Ticket Fees Are Spying On You
All knowing, all seeing and omnipresent, Fee Free Friday is back with your weekly round-up of the worldwide ticket fee controversy. Join ThunderTix, one of the few ticket sites without fees! A late breaking follow-up to the legal wrangling in Baltimore as the ticket fee bill gets tossed around like a hot potato. Baseball’s beloved Chicago Cubs aren't so beloved anymore. And does Ticketmaster have their own version of the PRISM surveillance program?
The popular parlor game “hot potato” involves players gathering in a circle and tossing a small object such as a beanbag or tennis ball to each other while music plays. The player who is holding the "hot potato" when the music stops is out.
That may be an apt description for the late breaking news coming out of Baltimore as it relates to the highly controversial ticket fee bill. The previous edition of Fee Free Friday described the bill proposed by Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes as being a very reasonable solution to the ongoing ticket fee donnybrook. Now one week later, the bill appears to have mutated into a different animal entirely.
The Stokes bill has been moved from the Finance and Economic Development Committee to the Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee. One possible reason the bill was moved is because of what Marceline White, executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, said earlier in the week:
“Ticketmaster is skipping out on $500,000 a year in taxes it should pay the city...We simply did a basic, back-of-the-envelope figure based on the Jackson Browne numbers in the [original Maryland] lawsuit.”
Edward Ericson Jr. writes that Stokes bill affects how the city gatherers tax revenue from venues and events, hence the change of committees.
The bill as drafted, with the cap on fees, is meant to shift some of Ticketmaster’s outrageous fee (a 40 percent premium on the face price is pretty common) to the ticket cost itself, thus netting the city a bit more tax revenue. The law “also says they can no longer kick back money to the venue,” Stokes says.
As of this writing it is a bit murky as to what the change of committee will ultimately do to the bill’s ability to address the subject of high per-ticket fees in Baltimore. By moving to a judicial inquiry context, there are fewer players directly involved in the debate. Councilman Carl Stokes originally intended to help venues by raising the fee cap up from the archaic fifty-cents, but still be consumer friendly. Hopefully the original intent of the bill will be preserved as it gets tossed around from one committee to another, and not become diluted, or worse, killed off all together.
It is important to remember the bill, if made into law will directly affect Baltimore venue owners' ability to make money. Moreover, the bill may serve as a model for regulating ticket fees in every city across the United States.
Customers prefer ticket sites without fees. Stay tuned to Fee Free Friday, it’s going to (continue to be) a bumpy ride.
Chicago Cubs Baseball Ticket Fees
It has been said that Fee Free Friday is biased when it comes to the subject of ticket fees. If "biased" means venues earning a healthy profit while still being respectful to their patrons - by charging reasonable ticket fees - then yes, we're "biased."
But rather than rely on the written opinion of Fee Free Friday, check out what's being said by the folks over at Bleed Cubbie Blue. The popular forum for all things Chicago Cubs just published 'The Cubs And Ticket Fees', and as the title suggests, the angst against high ticket fees is not the sole domain of Fee Free Friday!
I have always wondered how the Cubs rank among major-league teams in the size of fees charged for online or phone purchases of tickets, beyond the official face price of the ticket. This would have been daunting work to do on my own...This should surprise no one, but the Cubs rank right at the top of the list when it comes to add-on fees and taxes of various kinds.
It is nebulous service charges that have Cubs fans in the biggest uproar, and justifiably so. The last thing any baseball fan wants to see just before clicking on the buy button is something like "facility maintenance fee - $4.50" or "amusement tax $9.00."
Bleed Cubbie Blue took great exception to the very high processing fees being charged for Print-At-Home tickets.
Seriously, charging someone to use their own paper and ink to print their tickets at home is... well, it's a few things that aren't printable using nice language, so I won't...Teams really should stop doing this. It's pure profit, and really nothing beyond opening a fan's wallet and stealing money from him or her.
Cubs fans have it pretty bad when it comes to unreasonable ticket fees, but it could be worse. At least they can re-sell their tickets to whomever they wish - something Angels fans are not allowed to do.
Anarchy in the UK - Part 3
Almost a year ago, tickets for the London Olympics, and the associated fees, were the hot topic dominating the news headlines. The UK is now back in the news again and so is the anarchy surrounding fees.
The Government of the United Kingdom currently has a petition on its official website called Ticketmaster's Extortionate Booking Fees. Like the Whitehouse petitions here in the U.S., the U.K. government petitions are designed to bring the most egregiousness issues to the attention of politicians. The language of the anti-ticket fee petition doesn't pull any punches:
I would like the appropriate government department to look in to the fees Ticketmaster add on to ticket sales as I believe they are unrealistic and pure profiteering...I recently bought two tickets for Barbra Streisand from Ticketmaster, the tickets were £175 (yes extortionate in it's own right) each but the total amount I paid was £385.25 so there was £35.25 in fees. These fees are immoral and the company need to be reeled in.
The U.K. government has been on a roll recently when it comes to regulating ticket fees. According to the Ticketing Institute's most recent newsletter "ticket prices in relation to paying by debit or credit cards must now reflect only the true cost of processing the cards, with no margin or profit on top."
More interestingly, U.K. citizens can report offending ticket outlets for not being in compliance with the processing fee rule to the consumer protection service.
Ticket buyers have just achieved a small victory in the U.K., but it may not be enough to offset this next item....
Is This Ticketmaster's PRISM?
One could not read or watch the news this week without being bombarded with the controversy surrounding a U.S. government program that allegedly monitors phone calls and emails. The program, called PRISM, is described by some as a defensive measure against terrorism. While others claim it is overstepping the boundaries established for privacy, and effectively "spying" on citizens. The PRISM program, it is claimed, uses vast amounts of information (aka "big data") to glean possible threats to national security. But is PRISM the only program analyzing big data?
This week it was announced that ticketing industry giant Ticketmaster has its own program making use of big data:
Ticketmaster has launched an analytics service that will enable venues, artists and team clients to target their marketing campaigns in Britain. LiveAnalytics will utilize Ticketmaster database of over 111,000,000 people who have attended a concert, show, game or theater performance giving information on preferences, ticketing trends and industry benchmarks among other customized data.
As described by a Ticketmaster spokesperson, the program's aim is to "give venues insight into how, where, and to who they can sell tickets and measure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns as well as brokering sponsorship opportunities."
The terms of service one must agree to when buying a ticket puts Ticketmaster is well within its rights to collect and offer the big data as a paid service. The LiveAnalytics service has actually been up and running in the U.S. for some time, and to date, there have not been any accusations of invasions of privacy - unlike what is being said of the PRISM program.
Wall of Woe
Accusations of another sort - that of being charged outrageous per-ticket fees - are being made however. The weekly Wall of Woe is chock full of ticket buyers abandoning the purchase process once they see the big fees.
These are just a few tweets, of several hundred thousand a week, that show how much people hate unreasonable per-ticket fees.
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