Saturday, May 26, 2018
Politics

Bills could affect whether you watch a show from the nosebleed seats

So you've been saving your money to see a concert this summer.

You hear the Dave Matthews Band is coming to town, and tickets go on sale Friday morning. You pull out your T-shirt from the band's Crash tour and wait patiently for the online box office to open in 24 hours.

Meanwhile, StubHub already has more than 500 tickets on sale, with many at more than quadruple the face value.

Question: How does that happen?

Answer: It shouldn't.

Critics say the secondary ticket market has become a billion-dollar industry that is making it harder and harder for the average consumer to find, and afford, decent seats.

And now your state Legislature is considering a bill that would conceivably make it easier for those out-of-state brokers to hoard and resell scads of tickets.

"This is all leading in a direction to help them do whatever they can to charge whatever price they want,'' said Eric Blankenship, chief marketing officer for Ruth Eckerd Hall. "It's crazy how they work the system.''

Officials at Ruth Eckerd Hall and the Straz Center sent out mass emails this week, urging consumers to contact legislators to kill matching bills in the House and Senate.

House Bill 163 sounds as if it is a consumer-friendly piece of legislation, but the reality is it would benefit scalpers and make life more difficult for almost everyone else.

Here is the basic issue:

Ticket brokers use sophisticated computer programming — and multiple credit card accounts — to descend on online box offices as soon as tickets go on sale.

This means, for high-profile events, the average fan is stuck with tickets in the nosebleed section two minutes after the box office opens. Brokers are so confident they can get good seats, they are already reselling them days before an arena even puts them on sale.

Venues and sports teams have waged war on scalpers by enforcing ticket limits, instituting online security checks to thwart automated purchases and, in extreme cases, issuing paperless tickets that can only be accessed at the venue with proper ID.

While HB 163 might make it easier for the average fan to resell a ticket, it would also eliminate the safeguards that make it more difficult for scalpers to buy tickets in bulk.

"They want the government to dictate how a place like the Straz Center chooses to sell its product. I don't want to sound corny, but that's un-American,'' said Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Tampa. "When you tell them they can't use paperless tickets, you're starting to go down a slippery slope.''

The proposed bill passed a subcommittee last week by a 7-6 vote, which suggests it might have a hard time getting all the way through the Legislature.

In the meantime, Raulerson says he was asked by the Straz Center to introduce a separate bill (HB 1353) that would more closely regulate ticket brokers and make illegal scalping a third-degree felony instead of a misdemeanor.

(Scalping at any price is legal for most events in Florida. For theme parks and nonprofit venues such as Ruth Eckerd and Straz, tickets can be sold for no more than $1 above face value.)

There seems to be little doubt that Raulerson's legislation would cut into the scalping business, but there is also language in the bill that might swing the pendulum too far in the direction of venues and corporations such as Ticketmaster.

His bill got past the same subcommittee by an 11-0 vote on Wednesday.

What does it all mean to you?

I would definitely tell my legislator that HB 163 needs to die a quick death. And I would tend to feel the same way about HB 1353, though Raulerson said he is open to changing some of the wording.

Either way, you might want to pay close attention to these bills during the coming weeks. It may be the last time you have a front row seat for anything.

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