By Stacey Willets
When the StubHub/MLB partnership was announced, it seemed a sure sign that primary and secondary ticket sellers could not only peacefully coexist, but could also forge harmonious strategic relationships. Both before and after news of the deal, industry insiders predicted a blurring of the lines between primary and secondary ticketing hovering on the horizon. While that may be, some primary agents are not willing to embrace their “certain future” as readily as the rest.
Unlike other NFL franchises that have teamed up with resellers such as second-ranked TicketsNow.com and sixth-ranked RazorGator.com, the New England Patriots have taken a firm stance against ticket resale, going as far as to sue top-ranked StubHub for “soliciting people to violate [their] rules” by facilitating online resale of the team’s tickets. StubHub countersued, alleging the Patriots were attempting to monopolize the resale of their tickets through their own TicketExchange site. Most recently the Massachusetts Superior Court ordered StubHub to turn over the contact information of 13,000 customers who bought, bid on, listed, or sold tickets to Patriots home games since 2002. It is widely believed that the Patriots will use the information to revoke licenses of season ticket holders who used StubHub’s services.
The Patriots/StubHub conflict sparks several debates on ticket resale . . . While the Massachusetts state law, which prohibits the resale of tickets for more than $2 above face value, is rarely enforced, the Pats have their own clearly-communicated policy prohibiting the resale of their seats. “We have hundreds of people on waiting lists willing to comply with our rules, so if individuals prefer not to comply with the rules, that’s their choice,” Patriots lawyer Daniel Goldberg said of fans in jeopardy of losing their season tickets rights. But for NFL fans, Patriots fans included, tickets to a game can be incredibly hard to come by, making the secondary market an enticing option. As a result, on one side of the coin you have fans looking to acquire tickets in this lifetime who rely on the secondary market to obtain seats, as well as season ticket holders that don’t want to eat the games they cannot attend or who resell some games for a profit to defray the cost of the license. On the other side of the coin you have the supporters of the Patriots who oppose ticket resale, criticize the premium prices tickets sell for, and feel that the team is “winning one for the little guys.”
The Pats would further argue that ticketless fans and season ticket holders could use the team’s TicketExchange website to resell seats in compliance with the team’s policies and Massachusetts state law. The issue is that the Patriots essentially look to force ticket buyers and sellers to exclusively use the team exchange, prompting StubHub and other resellers to ask: If people can resell on the Patriot’s site, why nowhere else? Do the Patriots have the right to regulate the aftermarket of their tickets, or is their initiative unlawful and anticompetitive?
The industry doesn’t completely agree on the answer. Some in the primary market argue that ticket holders are paying for the service of attending the event, which cannot be resold because the buyer does not have the service to sell. Others, however, agree with resellers and believe that tickets are transferable goods that once you buy you own and thus have a right to do with them what you choose.
The state of New York backs the second camp. The new New York resale law, passed earlier this year, contains a provision that disallows teams from restricting where season ticket holders can resell their seats. A similar provision exists in the Massachusetts bill, passed by the House earlier this month. However, according to media reports, if a team elects not to get into the business of reselling tickets above face value, it will have the right to restrict what ticket-holders are able to do with their tickets, an option the Patriots have said they plan to take.
With the ongoing hoopla surrounding the scarcity of Hannah Montana tickets and the added controversy of some brokers using “back-door technology,” even with a change to Massachusetts law, it’s not surprising that the Patriots wouldn’t be swayed to jump into the secondary market right away. Yet despite the beating to brokers’ images lately, prominent primary sellers such as first-ranked Ticketmaster.com and third-ranked LiveNation.com respect the concept of a free market, an indicator that while the entire industry may not presently be in agreement on the resale issue, it’s moving forward to get everyone on the same page.
To see all the Top Tens rankings, check out the press release in the Daily Buzz section of TicketNews.com. Visit the Industry resources section of TicketNews.com for full lists of the Top Twenty Secondary Ticket Sellers and the Top Twenty Overall Ticket Sellers, to read an explanation of how we calculate the rankings.