OpEd: Ticketmaster Paperless Tickets Are Anti-Consumer

Consumer League of New Jersey President Bob Russo says new ticket plan is new ploy by company to take more of fans' hard-earned money.

On Monday, July 2, New Jersey will welcome Iron Maiden to the Prudential Center in Newark. But before lucky concertgoers take their seats, all fans need to know about the latest anti-consumer practice that could potentially turn the concert into a disaster.

The problem dates back to 2009 when Ticketmaster directed Bruce Springsteen fans to Ticketmaster’s “TicketsNow” website that was selling his concert tickets for more than three times face value. While many public officials condemned this practice, and a class-action lawsuit won concessions from Ticketmaster, it now appears that Ticketmaster is trying another ploy to capture more fans’ hard-earned money.

Ticketmaster has embraced a mechanism called “paperless” tickets. This concept requires ticket purchasers to present the credit card they used to buy their tickets as well as valid photo identification in order to gain admission to a live sporting event or concert. In fact, select seats at Monday’s Iron Maiden concert will be restricted, paperless tickets. What concertgoers need to know now is that “paperless ticketing” is a deceptive industry term designed to force fans into a system where the original ticket issuer restricts or prohibits the transfer of the very tickets a fan bought and now owns.

There are two types of “paperless” tickets offered by primary ticket issuers. First, there are “nontransferable tickets” which, as the name implies, prohibits the original purchaser from transferring his or her tickets completely. This helps venues put a price-floor on ticket seats ensuring the venue maximum value (e.g. no bargain prices for premium tickets before the nosebleed section sells out). Then there are “transfer-restricted tickets” that allow Ticketmaster to charge another one of their unfair convenience fees. Transfer-restricted tickets force the consumer into a closed-loop system where tickets are only transferable through a Ticketmaster-owned service such as TicketsNow or TicketExchange. No matter which ticket you get, Ticketmaster and other ticket issuers get a chance to squeeze the fans for more money.

Paperless tickets can be a nightmare for the average fan who cannot make an event due to unforeseen circumstances. If a fan gets sick the night of the Iron Maiden show, a restrictive, paperless ticket means the fan can’t just give the ticket to his friend. How about if a group of friends purchased paperless tickets using one person’s credit card? No one can gain entry to the show without the original purchaser present with her ID and credit card. So your group runs the risk of missing the opening act while waiting for your friend and her MasterCard at Dinsoaur’s BBQ. And if families wanted to buy Yankees tickets online at a price below face value, restrictive ticketing would allow the original ticket seller, such as Ticketmaster, to place an artificial price floor on these great deals.

Non-transferrable tickets can even impact the nonprofit community because season ticket holders would be unable to easily donate tickets to a charity for a fundraising auction. Simply put, restrictive paperless tickets “restrict” a ticket owner’s generosity.

So why is Ticketmaster putting their customers through a proverbial gauntlet just to see their favorite acts perform? Because Ticketmaster and Live Nation want complete control of the ticket market. Could you imagine if General Motors dictated to whom and for how much their vehicles could be resold after consumers purchase and drive their car home? 

It’s unfair, and in New Jersey, state Sens. Raymond Lesniak and Robert W. Singer, and Assem. Vincent Prieto, have sponsored legislation to prohibit the practice. The Consumers League of New Jersey was proud to join nonprofits, season ticketholders, business groups and other consumer advocates to advance this bill in the state Legislature, but more action is needed in the Senate and Assembly to make this pro-consumer bill law.

Until that time, as the state’s consumer protection watchdog, Consumers League of New Jersey has to shine some light on these ticketing practices of Ticketmaster. By all accounts, restrictive, paperless tickets are an anti-consumer practice masquerading as something else. On behalf of Consumers League, I want fans to take a good look at the source of their “paperless tickets” before heading into Monday’s show.

Bob Russo is President of Consumers League of New Jersey, the State’s oldest independent consumer watchdog, which has fought to protect interests of consumers since 1900. Russo has previously served as director of the Lemon Law at N.J. Division of Consumer Affairs.

Anthony June 29, 2012 at 11:05 AM
what this article fails to point out is the benefits of paperless tickets. As one who tried for the springsteen tickets in 2009 mentioned in this article I can tell you something went wrong big time...the scalpers and secondary ticket sites got all the good seats. fast forward to 2012 for the springsteen tickets but this time there were paperless tickets in use- there were less issues and almost none of the best seats were on the secondary ticket sites. as a fan that is something i loved seeing as i know that the scalpers were not able to get the good seats and most importantly they went to fans. i also think when it comes to the larger events (yankee games and concerts at stadiums) there are almost none if any at all paperless tickets sold. yes ticketmaster is charging these high fees but they are charging them for both regular tickets and paperless tickets. are paperless tickets the perfect solution? no, but they are a step in the right direction by preventing scalpers from getting the good tickets and giving the everyday fan an equal shot at getting the tickets come on sale day. i have bought paperless tickets on twice and i will not hesitate to buy them again.
Chris Rekis June 29, 2012 at 01:15 PM
I have no idea how the US Justice Department determined that TicketMaster was not monopolistic. Another example of "Inside Job"
Exchequer June 29, 2012 at 01:24 PM
Ticketmaster will do anything for a buck. Thank god for people like the Consumers League. Are they part of Consumer Reports?
disagree June 29, 2012 at 03:59 PM
i understand where you are coming from but i actually support this. i am a big music fan and go to atleast one show a month. the past year i have been paying 2-3 times as much as the tickets are worth. i get emails telling me when tickets go on sale for bands i like. within in seconds all of those tickets are bought by scalpers. i then have to go on stub hub and spend an absurd amount for tickets that just went on sale a minute ago. i realize paperless tickets may not be the best solution, but to me additional fees and risking missing the show because of an emergency is better than paying a scalper $100 for a ticket that cost $25
Townie June 29, 2012 at 04:51 PM
I agree with Anthony. This is a valuable service. People expect something for nothing. As Beanlady explains there are workarounds when purchasing tickets for others, which was the main negative issue I took away from Bob Russo's writeup. I agree it is unfair for someone who suddenly cannot attend (contractual agreement notwithstanding, ROC). Why not start with a letter writing campaign to encourage the company to allow someone with a paperless ticket to hop online, validate themselves with the credit card, then reassign the ticket? When you take the approach of state-by-state legislation, it offers mostly offers blowhards a chance to do what they do best. These live shows are costly entertainment always have been. And live shows are a healthy part of the industry, not sure what Michael Brancato is talking about when he writes that "the music industry is slowly dying." It is changing, sure, but artists are finding a way, mostly by touring.


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