to stifle the free market, even if it means more convenience to the consumer, and even if it means that these retailers who have their own secondary markets might be able to make an even greater profit on particularly rare tickets.
The Michigan law is a good start that should expand to other states, as the free market opens and consumers are presented with a greater landscape of choices when purchasing their event tickets, and an inconsistent, outdated law gets corrected.