Consumer advocates have come out in support of an amended version of a bill in Colorado that will reshape the regulations surrounding live events and ticketing this week. The bill, SB23-060, initially drew sharp rebuke from many after it was initially drafted, due to what many said was a number of pro-Ticketmaster changes to the law. But with the softening of some language and the addition of new protections via the amendment process, the consumer groups have changed their tone – provided the new protections aren’t removed before the final vote.

“We opposed the initial version of [SB23-060] because of a number of provisions intended to concentrate power in the industry and put consumers at a disadvantage,” a message from the groups signed-on in support of the Ticket Buyer Bill of Rights, which includes the Nation Consumers League, Consumer Federation of America, Public Knowledge, Sports Fans Coalition, Fan Freedom, and Protect Ticket Rights. “However, we are pleased to share that we now support the amended version.”

When it was first announced, the reaction against SB23-060 was nearly universal disapproval from both businesses operating within the ticketing ecosystem and consumer advocates. In an Op-Ed, John Breyault of the National Consumers League and Brian Hess of the Sports Fan Coalition called it a ‘trojan horse legislation” specifically designed by the ticketing giant to eliminate competition and neuter existing consumer protections in Colorado law. Vivid Seats spelled out the specific issue – the ability by even operators and their clients (like Live Nation Entertainment and Ticketmaster, or AEG and AXS, etc.) to effectively declare any ticket for sale on any ticket marketplace outside of their “official” ones as deceptive and thereby illegal.

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“Through Senate Bill 060, LNE is attempting to neuter these key pro-competition protections by vastly expanding an operator’s right to revoke so-called “fraudulent tickets,” reads a memo published by Vivid Seats’ VP Ryan Fitts addressing the serious consumer concerns in the bill as introduced. “LNE/Ticketmaster (or it’s venue clients) would have the right to review a competitor’s resale site, claim that the site’s practices are “deceptive” in some respect and then revoke the tickets on the competitor’s site and post those for sale on its own site. There is no standard of proof, and no appeal, just one market participant elevated to regulator and granted the right to remove inventory from a competitor.”

The bills pro-Ticketmaster lean was so pronounced, sources tell TicketNews that the Governor and Attorney General actually refused to support it as written, despite it being written by a member of their own party.

Since that time, the language of the “deceptive” provision has been fine tuned. “Vital consumer protections” were added through one amendment added by the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee in the form of amendment L033, which requires the reporting of illegal “bot” activity as well as a requirement on transparency for ticket holdbacks.

Consumer advocates support the continued improvement of the regulatory climate regarding “bot” purchasing software, which are often blamed by event operators when ticket sales go poorly for consumers – such as the recent Taylor Swift Eras Tour debacle. But some feel that “bots” are just an easy excuse for ticketing companies when anger flares over their use of price-surging systems and suffer massive failures during high demand events. The amendment requires such accusations to actually be made as complaints over specific events, which have seen minimal proof or prosecution despite the BOTS Act being passed nationwide more than five years ago.

Even more important to the shift to supporting the Colorado bill is the inclusion of holdback transparency in the state, requiring event operators to come clean about how many tickets are available at each stage of the ticket sales process on the primary market. For years, consumer ticket advocates have pointed to the fact that event operators regularly hold back huge blocks of tickets from the public, hiding the true available supply to justify surging ticket prices. This has only intensified in the “dynamic” and “platinum” ticket pricing era that we have entered, where events regularly don’t even offer tickets for sale to the general public, claiming to be sold out, while tens of thousands of tickets remain to be dripped in small amounts as the event approaches.

“This added transparency will end a deceptive trade practice and will provide more information to consumers so they are better informed when shopping for tickets,” the letter to lawmakers says, pointing out that holdback transparency was also included in the federal legislation introduced by Senators Blumenthal and Whitehouse last week.

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“Ticket holdbacks are deceptive: Sellers withhold up to HALF of all tickets for shows. This is a well-documented problem that has been investigated by the US GAO, New York Attorney
General, and the City and County of Honolulu,” the letter continued. “This was a huge problem for the Taylor Swift tour, as was documented by the Wall Street Journal. The Journal estimated that 94% of Swift tickets were held back for those with special or exclusive access. Even today, Ticketmaster continues to send out access codes for held back Taylor Swift tickets.”

The letter closes by urging lawmakers to “hold the line” on the amendments, as they anticipate strong pushback from “large and powerful players in the live events marketplace.” In the past, holdback provisions have been fiercely opposed by ticketing giants like Ticketmaster, who rely on them extensively as part of their marketing of events and tickets. Often, promoters have said in public testimony that they would rather skip cities entirely on tours than be forced to reveal the true number of available tickets to consumers, as they told Ontario lawmakers when such provisions were on the table in 2018.

