National Consumers League

Practical guide to buying live event and sports tickets

92_empty_theater_seats.jpgWith fall concert series being announced, the NFL season ready to kick off, and MLB playoffs just around the corner, it is a great time to be a live music and sports fan. However, ticket sellers such as Ticketmaster, artists, sports teams, and venues do not always have consumers’ best interests at heart. NCL wants to make sure fans have the information they need to make the best ticket buying decisions they can.

Below are just a few of the anti-consumer practices we want consumers to be aware of.

Restricted ticketing

A growing number of artists, including Eric Church, Arcade Fire, and The Black Keys are using credit card entry or “paperless” ticketing this summer and fall for the most desirable seats in the house. Garth Brooks, who is going back on the road for the first time in 12 years, is using restricted ticketing for his upcoming tour.

This ticketing system replaces a paper ticket, a PDF, or a print-at-home ticket with the original purchaser’s credit card and photo ID and the tickets are non-transferable.  If you purchased tickets to your favorite concert and then had to change your plans because of a work or family emergency, you are now stuck with tickets you cannot use, resell, or even give away. And if you are one of the 30 million Americans who do not have a credit or debit card, you won’t be able to purchase this type of ticket in the first place.

In addition, because restricted ticketing may only apply to the best seats, it decreases the supply of tickets available on the secondary market, inevitably leading to higher prices.

Undisclosed price floors

Often times the secondary market can provide consumers with great deals on sports tickets. Unfortunately, some ticket resale websites, such as Ticketmaster’s TicketExchange, set an arbitrary minimum on the price of tickets. For example, the Buffalo Bills TicketExchange sets its price floor at face value, even for pre-season games. For the pre-season game against the Detroit Lions, a ticket in Section 139 with a face value of $58 can only be listed on TicketExchange for $58, while SeatGeek showed other resale sites selling tickets for as low as $3. And of course, there is no notice to unsuspecting fans that such a price floor exists.

In addition, last year, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim opted out of Major League Baseball’s deal with StubHub because the resale website would not allow the teams to set a price floor.

Deceptive websites

For too long, unscrupulous ticket resellers have been taking advantage of unsuspecting consumers and deceiving consumers into believing they are purchasing a ticket from the box office website or official primary ticket seller at face value. These resellers use Internet ads or other advertising, along with pictures of the venue and descriptions such as “official” tickets, to dupe consumers.

The Federal Trade Commission and the Connecticut Attorney General recently settled a $1.4 million case with a group of ticket resale websites for violating the FTC Act and the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act.

This is a strong step in the right direction towards protecting consumers from unfair practices, while still allowing good actors in the secondary market to offer consumers choices and flexibility when purchasing live event and sports tickets.

To help fans avoid these, and other common, ticket-buying pitfalls, the National Consumers League (NCL) developed the following tips and suggestions.

  1. Read the Fine Print: Artists are increasingly selling restricted tickets, also known as paperless or Credit Card Entry tickets, which require the buyer to show up at the stadium and present the purchasing credit card and photo ID. The fine print indicates these tickets are nontransferable and cannot be given away as gifts or resold. Consumers can easily miss this important information unless they pay close attention during the ticket buying process.
  2. Look into Presales: Popular artists, venues, and ticket vendors tend to allocate large blocks of tickets to fan club members, VIPs, premium credit card holders, and personal acquaintances, leaving only a small portion of tickets to the general public. For example, a 2011 Justin Bieber concert in Nashville, only made 1,001 out of 14,000 seats available to the general public.
  3. Beware of Hidden Price Floors: When purchasing resale tickets on secondary sites, check multiple sources to make sure you get the best price. Some teams and ticket vendors dictate the minimum price that tickets can be sold for, preventing consumers from buying tickets at the cheapest price possible.
  4. Use Reliable Sellers: If you're unsure whether a company is legitimate, check its ratings with the Better Business Bureau. Also be sure to be certain as to whether you are buying tickets from the box office, official ticket agent, or a reseller. Some ticket resellers hide the fact that they are a reseller or even pose to look like the official ticket agent. If purchasing from a ticket broker, check to see if it is a member of the National Association of Ticket Brokers, whose Code of Ethics requires members to adhere to basic consumer protections. Be especially careful buying tickets from Craigslist or resellers on the street since they offer no refund guarantees.
  5. Check your ticket vendor’s guarantee policy: For example, websites like StubHub, TicketExchange, Ace Tickets, and members of the National Association of Ticket Brokers guarantee every ticket sold on their sites and will replace them or provide refunds to consumers if the event that they receive the wrong tickets, their tickets are invalid, or an event is cancelled.
  6. Buy with a Credit Card: Regardless of where you buy tickets, be sure to use a credit card so you can dispute any unfair or unauthorized charges. Before entering your credit card information online, double check the company’s URL to ensure you don’t get duped by an imposter and be sure the site has "https://" at the beginning of its address.
  7. Check if the Price Includes Additional Fees: Unlike airline tickets, which are now required by law to disclose all taxes and additional fees upfront, the ticket price listed at the start of the purchasing process will likely not be your final price. If you are shopping between multiple websites to compare prices, make sure you know if you are comparing ticket prices that include fees.