Lawmakers in Maryland are considering a pair of bills that would grant consumers in the state stronger rights over tickets they purchase to events, as well as increased protection against the sharing of their personal information with partners of ticketing vendors, venues, teams and promoters. The two bills, House Bill 747, and House Bill 1235, will see debate this week in Annapolis. Consumer advocates and resale marketplaces stand in support of the bills, while venues, promoters and the related industry lobbying system stands opposed, hoping to continue its data harvesting and transfer restriction practices unabated by new consumer protection measures.
HB 747 relates specifically to restrictions related to the sharing of consumer personal information in online ticket sales. It prohibits the placement of consumer information on a ticket itself (including the consumer name) unless the consumer can remove the information without invalidating the ticket. It also puts restrictions on disclosing personal information to any third party except under certain circumstances. HB 1235 is more comprehensive, putting in place restrictions on paperless ticketing systems, transferrability limits, and makes it illegal for venues to deny entry to consumers who have valid tickets to events strictly on the basis of their ticket having been resold. Both bills were introduced by Delegate Benjamin Brooks, a democrat representing the states 10th district, which covers parts of Baltimore County in the north-central portion of the state.
If passed, these bills would collectively bring Maryland to the forefront of consumer ticket rights protections, joining states including New York, Connecticut, Colorado, Virginia, and Illinois in protecting consumer rights against encroachments spurred by technological advances developed and in development by primary ticketing companies.
The need for consumer protection of ticket rights has become an increasing focus of state legislatures in recent sessions, as efforts to create mobile-locked ticketing systems have gathered steam among primary ticketing vendors with exclusive ticketing contracts at the majority of venues in the United States. Fans have already seen lockouts for high profile events when legally resold tickets were invalidated by venues such as the infamous Black Keys debacle in 2019 that saw hundreds stranded outside a show in Los Angeles despite their tickets being valid for every other reason besides having been sold more than once. Ticketmaster’s “SafeTix” system of rotating barcodes locked to a users cell phone was used in that instance, and will likely be deployed even more aggressively in a post-COVID ticketing landscape, given the company’s hopes to rebrand the anti-resale product as a way to adhere to safety guidelines.
Even before the Safetix scandal, consumer advocates have cautioned against the continued allowance of such walled garden technology.
“The increasing use of so-called ‘non-transferrable’ tickets as a way to control ticket scalping is a cure worse than the disease,” National Consumers League Vice President John Breyault told Virginia legislators in 2017 prior to that states passage of protections similar to what their northern neighbor is now considering. “Because events with non-transferrable tickets require attendees to show an I.D. and the credit or debit card used for purchase in order to enter the venue, these events may not be accessible for the 24.3 percent of Virginians who are unbanked or underbanked.”
In his Virginia testimony, Breyault also pointed out the anti-competitive core impact of “restricted-transfer” tickets such as those using the Safetix and other similar systems. “Make no mistake, primary ticketers like Ticketmaster do not want to prevent ticket resale; they want to control and profit from it,” said Breyault. “Through the use of restricted transfer tickets, companies like Ticketmaster seek to limit resale to ticket markets they control and where they, not competition, set the prices consumers must pay.”
According to data found in a 2017 national survey conducted by the FDIC, those numbers of unbanked or underbanked consumers are likely even higher in Maryland, which stood at the top of the scale used for consumers who were underbanked, with at least 21.4 percent of consumers meeting their standard. Communities with predominant populations of color such as Baltimore – the largest city in the state of Maryland – are the main drivers of these statistics.
It is for reasons such as this that the United States Minority Ticketing Group has long lobbied for legislation like HB 1235 and HB 747. Eliminating restrictive ticketing systems is one of the key priorities of the organization, which defines dynamic barcodes and other paperless tickets as one of 11 of what it calls “discriminatory practices” that prevent the existence of an “equal entertainment industry for minorities” according to USMTG.org.
“Exclusively offering mobile, non-transferable tickets is another way of blocking people out with less resources. There’s a long history of individuals in power defining which consumers are valuable in the marketplace,” says Scot Esdaile, Executive Director of the United States Minority Ticketing Group (USMTG) and national board member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
“This fight between the haves and the have-not’s has been a battle since the beginning of time, but USMTG will continue to fight for the disenfranchised, and against monopolies in the ticket industry.”
The hearings for the bills are scheduled to take place on Wednesday afternoon, where pro-industry lobbiests will likely push hard against the continued progress of the bills, while consumer advocates provide testimony in favor. We will update this ongoing story as more details are available.