Ticket agency practices price fans, state out of the games

August 18, 2005|By Emily Arnold

I AM POISED at my high-speed computer ready to buy the first available single-game Ravens tickets from Ticketmaster.com. I enter the number and select the "any price" option from "any section."

"There are no tickets available that match your request," I read from the screen.

I try again. None available. A minute after they have gone on sale, all Baltimore Ravens tickets have sold out.

I am hardly alone in my unsuccessful attempt to buy tickets at their face value. Just like last year.

But I don't have to worry about finding tickets, only paying for them. That's because I can rest assured that the bulk of the thousands of tickets available for every game have been purchased by a third-party ticket agency. And this ticket "agency" - not to be confused with some scalper on the street - is willing to sell me that same ticket for no less than three or four times its face value.

This scenario is familiar to many and, as the football season approaches and the ticket auction begins, Marylanders should protect their consumer rights.

It is legal in Maryland for ticket agencies to purchase the bulk of available tickets and resell them to the public at a cost considerably higher than face value. The public is thus unable to buy the tickets before they are sold out to these agencies and is forced to pay exorbitant amounts.

The result: remarkable revenue for these legal "scalpers" and unprotected, embittered fans.

This kind of ticket selling is becoming increasingly practical and profitable for ticket agencies as auction Web sites help them gain access to the fans that weren't able to buy tickets the first time.

To demonstrate, I researched the ticket price of the Oct. 2 Ravens vs. Jets home game. I shopped for Section 150, Row 26 with six different ticket providers, including the Baltimore Ravens Ticketing Office, which priced this row of seats at $80 each.

As of July 21, five ticket agencies offered these seats at prices ranging from $329 to $365. Inventory levels for many brokers were proudly displayed. For this game alone, Coast To Coast Tickets, based in Austin, Texas, had 1,324 tickets available in a wide range of sections and at a variety of prices - a week before they went on sale to the public. There's no indication of how it does that.

Further, many ticket agencies are buying Personal Seat Licenses from their owners, even using the same competitive bidding to buy spots on the PSL waiting list. They already control the ticket market. What can stop them from owning every seat in the house?

The New York Bureau of Investor Protection and Securities, in a report on ticket distribution practices, says, "The price that tickets to popular events command in the marketplace belongs to the performers, producers and investors who create events, not the speculators who through illegality and deception take advantage of the excess demand in the system.

"Ticket scalping is sometimes referred to as a `victimless' crime. To the contrary, the victims of the current ticket distribution system are the fans, the producers and investors who create events and the State of New York, which loses both tax revenues and credibility as the entertainment center of the world."

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, many states, including California and Connecticut, prohibit the reselling of tickets, considering it a crime classified as a misdemeanor. Where reselling is legal, the ticket agency must be licensed and regulated by the state, which gets the licensing fees.

Some states such as Georgia, Rhode Island and Massachusetts also restrict the resale value of tickets, often limiting the seller to no more than $3 over the price stamped on the ticket.

Baltimore has fought long and hard to get a football team, and now it has one of the most successful franchises in the country. Its taxpayers, not ticket brokers, should be capitalizing on such an asset. Why let Baltimore's revenue leave the city and go into the pockets of these scalpers?

Ticket reselling in Maryland is anti-consumer because it forces fans to pay inflated prices. It is anti-community because it puts revenue from the area into the pockets of outside agencies. The system is pro-scalper, pro-trickery and pro-income.

Isn't it time for the Maryland General Assembly to follow other states and act against ticket agencies and on behalf of Maryland citizens?

Emily Arnold is a Baltimore resident.

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