Whether it's for Bruce Springsteen, Radiohead, or the New York Giants, New Yorkers seeking tickets to see their favorite performers or teams frequently find that tickets sell out just moments after the general public onsale begins. It's no secret that demand for tickets often exceeds a venue's seating capacity. Jay-Z sold out a staggering eight concerts when he inaugurated the Barclays Center last fall. Most artists, of course, usually perform only one concert in each city they tour. With supply and demand so mismatched, is it any wonder tickets cost so much and sell out so fast?
To make matters worse, the public generally gets a shot at only a small fraction of a venue's total capacity. At a Justin Bieber concert this January in Nashville, a measly seven percent of all seats went on sale to the general public. How is that possible? Well, American Express's presale program, Bieber himself, and a hodgepodge of other groups had already snapped up the rest.
Artists can be part of the problem. In 2011, Katy Perry received some unwanted publicity when it was revealed that her tour contracts permit her to reserve as many tickets for herself as she chooses, allowing her to essentially scalp her own tickets on the secondary market. That year, the City Council Consumer Affairs Committee, which I chair, held a hearing to consider a bill by Council Member Leroy Comrie mandating "ticketing transparency" -- requiring simply that venues which receive taxpayer subsidies inform fans of the number of tickets available for general sale.
There are plenty of other threats to fans' ability to gain entry to an event. One is automated ticket purchasing software -- known as web robots or "bots" -- that can gobble up tickets with literally inhuman speed before actual people get a shot at them. New York bans bots, but this is difficult to enforce. Today, many ticket brokers are using bots to "cut the line" on popular events and then resell their ill-gotten tickets at inflated prices.
But let's say a fan is lucky or quick enough to purchase tickets to an in-demand event. The frustration doesn't end there. Some venues limit the ability of fans to transfer their tickets as they see fit. For example, will-call only events, originally a well-intentioned means of limiting exorbitant mark-ups on the secondary market, require purchasers to claim their tickets in person just before the event.
Too bad for a fan who wants to buy tickets as a gift, or who suddenly finds himself unable to attend and would like to hand his tickets over to a friend. Will-call events restrict these basic consumer rights. At the very least, consumers ought to be able to be made whole if they are unable to use their tickets, either by reselling them or returning them for a refund.
New York State's ticket law, last amended in 2010, addresses some of these problems, but it is far from perfect. While it bans bots, they remain a persistent problem. It also bans paperless tickets, including will-call tickets, unless there is another option available that is transferable. What qualifies as a paperless ticket today, however, is open for debate in a world where entry to events is often dictated by handstamps, wristbands or smartphone images. In reality, this rule, too, is rarely enforced.
On June 19, the Council's Consumer Affairs Committee will meet again to discuss this issue. We will hear a resolution I sponsored calling on the state to help the public better understand their options by clarifying the difference between paper, paperless and electronic tickets, to better protect consumers' right to transfer their tickets, and to do more to prevent the use of illegal bots. We will also revisit the bill to require "ticketing transparency."
Live entertainment and sports are important economic engines in New York thanks largely to the support of loyal fans. The least that state law -- and the performers themselves -- can do is make sure that these fans are treated fairly.
Council Member Daniel R. Garodnick represents New York City's 4th District.
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