The full letter to Colorado lawmakers is included below:

March 24, 2023

Dear Colorado Lawmaker:

We, the undersigned national consumer protection and live event fan advocates, launched the Ticket Buyer Bill of Rights (www.ticketbuyerbillofrights.org) earlier this month, a framework for ticketing legislation that can improve the live events ticketing market that serves millions of fans each year. We are writing with regards to SB23-060, Consumer Protection in Event Ticket Sales.

We opposed the initial version of the bill because of a number of provisions intended to concentrate power in the industry and put consumers at a disadvantage. However, we are pleased to share that we now support the amended version of SB 23-060 because the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee added vital consumer protections to the bill through amendment L033. This amendment requires the reporting of illegal bot activity and requires transparency of ticket holdbacks. These consumer protections align with our Ticket Buyer Bill of Rights. We support these provisions, and amendment L033 requires sellers to reveal the number of tickets they would otherwise secretly hold back from the public on-sale of tickets. This added transparency will end a deceptive trade practice and will provide more information to consumers so they are better informed when shopping for tickets. We will continue to support this legislation so long as amendment L033 remains in the bill. We encourage you to protect Colorado’s consumers and ensure that this amendment remains in the bill.

While you may be contacted by large and powerful players in the live events marketplace with their rhetorical talking points opposing the holdback provision, please hold the line. Support for holdback disclosures is broad. In fact, this week, legislation was introduced in the United States Senate that includes similar transparency disclosure around deceptive ticket holdbacks.1

Ticket holdbacks are deceptive: Sellers withhold up to HALF of all tickets for shows.This is a well-documented problem that has been investigated by the US GAO2, New York Attorney General3, and the City and County of Honolulu4. This was a huge problem for the Taylor Swift tour, as was documented by the Wall Street Journal. The Journal estimated that 94% of Swift tickets were held back for those with special or exclusive access.5 Even today, Ticketmaster continues to send out access codes for held back Taylor Swift tickets.

This deceptive industry scheme creates fake scarcity to induce a ticket buying frenzy so that consumers panic, and in believing there are scarce tickets left, are compelled into buying now.

Consumers without special or exclusive access to pre-sales are abused during the public

on-sale of tickets where they may miss work and spend hours in an online waiting room only to be left with intentionally opaque options. When the true inventory of tickets is not presented to fans, they are not capable of making the best possible purchase decision.

Transparency is needed in the ticket market; Beginning with revealing true inventory of tickets

It is critical that those selling tickets in the primary market (venue box offices, and contracted primary ticketing companies like Ticketmaster and AXS) reveal to consumers how many tickets they are secretly “holding back” from fans when tickets go on sale. This way, when informed about how more tickets will be released for sale in the coming days, weeks, and months, they can better choose whether to buy now, wait, or comparison shop elsewhere. An informed consumer is a more empowered consumer.

There are a few other remaining anti-competitive provisions that favor only one side of the industry that we would like to see fixed. However, the inclusion of the holdbacks provision is such an important win for consumers that we, the undersigned organizations, support SB 23-060 as amended with amendment L033 and encourage you to do the same.

Sincerely,

John Breyault, Vice President Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud – National Consumers League
Erin Witte, Director of Consumer Protection, Consumer Federation of America
Greg Guice, Director of Government Affairs, Public Knowledge
Brian Hess, Executive Director, Sports Fans Coalition
Chris VanDeHoef, President, Fan Freedom
Gary Adler, Executive Director, Protect Ticket Rights

1 See “Junk Fees Prevention Act,”, introduced by Senators Blumenthal and Whitehouse. https://www.whitehouse.senate.gov/news/release/blumenthal-and-whitehouse-introduce-junk-fee-preventi on-act-to-end-unfair-surprise-costs-for-consumers

2 U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, GAO-18-347,Congressional Requesters: Event Ticket Sales Market Characteristics and Consumer Protection Issues (April 2018) via https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-18-347.pdf

3 Eric T. Schneiderman, “Obstructed View: What’s Blocking New Yorkers from Getting Tickets” Office of New York (State Attorney General) via https://ag.ny.gov/pdfs/Ticket_Sales_Report.pdf

4 The City Auditor, The City and County of Honolulu State of Hawai`I, Report No 20-06 (November 2020) via https://www.honolulu.gov/rep/site/oca/oca_docs/Final_Report_Audit_of_NBC_Ticket_Sales_Operations_ Reso_19-264.pdf

5 Anne Steele, Taylor Swift Tickets: How Many Might Be Left?, The Wall Street Journal, (December 2022) via https://www.wsj.com/articles/taylor-swift-tickets-how-many-might-be-left-11670624940