Sat. May 25th, 2024

A California Bill Designed to Rein in Ticketmaster Was Rewritten. Now It May End Up Helping It Instead

By Michael Apr 27, 2024

A controversial California Assembly bill that would have forced Ticketmaster to share its ticketing inventory with resale sites StubHub and SeatGeek has been amended with anti-resale provisions that would allow promoters like Live Nation to ban Stubhub and SeatGeek from selling its concert tickets in California. 

The whiplash legislative maneuvering is the result of the music industry’s successful effort to thwart Oakland lawmaker Buffy Wicks’ attempt to address long-standing consumer complaints against Ticketmaster, forcing her to significantly water down the legislation.

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The original version of the bill was introduced on April 8, when Wicks held a press conference with the California Consumer Federation and members of several state Chamber of Commerce groups and unveiled a plan, endorsed by StubHub and SeatGeek, to “make the ticket market more competitive.” To accomplish this, the bill proposed to outlaw Live Nation’s use of exclusive venue contracts, which Wicks said gave the company an unhealthy 80% share of the concert market and had led to a steep price increase for tickets since the company’s merger with Ticketmaster in 2009. 

Wicks’ bill also included a clause — shocking to many in the live entertainment space — that would have required Ticketmaster to develop software integrations allowing rival ticketing companies and ticket resale sites to pull ticketing inventory from the Ticketmaster site and sell it on their own sites. Wicks said she wanted to create a Kayak.com-style marketplace for tickets, where sites like StubHub and SeatGeek, along with smaller primary ticketing companies like Dice and Tixr, sold the same concert tickets Ticketmaster was selling.   

The proposal was immediately opposed by professional sports teams including the Golden State Warriors and the San Francisco 49ers, along with concert promoters, venue operators, arts groups and a number of live music industry organizations including the National Independent Venues Association, the Recording Academy and the Music Artist Coalition. Critics said the bill stripped California venues of their rights to monetize their ticketing contracts and transferred the power to control how tickets were sold from artists and venues to third-party technology companies without any safeguards.  

Wicks explained that the bill would help consumers by making ticketing companies compete to sell tickets, but opponents said sellers would still be incentivized to raise ticket prices for major concerts when demand significantly outpaced supply. Others argued that giving resale sites direct access to primary tickets would push more tickets into the hands of scalpers and cause prices to skyrocket.  

Booking agent Sam Hunt with Wasserman Music described the bill as problematic during an April 16 subcommittee hearing, warning that it “punished artists” and “established a dangerous system for fans.”

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“Artists agree that the ticketing process is deeply flawed,” said Hunt, before adding that the blame lies with “unregulated ticket brokers” and “the secondary platforms that allow them to exist and flourish.”  

Facing universal opposition from the live music industry and several members of the committee, Wicks vowed to make changes to the legislation.

On Tuesday (April 24), during a hearing of the Assembly’s Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee, Wicks introduced a new, partially completed bill that exempted professional and collegiate sports teams from the new rules. More notably, it included a clause stating that it would be an artist’s decision “to determine the terms and conditions related to the sale, pricing, distribution and transfer of tickets to their events.” 

That new language, which mirrors that of legislation in other states as well as proposed federal legislation, was interpreted to mean that artists would be given the right to block resale sites from selling their tickets, potentially ending the resale of concert tickets in California — a sharp contrast with the original bill.

Wicks said the amendment resulted from a compromise with other legislators and was still being revised and amended. Lobbyists for secondary sites like StubHub and SeatGeek testified that they would pull their support for the bill if the new language remained. 

Wicks isn’t the only politician tackling ticketing initiatives. Since the high-profile crash of the Taylor Swift Eras Tour ticket sale in November 2022, Ticketmaster has come under fire from members of both parties in Congress and is reportedly the subject of a DOJ investigation on antitrust charges. State lawmakers across the country have largely tried and failed to pass legislation curbing Ticketmaster’s power, but few have swung and missed quite like Wicks, who initially chose to align her efforts with the secondary ticketing market. 

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Today’s modern live music industry is a diverse cross-section of competing multinational corporations and independent businesses made up of venue operators, talent agencies, concert promoters, artists and their managers, and primary ticketing companies. The broad group of competing interests doesn’t agree on much, except for their universal opposition to the ticket resale business, which many believe caused the Swift ticket sale crash. The bot attack that preceded the temporary disruption of the sale had all the hallmarks of similar attacks utilized by ticket scalping groups. 

In its defense, reps for the secondary ticketing business argue that sites like StubHub and SeatGeek provide a safe marketplace to buy and sell tickets that has been embraced by consumers and duplicated by Ticketmaster, which operates its own resale business.  

The friction between the music industry and the secondary market involves access to high-demand concerts by artists like Swift and Olivia Rodrigo. Lobbyists for resale sites say Ticketmaster unfairly blocks ticket resellers from accessing high-demand tickets. Ticketmaster officials argue their artist clients want their tickets to be sold directly to fans and not marked up on resale sites. 

Following the introduction of Wicks’ revamped bill in California, a new round of debate ensued. During the committee discussion of the legislation, Assemblymember Isaac Bryan said that Wicks’ logic that a Kayak.com site would push ticket prices down was flawed, noting that with hotels, “There’s no secondary market to sell a room for two, three or four” times what was originally paid to book the room.  

Assemblymember Lori Wilson added that Wicks should focus her efforts on determining whether Ticketmaster held a competitive or unfair advantage. Committee chair Rebecca Bauer-Kahan said legislators needed to focus on putting consumers first, adding, “We as a committee don’t necessarily think the largest problem is the monopoly at the front end but the brokers in the middle who are buying up the tickets and leading to a lot of the problems” in the marketplace. 

Despite these reservations, the new, radically different legislation will move forward. After a brief vote, the rewritten bill passed in the Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee and now heads to the Appropriations Committee, where Wicks serves as chair. 

By Michael

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