I thought Ticketmaster was the most hated company in America, but it turns out to have had some competition for that title in recent years. It lost last year to AT&T, Bank of America, Walmart and Electronic Arts, the maker of digital games.
The Consumerist, a savvy blog affiliated with Consumer Reports, conducts surveys every year and declares "The Most Hated Company in America" each spring. Ticketmaster is always in the running. The financial crisis of 2007-2008 crowded the field with Bank of America, AIG and Countrywide Financial. Otherwise, Ticketmaster might well have compiled a streak of first-place finishes, especially after its obnoxious 2010 merger with concert promoter Live Nation.
Of course, you're hip to all this. Only the most ardent free-market disciples say anything kind about Ticketmaster. Ayn Rand would have loved its business model.
But Ticketmaster is widely despised because of the outrageously high and arbitrary "convenience fees" it charges for the online purchase of tickets — even, at one time, on free tickets to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Everyone who has used the service to avoid standing in line for concert tickets has a Ticketmaster horror story.
That was true of one Andre Bourgeois, with one exception: He had the will to do something about it.
Bourgeois is the Baltimorean who had the audacity to take Ticketmaster to court after he was charged $12 in user fees on a $52 ticket to see a Jackson Browne concert at the Lyric in 2009.
Bourgeois cited a city ordinance that prohibits a ticket seller from selling a ticket to an event at more than 50 cents above face value. That prohibition has been on the books for 65 years. Who can forget when the Orioles, with Peter Angelos as the team's new owner, wanted it fully enforced? He paid for a four-man undercover police detail to crack down on scalpers outside Camden Yards.
It was 1994, and I distinctly remember the poor schnook who'd been arrested for trying to sell a couple of O's tickets for $10 each. He'd purchased the tickets for $8 each and had paid Ticketmaster another $4 for the pair. He just wanted his money back. Instead, he spent most of the night in the Central District lockup. His car had been towed, at a cost of $125. He paid $25 for a cab ride home. He faced a $250 fine for scalping.
That year, the Baltimore City Council increased the fine to $1,000 and, following Angelos' orders, made scalping illegal within a mile of Camden Yards.
So, there's history here. The council has supported efforts to limit scalping in Baltimore for decades. The tradition goes back to 1948, when the council tried to discourage profiteering on tickets to a big Navy football game at the old Municipal Stadium (the forerunner to Memorial Stadium) on 33rd Street.
Now here comes Andre Bourgeois to say: By charging exorbitant "convenience fees," Ticketmaster is violating the city's anti-scalping ordinance.
And, in my book, he's saying something more: "Why should a schnook who sells an Orioles ticket at a little profit go to jail while Ticketmaster gets a pass?"
A court ruled in Bourgeois' favor last month. The takeaway was simple. In our heroic plaintiff's words: "The face price of the ticket has to be what the ticket actually costs."
Now, what's our ever-vigilant City Council set to do in the wake of the court decision?
Well, forget the Alamo. Nobody's making a stand here, folks.
In fact, the council, whose members have scored free tickets to all kinds of events for years, is poised to allow Ticketmaster and similar companies to continue to charge their eye-popping fees.
The Ravens want this. The Orioles want this. Apparently other entertainment venues want this. And even the mayor wants this. Apparently none of them sees a future in taking a stand against the despicable practice of gouging people for convenience fees.
Too bad, because there's an opportunity here to do something consumer-friendly and extravagantly popular — cut out the ridiculous middleman between sports teams and entertainment venues and their customers.
Ticketmaster should be relegated to the trash heap. It doesn't seem to be necessary anymore, not in the 21st century.
The Orioles, Ravens, Lyric, Hippodrome — really, any major sports franchise or performing arts venue — should think about breaking their associations with out-of-state, third-party ticket vendors and establishing their own websites and applications for sales. How hard can that be in 2013? There are plenty of brainy entrepreneurs, web developers right here in the Baltimore region, who would love the opportunity to customize online sales operations. Customers would still be charged a convenience fee, but it would be modest and acceptable.
Certainly there are ways to break ties with one of the most hated companies in America. There just needs to be the will to make a stand, right here in Baltimore.
Correction: The estimated number of bottled or canned beverages sold in Maryland annually was incorrectly reported in my column of Feb. 24. The estimate is 4 billion, according to Del. Maggie McIntosh of Baltimore. I regret the error.