Executives from Ticketmaster Entertainment, StubHub, Live Nation and TicketNews’s parent company TicketNetwork battled it out over the issue of paperless ticketing during a panel at the Billboard Touring Conference & Awards Wednesday in Manhattan, and while few minds were changed the charged debate made for an entertaining exchange.
For Ticketmaster President David Butler, a proponent of paperless ticketing, the issue came down to who owns the ticket, which he firmly believes is the artist and their representatives.
“We provide a service for the artist to decide how they want to handle the relationship with their fans,” Butler told the audience of a few hundred promoters, venue operators and artist managers. The panel was moderated by attorney Carla Varriale, a partner in the New York law firm Havkins Rosenfeld Ritzert & Varriale. “The artists are the rights holders.”
Butler said that while paperless tickets offer some conveniences for fans, an assertion that the secondary ticketing executives on the panel vocally questioned, he stressed that Ticketmaster doesn’t care whether an artist chooses paperless tickets or traditional tickets for their shows. The company simply tries to accommodate the artist’s decision.
While paperless ticketing currently only accounts for a very small percentage of all the event tickets sold, the technology is rapidly being ramped up in venues across the country, and critics have angrily accused the primary ticket market of using the technology to kill off the secondary ticket market.
In what has been one of the biggest uses of paperless ticketing technology to date, the current Miley Cyrus tour has implemented it for all of the singer’s concerts, but some fans have complained that the process of scanning credit cards and checking identification at the gate has slowed entry into the shows.
Not so at concerts in Arkansas at the Verizon Arena, formerly known as the Alltel Arena, according to general manager Michael Marion. The arena has been a test site for Ticketmaster’s paperless ticketing initiative, and Marion told the audience it has been a huge success.
“The only people complaining have been the scalpers. We haven’t experienced any logistical problems,” Marion said.
While they both said they didn’t have a problem with the technology of paperless ticketing per se, StubHub CEO Chris Tsakalakis and TicketNetwork CEO Don Vaccaro took Ticketmaster and rapidly growing paperless ticketing company Veritix to task for trying to force out the secondary ticket market by essentially closing the loop between primary and secondary ticketing by requiring fans to only resell tickets on Ticketmaster’s or Veritix’s systems.
“It takes away fans’ rights and eliminates competition,” Tsakalakis said. “What we want to see is true transferability. The perspective of the fan is that they own the ticket.”
Vaccaro agreed, taking it a step further by predicting fans will buy less tickets because of the restrictions placed on resale by the paperless process. “Will fans be able to resell tickets at below face value?” he said, adding that there could be legal challenges because primary ticket providers implement “price floors” that prohibit the sale of tickets below face value, which some people want to do to recoup some of the money they’re out if they’re unable to attend a show.
“With ticket prices escalating, once you’re paying $200 for a ticket, you should have the right to sell it if you can’t go to the show,” said Dan Finkel of Gold Coast Tickets.
Nathan Hubbard, president of Live Nation’s ticketing operation, said that while he is not against the secondary ticket market, he doesn’t believe that fans are too worked up over the issue of resale.
“Where’s the outrage [over not being able to resell tickets]? Being able to resell a ticket is about the 105th most important issue to fans,” he said, adding that what he hears more often are complaints about ticket fees and access.