Op Ed: Deceptive Tickets Can Ruin Show

By Cara Spencer

St. Louis is fortunate to have a fantastic show scene. International tours stop here regularly and include local artists who perform here multiple times a year, such as Pokey LaFarge and Chuck Berry. And out-of-town big names such as Kings of Leon, The Black Keys and Keith Urban are stopping through this fall. People we thought we’d never see play again, like Merle Haggard, are hopping in buses and stopping here. We even get fantastic comedy like Hannibal Buress.

But before you get ready to enjoy the show, you should be sure to check the fine print that could leave you paying for tickets that cannot be used if something unexpected disrupts your plans.

This fine print describes what the live event industry calls paperless or credit card entry ticketing. This form of ticketing requires consumers to buy tickets online with a credit card and then use that same credit card and their photo ID to gain entry to the event. I’m sure you’ve see it, this required ticket method has been on the rise and many shows are using it, including Lady Antebellum and Arcade Fire earlier this year and the Black Keys and Eric Church coming up.

Here the catch. The best tickets to these shows are totally nontransferable. This can spell a host of problems for unsuspecting consumers who assume they will be able to give away or resell their tickets if they end up unable to go.

What if something comes up and you can’t attend the show you’ve been waiting for? Because your tickets are tied to your credit card and photo ID, you cannot resell them or even give them away. Now you’ve got a worthless piece of paper and you’ve left empty seats in the front row. And of course, most tickets are nontransferable unless you purchase event insurance — a separate issue that takes advantage of consumers.

Additionally, if consumers buy several tickets for family members or friends to sit together, the entire group has to enter at once. If someone in the party is late to arrive, everyone may miss part of the show. No one wants to hear the sound of their favorite act starting up onstage while they’re waiting at the gate because the buddy who bought the tickets is stuck at work.

The worst is the failure of the ticket seller, in most cases Ticketmaster, to adequately explain these restrictions to consumers when they buy tickets. As anyone who has tried to buy tickets online to a popular show knows, the process is often frenzied, with consumers anxiously awaiting the opportunity to buy the best tickets available and a countdown clock ticking to the moment the tickets selected will be thrown back into the mix.

At the very least, Ticketmaster and any other ticket seller that uses technology to restrict what consumers may do with the tickets they purchase, should be required to boldly and clearly disclose to consumers early and through the purchasing process that credit card entry tickets are nontransferable. Anything less deceives consumers into believing they can easily give their purchased tickets away, resell them or distribute ahead of the show.

Consumers should not be forced to lose 100 percent of the cost of the ticket because their plans changed and they are stuck with tickets they cannot use.

Consumers Council of Missouri applauds Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster for leading the effort among state attorneys general to require that the ticket purchasing process be more transparent. We are hopeful that his office will require Ticketmaster or other sellers to end this deceptive practice in our state. We encourage consumers to join us in supporting Koster in this effort.

Cara Spencer is a member of Consumers Council of Missouri. She is director of business development at Nebula Coworking in St. Louis.

NCL Issues Guide to Buying Live Event, Sports Tickets

Washington, DC – With many of the top recording artists on tour through the fall and the NFL season about to kickoff, the National Consumers League (NCL) today released a “Practical Guide to Buying Live Event and Sports Tickets” to help fans navigate the often confusing and cumbersome process of buying tickets online.

Once as easy as going to the box office, stadium, or the local record store, buying tickets to live event and sporting events has become a maze of ticket websites, resellers, online classified ads, and street vendors all competing for consumer dollars.

“We want to make sure fans have the information they need to make the best ticket buying decisions; we also want to raise awareness about anti-consumer practices in the ticketing industry,” said John Breyault, NCL’s Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “For example, fans should be on the lookout for restricted ticketing, undisclosed price floors, and deceptive websites that lure unsuspecting fans into buying resale tickets. NCL has developed a list of tips that will help consumers find their way through this thicket of potential problems.”

Restricted ticketing, which ties the consumer’s ticket to their credit card and ID, makes it difficult, if not impossible, for consumers to transfer their tickets or share them. And the 30 million Americans who do not have a credit or debit card can’t even purchase this type of ticket in the first place.

“We think consumers should have the right to choose what they do with their tickets after purchase. If plans change, no one should have to lose 100 percent of the ticket value because they can’t give it away or resell it,” added Breyault.

In addition, some resale marketplaces, such as Ticketmaster’s TicketExchange, limit how low a ticket can be priced. That’s an outrageous practice. This price floor is not disclosed to consumers, who might think they’re getting a reasonable deal; in reality, there may be cheaper tickets available on other sites that don’t control prices.

However, when shopping for tickets online, particularly when doing an Internet search, consumers should be sure they know where they are buying their tickets from and whether it is a reseller or the box office that they are doing business with.

“Some ticket resellers create websites that pose as a box office or the official ticket seller. These are deceptive, and consumers should take the time to make sure they know if they are buying a resale ticket or not,” said Breyault.

Click here for the ticket buyers’ guide.

Missouri AG Challenges Ticketmaster Sales Tactics

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster took the lead among state attorneys general in asking Ticketmaster and Live Nation to change disclosures about entering the venue and reselling or transferring tickets to consumers before they buy live event tickets.  In February, Koster reached an agreement with Ticketmaster to change some its sales practices.

Click here to read Attorney General Koster’s news release about the agreement.

Click here to read the full text of the letter Koster had sent Ticketmaster.

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