Paperless Tickets: Is Ticketmaster Hurting Consumers?

If you buy tickets to events, there’s an awfully good chance you get them from Live Nation’s Ticketmaster, the dominant player in the industry. And if you get paperless tickets, you had better read the fine print before you buy them or you could be in for a shock.

Ticketmaster, some artists and venues are changing the terms of tickets--moving to a paperless ticket (known to some as a restricted ticket). The restriction on these tickets is that they are linked to the buyer, who must show the credit card used to purchase them and possibly some other identification in order to gain entry to a venue.

Ticketmaster says the restrictions prevent scalping. But a new group formed to fight this tactic says the practice is aimed at the company gaining greater control of the secondary ticket market (they would be the conduit for resales or transfers) and would badly hurt consumers by taking away the actual ownership of the seats for a given event.

Brad O’Keefe, a banker in Minnesota who owns season tickets for several teams, is livid about the notion that he may no longer be able to easily give his seats to customers, friends or family. And, he said, even donating seats to be auctioned for a charity would become too cumbersome to even bother.

“With that restrictive ticket that I have no control of the ticket,” O’Keefe said. “That’s where I have a problem as a fan and as a ticket holder.”

Jon Potter, the former head of the Digital Media Association who runs the fledgling Fan Freedom Project, said too much is being taken away from consumers in this new maneuver by those who control the tickets.

If you’re not named as an attending person at the time the tickets are purchased you’re not getting in.

“Consumers should recognize that they’re being sold a ticket that has puppet strings on it,” he said. “Essentially, they’re being played like a puppet by Ticketmaster and event producers.”If you buy tickets to an event then you ought to be able to do what you want with them, whether it’s sell them, give them to a friend or donate them to charity, Potter said.

What should happen, he said is simple: “The consumer buys the ticket; the consumer owns the ticket.”

The Fan Freedom Project is backed by the National Consumers League, eBay and secondary ticket seller StubHub.

Paperless tickets have been introduced in scattered markets and have been seen on a more widespread basis through tours of certain performers over the past year and a half. In November, hundreds of people attending a Justin Bieber concert in Louisville were forced to wait for hours after the system set up to verify attendees failed.

Another criticism of the system is that the person whose credit card purchased the tickets is required to be there along with all of the attendees whose tickets were purchased with that card. Among those inconvenienced are parents who bought tickets for teens and now must wait with them in line so they can gain entry.

Live Nation spokeswoman Linda Bandov responded with the following statement:

“At Live Nation Entertainment we manage over 300 of the greatest artists in the world, and we promote thousands of artists a year. We can only succeed when fans are happy, and that’s why we support Fan Protected Paperless Ticketing. The facts are that fans, artists, teams, venues and promoters love Fan Protected Paperless Ticketing. Satisfaction is off the charts, and almost every fan says they would rather have access to a good ticket if it means giving up the right to scalp or transfer the ticket.

“We’re extremely disappointed that StubHub has strayed to side with scalpers to exploit the common fan. Scalpers have never been on the side of consumers and there has not been a single artist that has come out in support of this hoax. StubHub and scalpers are misleading fans because they can’t make as much money if tickets are reasonably priced using Fan Protected Paperless Ticketing. So they are desperately lobbying to take tickets out of the hands of kids and soccer Moms and sell them back to them at multiple times face value — because that’s how StubHub and scalpers make money. Fan Protected Paperless Ticketing isn’t right for all events or all tickets. But it’s the way to get a kid a ticket at a reasonable price without a scalper snatching it away from him. We need life long fans. And today the ONLY way to ensure that some fans can get into a popular show at a reasonable price is through Fan Protected Paperless Ticketing.”

New York passed a law last year that requires consumers to get the choice of whether they want paperless tickets or traditional tickets. Subsequent attempts elsewhere to restrict the practice have at least gained a toehold, with legislators in Connecticut, Minnesota and North Carolina taking up the issue and a bill introduced in Congress earlier this month.

“The future may be paperless ticket,” said Potter of the Fan Freedom Project, “[but] that doesn’t mean they have to be restricted tickets.”