Taylor Swift fans couldn’t shake off what happened last November when system glitches shut down online ticket purchases for the singer-songwriter’s greatly anticipated “Eras Tour.”
Her fans, called “Swifties,” who had registered to buy tickets online in hopes of scoring a seat at the pop star’s first tour in years, found themselves stuck in backlogged queues. Ticketmaster, blaming overwhelming demand, ended up canceling its general ticket sales and later apologized for the fiasco.
Disappointed fans vented on social media and even filed a class-action lawsuit that accused Ticketmaster and its parent company, Live Nation, of misrepresentation and antitrust violations over its botched “Eras Tour” ticket sales.
Later, at legislative hearings, it became apparent that “bot” software run by resellers had found a way around the system to purchase tickets first, forcing fans to buy tickets at higher prices on secondary markets.
The anger and backlash from the Taylor Swift concert debacle and others—such as the Bruce Springsteen 2023 tour’s use of “dynamic pricing” that changes according to demand—got the attention of Congress and state legislatures, according to Heather Morton, the director of financial services, technology, and communications for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
“There’s been some bad blood between consumers and the ticketing marketplace players,” she said about how fed-up fans have sparked legislative trends.
Ms. Morton was one of 21 scheduled speakers at the NCSL conference on Dec. 4–6 in Austin, Texas. The event provided information to legislators from around the country and those working in government on significant issues affecting states, such as elections, housing, education, technology, health, workforce, and funding.
Although selling tickets may sound like a simple transaction, it often involves multiple players and operators in both the primary and secondary markets, Ms. Morton said.
Secondary-market ticket exchanges are often online resale platforms that only facilitate transactions between third parties, which can be brokers or consumers.
Ticket aggregators are websites that compile resale listings in one place from multiple secondary ticket exchanges. And then, of course, there are the actual entertainers, talent managers, and venue owners, who have a hand in ticketing.
“So there are a lot of overlapping relationships and potential for challenges,” she said.
States have taken steps to codify some forms of entertainment ticket sales, she added.
Generally, laws recognize that people have a right to sell a ticket they own but aim to protect consumers.
It’s no wonder, then, that state laws have focused on fees. Delivery fees, service fees, printing fees, and even hotel resort fees have been added to ticket prices.
Thirty-one states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia have enacted some pricing requirements on event tickets.
Over the past two years, the New York, Connecticut, and Tennessee legislatures have passed laws aimed at “price dripping” on event and entertainment tickets. California passed a similar law that applies to all goods and services, which goes into effect in 2024, Ms. Morton said.
The Federal Trade Commission has defined price dripping as a pricing technique characterized by firms’ advertising only part of the product’s price and revealing other charges as the customer goes through the buying process.
These four states generally require sellers to disclose the total cost of the ticket, including all fees that must be paid to purchase the ticket. The ticket cost and fees usually must be disclosed clearly and conspicuously before the ticket is purchased, she said.
Some states, such as Alabama, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, require the price of the tickets to be on the face of event tickets. Kentucky has an anti-scalping law that makes it illegal to intentionally sell a ticket for more than is charged at the place of admission or is printed on the ticket, Ms. Morton said.
In the secondary markets, several states, such as Georgia, Alabama, and Illinois, require licensure or a registration process for resellers. Some require resellers to have offices and phone numbers and put up bonds.
Another area where Texas, Nevada, Michigan, and other states have turned their attention is domain and website laws to protect the public from misleading advertising, she said.
These sites are called white-label or private-label websites. They use a similar or slightly misspelled name of an artist or professional sports team to sell tickets. Consumers think they are buying directly from the venues, but in reality they are buying from resellers, she explained.
Sometimes, resellers are really brokers who don’t own the ticket but attempt to locate one for the buyer, who may pay the entire price upfront. Tennessee requires that brokers disclose they don’t actually hold the ticket and provide a deadline to supply the ticket to the buyer.
“States aren’t the only ones that care about what’s happening in the event ticketing marketplace—Congress has also been very involved,” she said.
On the federal level, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a three-hour hearing on competition and pricing in the ticketing industry in January after the Taylor Swift ticket debacle. Five bills are pending in the 118th Congress, she said.
One of those is called the Better Oversight of Stub Sales and Strengthening Well Informed and Fair Transactions for Audiences of Concert Ticketing Act, or the Boss and Swift Act of 2023.
The bill’s name is a nod to Springsteen fans, Swift fans, and others who endured inflated prices, long waits, site crashes, and disruptions. The bill, which was introduced in both chambers, would require sellers to disclose base ticket prices, added fees, how tickets are distributed, and refund policies.
Other federal bills introduced in both the House and Senate include the Transparency in Charges for Key Events Ticketing (TICKET) Act; the Junk Fee Prevention Act; and the Unlock Ticketing Markets Act of 2023.
The TICKET Act and Junk Fee Prevention Act ban hidden or bogus ticket fees, and the Unlock Ticketing Markets Act of 2023 aims to increase competition in tickets for live events.
The Mitigating Automated Internet Networks for MAIN Event Ticketing Act was introduced in the Senate. That proposal seeks to strengthen enforcement of the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act of 2016 and better protect consumers in the online ticket marketplace.