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Support for all in pricing, disagreement over transferability at US ticketing hearing

The issues of transferability and transparency in the ticketing industry were the main points of contention between the US’s top online ticketing firms in a high-profile Congressional hearing into the sector.

Ticketmaster and StubHub were among the six operators questioned by House Committee lawmakers over the industry’s practices to “better understand the many challenges consumers face in the ticketing marketplace.”

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s ‘In the Dark: Lack of Transparency in the Live Event Ticketing Industry’ hearing on Wednesday saw all six operators agree on enforcing all-in pricing.

StubHub’s Stephanie Burns, the firm’s vice-president and general counsel, urged the House committee to distinguish between transferability and transfer across the original primary platform, which she said is a restrictive practice.

Ryan Fitts, the vice-president of legal affairs at Vivid Seats, agreed that transferability was essential to keeping healthy competition within the resale market.

Amy Howe, the president and chief operating officer of Ticketmaster, claims that its procedure of making some tickets non-transferable is aimed at tackling the issue of fraudulent tickets. However, Burns countered that it could be seen as a way to stop competitors reselling its inventory.

Howe and AXS chief executive Brian Perez also confirmed that tickets were only made non-transferrable by the request of the artist, and in Ticketmaster’s case, the venues as well.

Committee chairman Frank Pallone, who has co-sponsored the BOSS Act, said he was particularly concerned about high fees.

He said: “Millions of Americans shop on the internet for tickets. In some ways, the internet has made this experience more convenient, but it has also led to consumers being ripped off as they try to navigate a ticketing industry that for too long has operated in the dark.”

Howe noted that the total ticket price “should be disclosed from the outset, not at the end of the purchase process” and that there should be “robust enforcement of this requirement.”

The representative from StubHub, AXS, Vivid, TicketNetwork and Tickets.com also said they would support all-in pricing. StubHub implemented all-in pricing in 2014-15, but reverted back as consumers were left confused at the disparity in pricing across different platforms as it was not a requirement for every ticketing site. Burns noted that consumers now have the option to search for tickets on StubHub with all-in pricing.

Burns stressed that any federal mandate on fees would need “universal consistent enforcement,” which the other companies seemed to agree with.

Don Vaccaro, chief executive of TicketNetwork, faced questions about white label sites that masqueraded as ‘official’ websites, despite being a resale website. TicketNetwork sells secondary-market tickets directly to fans, but also offers its technology and website design to professional brokers.

Vaccaro responded to questions about how the company was protecting consumers from deceptive practices by confirming that affiliate sites no longer use the word “official” in their advertising.

Howe claimed that Ticketmaster worked with Google to close down 30 deceptive ticketing websites last year.

Ticketmaster and StubHub were butting heads throughout much of the hearing, though the pair agreed that speculative ticket sales were hurting consumers and needed to be tackled.

In July 2019, TicketNetwork (along with Ticket Galaxy) reached a $1.55m settlement to resolve a lawsuit with the Attorney General of New York for “misleading tens of thousands of customers into purchasing speculative tickets for concerts and other live events”. The lawsuit was prompted by a WNBC investigation in October 2018 into issues with sales of Broadway tickets.

Holdbacks became a hot topic, with Vaccaro testifying that primary ticketing sites, such as Ticketmaster and AXS, create a false sense of scarcity to shift the supply scale to be able to increase ticket prices. He also claimed holdbacks for concert tickets often reached the 50% of inventory mark.

Burns and Fitts agreed that holdbacks create a false sense of scarcity and as tickets trickle out closer to the event, prices increase.