I was born and raised in Denver and I am a lifelong Broncos fan, attending games for 30 years and was lucky enough to attend all three of the team’s Super Bowl wins. Live sports and having tickets to these games is a big deal for me.
Any fan appreciates the flexibility of being able to sell their tickets if they cannot use them. In fact, this ability is a legally protected consumer right in Colorado, but it is at risk today, and through an ongoing effort to enact new legislation in the state, live-event operators may be handed new powers to cancel tickets we consumers purchase if we decide to resell them without their permission.
This is why I testified in February at a Senate hearing against the so-called Ticketmaster bill, which has cruised through the state Senate and is on its way to the House of Representatives. While the legislation has improved since its start thanks to a nonstop effort to prevent a stripping away of our consumer rights, it still isn’t fully fixed and unnecessarily over-complicates the system. This is because of the powerful pen of the world’s largest event monopoly – Live Nation/Ticketmaster – which prefers a law that leans in its favor. Unless this legislation is fixed, every fan should oppose it, and so should every lawmaker.
Colorado has some of the strongest pro-consumer laws on ticketing in the country for good reason. In 2017, some longtime fans saw their Broncos season tickets canceled by the team because the team didn’t think they attended enough games. In one high profile example, a wife was in her early stages of pregnancy for the 2016 season and the couple wasn’t able to attend all the games.
Life happens. That’s why ticket freedom is so important.
Meanwhile, the construction of Empower Field at Mile High was 70% publicly financed, meaning the very taxpayers that helped to pay for the stadium and are paying for tickets to games are being abused by the tenants (the team and its ticket seller) in the building. The Colorado General Assembly, after hearing these accounts stories, passed a law preventing big businesses from telling fans what they can do with their purchased tickets. That move signified major progress, but could be undone.
To be clear, the new legislation includes some terrific consumer protections. It would crack down on ticket-buying bots, ban deceptive websites which are made to look like the venues’ own websites, and require ticketers to disclose the full price of a ticket up front. These are great ideas and would protect fans. These are core principles in the Ticket Buyer’s Bill of Rights, which consumer advocates at the recent senate hearing I testified at presented to lawmakers.
Meanwhile the protections of Colorado’s current law could come at the cost of flexibility for consumers and taking away our legal right to be able to freely resell our purchased tickets.
That’s the critical fact that lawmakers are missing: The event tickets they are debating so heatedly are tickets that have already been purchased. The controversy around this legislation isn’t over the tickets a team or music venue is offering for sale; rather, it’s about the tickets they already sold for which they received payment.
They whine about how the tickets were theirs and they don’t like seeing what we might do with them. But that’s the critical point: The tickets are no longer theirs after we buy and pay for them. The custody of the ticket transfers to me once I pay for them, just like a car from the dealership or a home once it is purchased from its prior owner.
While the legislation last month included some overt language that would inappropriately enable event organizers to cancel someone’s tickets after they are sold, it still contains less obvious language that would permit an event operator to accomplish the same goal.
Consider this loophole currently in the text of the bill: If you buy a ticket at a discount, the event organizer could prevent you from reselling it. How much of a discount? The bill doesn’t say. And that’s the loophole: If the organizer charges you $99 for a $100 ticket — a 1% discount — it could forbid you to resell your ticket.
Really, this is all about wanting to control and profit for a second time on the same tickets, but they won’t make this admission since it would appear greedy. So, their talking points blame bots, counterfeit tickets that are virtually non-existent, and scalpers. These are reliable scapegoats, but they are not the true motive. This is why not one single consumer advocacy organization favors the legislation.
I learned while at the capitol that Live Nation/Ticketmaster was the sole original supporter of this legislation, until others more recently registered in support of the bill. The draft legislation was wrapped in consumer protections that senators find appealing, but tucked deep within was a provision that overreaches by miles. And though amended, the bill remains problematic. Live Nation owns three venues in the state and its Ticketmaster division sells virtually every sporting ticket in Colorado. While a few small venues were featured at the February 23rd Senate committee hearing, make no mistake, this new law is the Ticketmaster bill. The current law protecting our rights as fans exists for good reason, and it should not change.
When committee members approved this bill, paving the way for it to advance for a vote of the full Senate, it initially struck me that these senators are turning their backs on us – the people who voted them in – and toward the corporate lobbyists for the world’s largest event ticketer.
I prefer to hope that these senators are merely getting duped. But whether the company is Live Nation/Ticketmaster or a small music venue, the bottom line is the same: they already sold the ticket and got paid their asking price. We also paid their outrageous fees. So therefore no, they cannot and should not be able to revoke my purchased tickets. Stay out of my wallet and get your hands off my tickets.
Elected lawmakers, please do the right thing with this legislation. As written, the bill empowers Ticketmaster at fans’ expense and should be rejected. If passing a new law remains the Assembly’s goal, turn to the Ticket Buyer’s Bill of Rights instead.
Arthur Lewis lives in Denver.
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