In January of 2018, residents of Connecticut will be the beneficiaries of new consumer protections related to their right to re-sell tickets purchased for events in the state, as well as rights related to tickets purchased on the secondary market.
In a measure supported by a coalition of bipartisan lawmakers with the backing of several African-American leaders, Public Act 17-28 was signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in early June. It restricts venues and performers from denying admission to ticket holders based solely on the fact that the ticket they purchased came from a third party, and requires purchasers be given an option for a transferable ticket upon purchase.
Unsurprisingly, the bill saw strong opposition from those representing the primary ticket marketplace, which pushed for its failure in order to extend monopolizing effects over the rights to sell tickets in the state.
One of the hired guns brought in to push the industry point of view was Thomas Ferrugia, Director of Governmental Affairs for The Broadway League. Ferrugia, an attorney based in New York, issued a statement from the League in early March outlining the organization – which represents “23 Connecticut producers, presenters and performing arts centers, including the Bushnell, Schubert Theater, GoodSpeed Musicals and The Palace Theater.”
The statement raised the usual strawmen of “obscene” markups and deceptive practices performed by so-called scalpers, but an analysis of the testimony Ferrugia provided in open hearing this spring, it appears that deception may have also been on his agenda – or at minimum, some errors of omission that poke holes in the arguments he may have been making on behalf of the venues he represented.
We’ve outlined where we see potential holes in the testimony offered. We contacted Mr. Ferrugia to allow him to respond to questions we had related to his testimony several days ago, and again on Monday. He has yet to respond. We will follow up with his response if he chooses to do so at a later date.
Hole No. 1: No Specificity Offered
At two points during this proceedings, where Ferrugia faced sometimes withering questions from Connecticut lawmakers, he offered customer complaints as a driving force for the industry’s opposition to the bill. On one hand, he said, the majority of complaints received from customers is due to tickets purchased from third parties. On the other, he added later, the organization had not received a “sizable number” of complaints regarding paperless tickets – ones where the ticket issued is linked to a credit card that needs to be swiped for the customer to gain entry to an event.
Mr. Ferrugia did not offer any actual numbers related to complaints received, either for Connecticut-specific venues, or for ones closer to the League’s home in New York.
It is also unclear whether or not any venues in Connecticut even offer credit card-restricted tickets. A look at both the Bushnell and Schubert upcoming events shows that none are restricted to such sales, meaning that he may have been specifically referring to sales occurring in other states, rather than the one represented by the men he was testifying before.
Requests by TicketNews to representatives at the Bushnell regarding whether or not they had ever offered these types of tickets and the volume and nature of complaints received went without an answer.
Hole No. 2: Sales Limit Sleight of Hand
In discussion related to cyber security and venues monitoring large purchases for irregularities to void transactions deemed to be over such limits, you made the statement that “I know and I can speak to New York City, no individual is allowed to purchase more than eight tickets at any given time.”
However, in New York, group sales are offered by every venue we have taken the time to research for this post – even red-hot Hamilton got its start with producers selling millions of dollars worth of group tickets before its debut – most of which went to Brokers. The ability to bring large groups of people for shows is well established, and often a boon to venues and producers looking to fill seats for long-running productions that have lost some steam but are still attractive to out-of-town school trips or other groups looking for a chance to see something. Connecticut theaters are no different.
Hole No. 3: Venues Never Fight Transferability of Tickets
When questioned about why the industry might object to consumers being allowed to request a paper/transferable ticket, Mr. Ferrugia said that “essentially what [brokers] do is just use [paper tickets] as a tool to purchase tickets that they can easily transfer. There is no way that a venue would prohibit you from transferring an electronic ticket.”
There are a number of examples where this statement has been shown to be false – artists and venues frequently prevent the free transfer of tickets. From requiring the person who purchased the ticket’s credit card to be swiped at the gate for access to cancelling tickets found to have been resold, people frequently run into brick walls when the venue locks down the right of free transfer.
In one instance, the Nashville Predators were found to have cancelled tickets purchased by those outside of their television area in an effort to keep fans from opposing teams out of their home arena. Country star Eric Church recently made headlines after voiding over 25,000 tickets to his concerts, including many purchased by regular fans, and many others purchased by brokers which broke no terms of sale or ticket limits.
“Eric [Church] feels that the cumulative effects of ticket scalpers big and small crowd out real fans, so he takes them down to 0 regardless of whether they are over the limit or not,” a spokesman told TicketNews at the time.
The fact of the matter is that tickets are often cancelled – many in the name of battling scalping. To say otherwise is simply untrue.
Hole No. 4: Wrong Name, Sir
It may have been a simple typo, but it should be said that in the press release issued prior to the testimony detailed in this post, the Broadway League referred to a report issued by “New York State Attorney General Spitzer” in 2016. While Eliot Spitzer did serve as the Attorney General of New York from 1999-2006, he vacated that position to take office as Governor of New York in 2007. He resigned that position a year later in the throes of a prostitution scandal.
The report in question was issued by current New York AG Eric Schneiderman.
Hole No. 5: Tickets Never Sell for Less Than Face Value (Unless a Broker Messes Up)
During one exchange, Mr. Ferrugia said “StubHub makes 25% on every single ticket that they sell, so the idea that they are in the market for tickets to be less expensive and try to drive ticket prices down is just simply a falsehood… If you saw tickets being sold at less than what their face price was, then all that means is that a scalper purchased too much inventory and is trying to dump it.”
To that, Rep. David Rutigliano (R) replied “I don’t want to be argumentative – I’ve bought StubHub tickets numerous times. I have never paid full price for the ticket. That’s been my personal experience.”
Anyone who has spent time and energy on picking up tickets in the secondary market knows this isn’t true. There is a give and take with the marketplace – events that have a high demand sell for more than face value because people are willing to pay more than the event goes for to see it. Events without a high demand will go for less – and that’s a factor that primary market sellers will absolutely exploit – pushing lower-demand events to brokers to make sure they get people through the door.
Take for example the Baltimore Orioles – for a long time, the moribund franchise only really sold out Opening Day at Camden Yards, and maybe a handful of Red Sox or Yankees games, where fans from the northeast would stream down the coast on the Acela or through BWI because it was a chance to take in their team in a beautiful ballpark without paying top dollar for the hard-to-get seats at their home stadiums. Those of us that lived in Baltimore could scoop up quality seats at just about any other home game from season ticket holders that were hoping to just make back a piece of their initial investment.
In summation, a lot of the arguments made by Mr. Ferrugia on behalf of the organizations he represented in front of the Connecticut legislature are based on a combination of facts and sleight of hand, designed to take advantage of the ease of painting brokers as the true enemy of people looking to attend shows.
In reality, however, venues and artists merely want to control the rights of everyone who seeks to catch a performance, from primary market sales, secondary sales, and concessions. Thankfully for consumers here in Connecticut, and several other states in 2017, the vague and at times misleading testimony on behalf of those goals failed to sway the men and women making the laws.