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  1. Florida Politics

Florida legislation wades into Ticketmaster vs. StubHub fight

The Tampa Bay Lightning was unsuccessful last year in keeping season ticket holders from selling seats to Chicago Blackhawks fans for Stanley Cup Playoff games at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
The Tampa Bay Lightning was unsuccessful last year in keeping season ticket holders from selling seats to Chicago Blackhawks fans for Stanley Cup Playoff games at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
Published Feb. 1, 2016

TAMPA — Ten years after Florida lifted its prohibition on scalping tickets to sporting events and concerts, lawmakers in Tallahassee are still wrestling over how to shape the future of the resale market.

The latest salvo in the ongoing "Ticket Wars" — often characterized as Ticketmaster vs. StubHub, the two giants of the online ticketing world — would prohibit sports teams and venues from placing restrictions on how ticket holders can resell their seats. It's a direct shot at the methods teams have adopted in recent years to elbow out brokers and online resellers.

Take the Tampa Bay Lightning, for example. In the past 12 months, the team has punished season ticket holders who sold prime playoff tickets to opposing fans, boxed out local, longtime brokers from buying seats for 2015-16 and, for the first time, barred season ticket holders from selling more than half their games. The Lightning want to keep outsiders from profiting off of the team and ensure more tickets ended up in the hands of real fans.

All of that would be illegal under a pair of bills filed in the Legislature.

"I'm trying to prevent a monopoly because I don't believe that is going to lower prices," said state Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, the sponsor of the House bill. "Large corporations are getting more of the pie at the expense of small businesses."

Tickets are expensive, Moskowitz said, and if people want to sell a portion of their season tickets to recoup some of those costs, they should be able to do so without restrictions from the team or fear of having their seats revoked.

Courts, though, have repeatedly affirmed that a ticket is a revocable license granted by the team or venue to that individual. As it is, teams are free to place restrictions on how the license can be used or resold.

"What the bill does is basically tell a business that you don't have control over your product," said Wayne Maloney, lobbyist for the Florida Facilities Managers Association. The organization, which represents Florida stadiums, arenas, amphitheaters, tracks and the like, is opposed to the legislation.

"Why shouldn't they be allowed to control their product when they're the ones who have all the risk?" Malone said.

Ron Pierce, a lobbyist for the Tampa Sports Authority, warned TSA board members last week that the bill would be a hindrance to their organization as well. The taxpayer-funded TSA owns and operates Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the University of South Florida Bulls.

The Tampa Bay Times asked the bay area's professional sports franchises to comment on the proposed legislation. They didn't say much.

Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett said the front office will "monitor any pending and active legislation that could affect the organization, fans of the Lightning and guests of Amalie Arena." But Wickett would not comment on the individual bill. The team isn't actively lobbying any bills in Tallahassee, he said.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tampa Bay Rays did not respond to requests for comment.

Both sides of the "Ticket Wars" claim to be advocating for free markets. Moskowitz said lifting the restrictions on resales would let consumers decide the price of tickets.

But Maloney said the brokers and resale websites already compete in a free market to win the business of sports teams and venues. Ticketmaster, for example, operates the resale interface for many Florida sports franchises and entertainment sites. Teams steer ticket holders looking to sell their seats to Ticketmaster, and the company and the teams profit off the secondary market sales.

The Lightning has partnered with Dynasty Sports and Entertainment, a consulting and ticket-resale company, to handle the team's broker and resale business. All those tickets are sold exclusively on Ticketmaster.

StubHub, meanwhile, facilitates the secondary market for ticket holders independent of the teams. StubHub spokesman Cameron Papp said the company is watching the Florida legislation, but had no comment on it.

The StubHub vs. Ticketmaster battle is playing out nationally as well. StubHub was dealt a blow late last year when a federal judge threw out its antitrust lawsuit against the NBA's Golden State Warriors and Ticketmaster. StubHub is appealing.

As it is, Moskowitz doesn't expect his bill will bring closure to this hotly contested issue. And, just like a bill last year favoring Ticketmaster — which barred people from using bots and computer programs to snatch up tickets en masse — he expects it won't pass the Legislature. The bill is languishing in the House Business and Professions Subcommittee and an identical Senate bill hasn't moved much at all since it was filed.

"They've tried legislative solutions, and they've tried legal solutions. This continues the conversation," Moskowitz said. "It keeps the two sides talking. That's where it's at at the moment."

Contact Steve Contorno at scontorno@tampabay.com. Follow @scontorno.