Did Baltimore politicians just give Ticketmaster the OK to charge unlimited ticket fees while forcing a fifty cent cap on all other venues? Fee Free Friday has the very latest news after the city council committee vote yesterday. Elsewhere, a consumer watchdog has issued a "hidden fee" warning, and the weekly Wall of Woe is so full of angry ticket buyers it had to be broken up into two parts.
In the 1976 film 'Network', anchorman Howard Beale (above) proclaimed "I'm mad as Hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" Will Baltimore venue owners, and ticket buying public, start making the same proclamation?
Mad As Hell
Ticket fees have taken a turn for the worse, much worse, in Baltimore Maryland. It seems the city council rushed to the aid of Ticketmaster yesterday and granted the industry giant a special exception from the ban on ticket fees - but all other Baltimore venues are not exempt from the ban. To better understand the committee's actions, one needs to look back at previous developments.
The details of the ban on ticket fees was explained in-depth in an earlier edition of Fee Free Friday. At that time, a U.S. District Court in Maryland equated ticket fees with scalping, effectively banning ticket fees statewide. The ruling was based on an obscure 1948 law that made selling tickets for more than face value illegal. In addition to the District Court ruling, the city of Baltimore does not allow ticket fees of more than fifty cents over face value.
That was until yesterday.
A Baltimore city council committee voted in favor of a new bill, which would exempt industry giant Ticketmaster from both the city and state bans on tickets fees. Luke Broadwater, of the Baltimore Sun, explains
The council's finance committee voted 3-1 in favor of the bill, which would exempt Ticketmaster and other ticket sellers from Baltimore's long-standing anti-scalping law.
If approved by the full council next month, the bill would allow the ticket-selling companies to continue to charge unlimited user, service and "convenience" fees. But citizens would still be prohibited from adding to a ticket's face value when reselling it
The legislation was a response to a ruling by Maryland's highest court, which last month struck down Ticketmaster's unpopular user fees in Baltimore. Ticketmaster and its owner, Live Nation, have declined to comment on the issue.
Broadwater quotes several opposing views in his report, most prominently, the executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition Marceline White.
"We should not have two separate standards for individuals and ticket vendors." she said
Crucial to Baltimore area venue owners is the fact that the exemption to the ban is only for Ticketmaster and a handful of other national ticket sellers. Both the state and city laws are still in effect for area venues. Reaction from venue owners has yet to be comprehensively gathered, but the situation is fluid, and the committee vote was only a few hours ago.
The reaction among the ticket buying public, as one would imagine, is total outrage. Social media platforms saw a spike in angry statements being made about the committee vote.
The tweets and Facebook posts of the people of Baltimore (and possibly the venue owners as well) are reminiscent of the film 'Network' (video below) - they're as mad as Hell and not going to take (ticket fees) anymore.
Going forward, full city council approval of the committee vote will face a minefield of opposition, not to mention the improbability of a four person committee obtaining dominion over the U.S. District Court. The unprecedented turn of events will be carefully monitored and future development published as the happen right here in Fee Free Friday.
Watchdog Warns of Ticket Fees
Consumer protection organizations, also known as watchdogs, are frequently cited in Fee Free Friday reports as guidelines and best practices on how much venues should charge in reasonable ticket fees. But then there are times when watchdog warnings are for tickets fees of a much more insidious nature. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) recently issued a warning for an insidious ticket fee.
The ASA has censured London’s Old Vic and Charing Cross Theater as well as ticket companies Ambassador Theater Group and AKA Group for quoting misleading ticket prices on their websites. It criticized the companies for not providing customers with enough information about compulsory fees that would be added at a later stage in the online booking.
In the future, the ASA said it expected these charges to be advertised up front so that customers can see the original price of the ticket plus extra fees at the start of the buying process.
ASA executive Guy Parker put it rather bluntly:
"These pricing practices are simply not fair. They draw us in on a false promise. They make us less likely to shop around for the best deal. Our rulings send a clear signal to advertisers: sort out your pricing so we all get a fair deal."
It is actually rare for a consumer watchdog to call a venue out by name. Consumer watchdogs usually focus on an unfair practice by an industry, and not an individual business. It may be that the new level of specificity is to help the public recognize the most erogenous offenders, allowing consumers to vote with their wallets.
Regardless of intent, the ASA warning to ticket buyers that a specific venue is charging hidden fees will definitely affect profits via the loss of patrons. Other venues may wish to review their ticket fee policies in order to avoid becoming the next business called to the carpet.
Wall of Woe
In the earlier line item on Baltimore Maryland, a tweet by "Travis" was referenced. The full conversation was actually too long and foul to include in this post.
The brand damaging tweets about outrageous ticket fees are not limited to just Maryland...
There is an old proverb that says "The enemy of my enemy is my friend", meaning because two parties have a common enemy, they can work with each other to advance their common goals. Baltimore venues are being made to comply with the ban on ticket fees, even though Ticketmaster is allowed to charged as much as they want. This puts venue owners in the same boat as ticket buyers, since both are facing unjust circumstances pertaining to fees.
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