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Concert ticket system is ‘broken,’ say artists. But some experts say targeting resellers isn’t the fix

The way concert tickets are sold is “broken,” according to a new letter signed by more than 250 major recording artists including Billie Eilish, Blue Rodeo and Fall Out Boy.

The letter, signed Thursday, voiced support for the Fans First Act, a bill pending in the U.S. Senate that would prevent speculative ticket sales when a seller does not have a ticket. It also would require “all-in” pricing, outlaw deceptive websites and strengthen enforcement of penalties for bot usage to scoop up tickets.

“We are joining together to say that the current system is broken,” the artists said in a letter to congressional sponsors of the legislation.

“Predatory re-sellers and secondary platforms engage in deceptive ticketing practices to inflate ticket prices and deprive fans of the chance to see their favourite artists at a fair price.

“Predatory resellers should not be more profitable than the people dedicating their lives to their art.”

Other prominent artists who signed include Cyndi Lauper,  Aimee Mann, Indigo Girls, Lorde, Green Day and Duran Duran.

“Buying a ticket to see your favourite artist in concert is like going through a gauntlet for too many Americans,” said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, in a statement on her website. “This is hurting music fans and it’s hurting artists.”

It’s an issue lawmakers are looking at in Canada, too. Measures such as more transparency, prohibiting bots, and strengthening penalties have already been adopted in some provinces, CBC previously reported. In last week’s federal budget, the Liberal government pledged to work with provinces to crack down on “fraudulent resellers and reseller practices which unfairly drive up prices.” 

WATCH | How Quebec is trying to stop sky-high ticket prices: 

Ticket resale prices keep rising. What’s Quebec doing to crack down?

11 days ago

Duration 2:40

After several recent high-profile incidents of event tickets being resold on sites for sky-high prices, the Quebec government is looking to create new rules.

But as ticket prices soar, and resale prices soar even higher (tickets for Taylor Swift’s Nov. 14 Toronto show go as high as $11,267 a pair on StubHub, for instance), some experts argue that the letter — and the U.S. bill — are unlikely to change much for fans. And they say targeting resellers isn’t necessarily the fix.

The perception is often that artists feel they’re being exploited or taken advantage of by the ticketing industry, said Shiraz Mawani, an independent ticketing consultant in Toronto. And he says he can empathize with their frustration.

“But at the same time, it’s difficult to find a solution that really works. Because, at the end of the day, it’s a supply issue,” Mawani said.

“There are only so many seats available.”

Two men play guitars and sing
Blue Rodeo performs during Fire Aid for Fort McMurray in Edmonton on June 29, 2016. The Canadian band was among the artists who signed the letter. (Amber Bracken/The Canadian Press)

Sales are booming

Live music sales are booming, according to Live Nation, which owns Ticketmaster. Earlier in April, the company said in a filing with regulators that 2023 brought all-time highs in both attendance and ticket sales. This was powered by big stadium tours from artists including Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, Live Nation said.

Economists have predicted that, this year, music fans will continue to see high prices for big-name artists.

One problem with the letter signed by the musicians calling for ticket reform is that it’s directed at resellers such as StubHub instead of Ticketmaster and Live Nation, which hold the market share and “considerable control” in the industry, said Timothy Dewhirst, a professor of marketing and consumer studies at the University of Guelph.

“It’s become pretty pricey to deal with Ticketmaster for a lot of the leading concerts that are out there,” Dewhirst told CBC News.

Some artists have been vocally critical of Ticketmaster, calling out their extra fees and dynamic ticket pricing. Last year, The Cure’s Robert Smith convinced Ticketmaster to refund some of what he said were the “unduly high” fees for tickets for the band’s U.S. tour.

Some fans had complained that the fees essentially doubled the price of their tickets. In a post on X last year, formerly Twitter, Smith wrote that he was “sickened.”

That was a “pretty notable gesture” on Smith’s part, Dewhirst said, but it’s not one he sees some of the major artists out there, such as Taylor Swift, replicating. 

“People are willingly paying the high prices. She probably figures, ‘well, people are willingly able to do that, that’s the going rate,’ so to speak,” he said.

WATCH | Robert Smith ‘sickened’ by Ticketmaster’s fees: 

The Cure frontman ‘sickened’ by Ticketmaster fees

1 year ago

Duration 2:06

The Cure’s Robert Smith says Ticketmaster is partially refunding fans for some fees, after he lashed out at the company online. Some fans complained the fees effectively doubled the original ticket price.

Fix the Tix?

Venues and artist groups have formed a coalition called Fix the Tix, led by the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), that is pushing for passage of the Fans First Act, which they say offers the strongest protections for ticket buyers.

Stephen Parker, executive director of NIVA, said that bill is “the most fan- and artist-friendly ticketing legislation that Congress has ever introduced.”

“It makes illegal the abusive, predatory behaviour from predatory resale platforms and ticket brokers,” he said, and also calls for a national evaluation of the ticket resale market.

But going after re-sellers, or more specifically, bad actors in the reseller market, won’t fix the ticket price problem, said Mawani, the independent ticketing consultant. And limiting reselling could actually limit the supply of tickets for people who aren’t able to buy them during the pre-sale or the moment they became available online, he added.

“This act that they’re trying to push through does very little on the Ticketmaster side,” he said.

“It could be a step in the right direction in terms of continuing the conversation around tickets and resale… but I don’t know if this specific bill is going to be the one that’s going to change the world.”

Ticketmaster told Reuters it backed bans on speculative sales and deceptive websites, as well as better enforcement of anti-bot legislation.

WATCH | U.S. Senate grills Ticketmaster over Taylor Swift fiasco: 

U.S. Senate grills Ticketmaster over Taylor Swift presale fiasco

1 year ago

Duration 4:40

Ticketmaster and its parent company, Live Nation Entertainment, appeared on Capitol Hill at a hearing into competition and consumer protections in the live entertainment industry, sparked by November’s fiasco involving ticket sales for Taylor Swift’s upcoming concert tour.

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