Chris VanDeHoef: Protecting Maryland Consumers from Restrictive Ticketing Practices

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When MGM opened a new performance venue at National Harbor in December, Maryland residents gained another opportunity to enjoy internationally-renowned artists and entertainment productions. But sometimes this excitement comes with costs and risks, and there is growing concern that the live entertainment industry is quietly imposing anti-consumer burdens that can surprise Marylanders and cost us hundreds of dollars. 

It is a regular practice for concerts and sporting events to sell tickets many months before the big event. Fans set up their laptops and smartphones and try to beat the scalpers to get tickets, and if the stars are aligned and moon is bright then we score great seats to a fantastic event that in a few months we will enjoy with good friends and thousands of other fans. 

But what happens if a business trip gets scheduled or family life interrupts, or someone loses a job and really can’t afford a night out. With traditional event tickets disappointed fans give their tickets to friends or go online and sell them to other fans. But occasionally – and more frequently than most fans realize – their tickets are nontransferable and cannot be shared, given away to a friend or a local charity, or resold online. And then that fan is out of luck and out of money – sometimes hundreds of dollars lost because even one ticket can cost more than $100 when so-called convenience fees are included. 

Nontransferable tickets are being sold in Maryland today. Some tickets to the June U2 concert in Landover are “credit card entry”. This requires fans to present the precise credit card used to buy the ticket and a government-issued identification card just to get into the show. Doesn’t seem like a big deal? Imagine if you purchased tickets for friends or family members as a gift, and upon arrival they learned that your credit card and ID are needed to gain admission. That’s harder than getting on an airplane! 

The unfairness of these restrictions is multiplied when ticket sellers don’t effectively inform ticket buyers before purchase. Sure, Ticketmaster will include these restrictions in the small print that we hurriedly click through when trying to buy tickets to the big concert, but who among us has ever stopped to read the fine print when we’re racing against the clock and the scalpers to get tickets? 

At the very least, ticket sellers that restrict what consumers can do with our tickets should give us a very clear choice of whether to buy nontransferable tickets, or to choose to buy transferable tickets. It is not fair for consumers to lose the cost of their ticket because circumstances prevent them from attending an event. 

Because more venues are selling nontransferable tickets and consumers are at risk, we commend Senator Brian Feldman and Delegate Bill Frick for introducing legislation to protect Marylanders. This legislation would give consumers the choice of purchasing transferable tickets or nontransferable tickets – and that’s a good thing. The Feldman/Frick bill would not prohibit digital tickets or require paper tickets, or even require venues to offer refunds or lower their convenience fees. It would simply require that consumers be informed before purchasing nontransferable tickets, and have choice of purchasing transferable tickets. And of course it would prohibit purchasers of resale tickets from being penalized by the venue or being denied admission. 

Just this week, Sky Schaeffer of Baltimore County told a story to the Baltimore Sun. Last year Sky had purchased $150 tickets to the Moonrise Festival at Pimlico. However, due to a work conflict that came up; he was unable to attend the festival and upon planning to sell or even giveaway his ticket to a friend, he discovered that his ticket was non-transferable and as a result, ended up losing $150. This shouldn’t happen in Maryland. 

I urge MD Legislators to put MD consumers first and pass HB 1114/SB 892, a ticket rights resale act this session. 

Chris VanDeHoef is the President of Fan Freedom a coalition of organizations that believes that all fans have basic rights as ticket holders, and supports legislation and promotes activism to protect those rights. 

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