A bipartisan group of House lawmakers on Thursday launched a formal investigation into a half dozen live-event ticket sales companies citing years-long allegations of “unfair and deceptive practices,” stemming from consumer complaints, among other sources.
On Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to the companies—Ticketmaster owner Live Nation, Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), StubHub, Vivid Seats, TicketNetwork, and Tickets.com. Each described a series of “troubling practices and trends in the ticketing industry.”
“Specifically,” the letters say, “these practices and trends include: 1) high, hidden fees; 2) a lack of transparency related to limited ticket availability; 3) speculative tickets that harm unknowing consumers; 4) ‘white-label’ ticket websites that employ practices designed to deceive consumers; and 5) tickets that cannot be transferred or resold, limiting consumer options.”
The ticket companies that responded to questions from Gizmodo on Friday all said they welcomed the investigation and are looking forward to working with the lawmakers—with whom, they all said, they share an interest in stamping out anti-competitive practices and protecting consumer rights.
The letter follows a series of congressional actions starting in 2016 designed to ensure “fairness and transparency” in the ticketing marketplace, including passage of the Better On-line Ticket Sales Act, and the launching of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation into the industry, which concluded April 2018.
The GAO report outlines a number of consumer protection issues affecting the industry, including professional resellers, sometimes called brokers, who have a “competitive advantage” over consumers when it comes to scooping up tickets as they go online. Investigators found that many brokers use automated “bots” to rapidly purchase tickets before reselling them at a “substantial markup.” They also found that many official ticket sites have failed to clearly communicate added fees to consumers, or else “disclosed them only after users entered payment information.”
The GAO also reviewed and offered a number of remedies to the ticket industry’s problems, such as mandating price caps, nontransferable tickets, and disclosure requirements around ticket fees.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was also asked by lawmakers to look into consumer protection issues surrounding the marketplace in July 2018.
Despite ongoing bipartisan efforts and federal agency action, the letters to the ticket companies says, consumers still face a host of troubling practices, many related to “a lack of transparency and fairness, which places purchasers at an unfair advantage when attempting to buy tickets in the current marketplace.”
The letters are signed by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. and Republican leader Greg Walden; Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette and Republican leader Brett Guthrie; and Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky and Republican leader Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) and Tickets.com did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
TicketNetwork sent Gizmodo the following statement:
TicketNetwork thanks the Committee for its commitment to a fair and impartial look into the live event ticketing industry. For too long, anti-competitive and opaque practices by some businesses have bred consumer confusion and angst, which harms the entire live event ecosystem. We look forward to joining the other invited businesses providing insight to the Committee. We are confident that this process can help illuminate a path to a more equitable, transparent, and robust live event ticketing marketplace for consumers and businesses alike.
Vivid Seats CEO Stan Chia said in a statement:
“At Vivid Seats, our number one focus is always the fan, which is why we welcome the Committee’s investigation into the ticketing industry, and we look forward to working with the Committee during this process. We support congressional efforts to protect consumers’ freedom to buy, sell and transfer their purchased tickets at will, without undue restrictions. Anticompetitive practices in the ticketing industry contribute to a lack of transparency when it comes to ticket availability and pricing, and hopefully this investigation will lead to Congress taking steps to improve the protection of consumer rights and competition in the ticket marketplace.”
From Laura Dooley, director of government relations at StubHub:
“StubHub applauds the Committee’s investigation into the live event ticketing industry. We share the Committee’s interest in addressing anti-competitive practices. We believe that a fair and competitive ticketing industry unequivocally supports the interests of fans. We look forward to being a partner in this process.”
In a statement signed only Tickermaster, the company said:
“Ticketmaster looks forward to participating in this examination of the ticketing marketplace to identify opportunities to protect consumers and content creators alike. We support legislative and regulatory solutions that stop the deceptive practices and fraudulent activities that plague our industry and harm consumers.”
We will update with additional responses from the companies as we receive them.