Assembly shrinks bill on sports, concert ticket rules

4:12 PM, Apr 23, 2013   |    comments
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Super Bowl tickets (Photo: Getty Images)

Like so many Capitol debates, Tuesday's clash over restrictions on tickets to sporting events and concerts ended with both sides arguing they have the consumer's best interests in mind.

The question: are consumers frustrated more by restrictions on how they can give away tickets, or by scalpers that snatch up tickets and re-sell them to the highest bidder?

It's a fight that's been brewing for years.  Assembly Bill 329 sought to deal with the former, but was dramatically downsized to only deal with the latter.

The bill by Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, would have banned the use of so-called 'restricted tickets' by event promoters and venues.  These tickets are issued electronically, and can only be used when the buyer shows up with a photo I.D. and the credit card used to buy the tickets.

Critics say a ticket is the property of the buyer... to do with as he or she pleases.

"You don't have much of a free market when you don't actually own what you bought," said Pan in Tuesday morning's hearing.

Supporters of AB 329 told the committee that the increased presence of restricted tickets would ban everything from tickets being donated to a nonprofit charity raffle to a group of sports fans splitting season tickets to dozens of games.  They also criticized the fact that companies like Ticketmaster only allow re-sale of restricted tickets through their own websites.

"They control every initial sale, every re-sale, and then every free transfer of a ticket," said Chris Grimm of the group Fan Freedom, which was initially funded by Stub Hub, a project of eBay.

"And once you get that kind of control in one place, consumers suffer."

But representatives of Broadway style production companies, major league sports teams, and concert promoters argued that the bill's real intent was to remove the only existing hurdles to professional ticket resale companies and scalpers.

"By the time consumers come to our theaters, they are angry and they are embarrassed, because they feel they've been duped," said Greg Holland, CEO of Shorenstein Hays Nederlander, the company that owns three San Francisco playhouses.

And by the end of the long hearing, Assemblyman Pan was faced with either his bill being defeated, based on concerns about scalpers, or shrinking the legislation down to its sole, non-controversial provision: a ban on robotic ticket-buying software that floods ticket websites with simultaneous requests and thus grabs all the best seats.

"Scalpers use these programs to cut in front of everybody, to jump in front of the line, and to snap up all of the premium seats," said Mike Carpenter, a lobbyist representing LiveNation, the parent company of Ticketmaster.

Pan chose to downsize the bill, which would make the use of such software a misdemeanor under state law.


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