A leading US consumer group says the COVID-19 outbreak has exposed the necessity for stronger consumer protections in the ticketing industry, including the importance of the passage of the BOSS Act to deter touts.

John Breyault, vice-president public policy for the National Consumers League (NCL), told TheTicketingBusiness that the COVID-19-induced scramble for refunds has highlighted the “lack of rights” ticketholders have.

Several ticketing firms, including StubHub and Ticketmaster, as well as sports leagues and franchises, such as Major League Baseball (MLB), are facing refund lawsuits after postponing an event, or series of events, indefinitely.

Breyault noted consumers are “left in the lurch” as events are postponed with no new date set, and have effectively been asked to give Ticketmaster and other companies “long term loans with no expectations on repayments.”

He told TheTicketingBusiness: “Consumers are locked into terms in those contracts and it gives them very few rights. This tells me there is something broken in the ticketing industry and we need stronger consumer rights.”

Ticketmaster recently said in an announcement that it does not intend to withhold refunds on postponed shows. The company said fans will only be able to claim refunds for postponed events once new dates have been set for the event, while cancelled shows will offer automatic refunds.

Breyault noted that thousands of events have been postponed without being rescheduled, leaving consumers out of pocket. Ticketmaster predicted that 14,000 of the 30,000 events that have been affected by COVID-19 in 2020 have yet to be rescheduled.

He added: “We think it is unconscionable when thousands of consumers are being thrown out of work. Ticketmaster should stop playing games with consumers, who are still at the mercy of the ticketing giant and its promoters.”

Following an onslaught of complaints, Live Nation has announced a new Ticket Relief Plan. Now, ticketholders for events that have been postponed will be able to receive a refund after 60 days from the time their postponement was announced. They will then have 30 days to ask to be reimbursed.

Ticketmaster has also launched a voucher system that offers 150% of the value of the ticket for future use. Breyault said his group is glad to see this offer, but cautioned it doesn’t “fix the underlying problem”.

He continued: “Similar games are being played by airlines, hotels, and vacation rental companies, but it’s different because the ticketing industry in the US is so concentrated. Live Nation is a giant that holds the majority of the market.

“It took pressure from advocates, fans, state legislators, and members of congress for Ticketmaster and Live Nation to do the right thing by consumers and this illustrates just how much power they have.

“We hope one of the takeaways from COVID-19 is that there was very little competitive pressure in the ticketing industry to do right by consumers.”

Breyault said the NCL is supporting the BOSS Act, which is a piece of legislation designed to tackle touting and the use of bots. Congressman Bill Pascrell, who introduced the bill along with Congressman Frank Pallone Jr, said the bill would “overhaul” the “corrupt marketplace,” adding that fans have been “pinched, gouged, squeezed, soaked, and outright heisted by a seemingly endless litany of hidden fees, add-ons, and gimmicks created by the unregulated ticket monopolies who operate in the dark with impunity.”

The BOSS Act, officially named the Better Oversight of Secondary Sales and Accountability in Concert Ticketing Act, pushes for far greater transparency and consumer rights related to the purchase of event tickets.

Last week, Pascrell, along with US Representative Katie Porter, called on Live Nation and Ticketmaster to “stop confiscating fans money and demanding they issue full refunds to ALL customers who request them.” In a letter to the entertainment giants, the members of congress claim that Ticketmaster is “holding hostage money that could contribute to a rent check, electric bill or groceries for children.”

Pascrell and Porter have asked Ticketmaster to explain in detail when the language in its refund policy was altered, and calls the merger of the two companies “disastrous.”