Ticketmaster fees are a necessary evil

Our view: Nobody likes Ticketmaster fees, but 50 cents is an unreasonable limit

March 04, 2013

It's safe to say that Ticketmaster doesn't have many fans. The service, which handles ticket sales for venues large and small across the nation, charges fees on its transactions that seem to bear little relationship to either the cost of the tickets or the actual work the company does. We completely sympathize, then, with the Baltimore concert-goer who took the company to court and successfully argued that its fees violate a 1948 Baltimore law limiting extra charges to 50 cents per ticket.

However, we also agree with City Councilman Carl Stokes, who is shepherding through legislation that would sidestep the court verdict by temporarily exempting Ticketmaster from the law. A council committee approved the legislation Thursday, and it could be voted on by the whole body this month. A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says she supports the measure. Ticketmaster's current fees may be too high, but 50 cents is too low, and it will take the council time to figure out a happy medium.

In the meantime, the stakes involved in letting this decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals stand are too high. Many of Baltimore's museums and concert venues rely on Ticketmaster to handle their sales, and if Ticketmaster refused to do business in Baltimore, the economic impact would be large. The Orioles season is about to start, and while they rely on a Ticketmaster competitor, they, too, could be left in the lurch if this decision stands.

Mr. Stokes' bill would sunset in November, and during that time the council and Mayor Rawlings-Blake's administration should research the laws governing Ticketmaster and its competitors in other cities and states and craft legislation that protects consumers without harming those who rely on the convenience these companies provide. The city would also be wise not to lock itself into a fixed rate for ticket service fees, lest it find itself in the same situation again a few decades hence.

Some critics of Mr. Stokes' bill have complained that it's unfair to exempt large corporations from the anti-scalping law but to leave it in place for individuals. They're right about that. What's good for one should be good for the other, and the legislation the city eventually adopts should reflect that. However, it makes sense in the meantime to maintain what had been the status quo before the court ruling. Even if there is no legal limit on the fees Ticketmaster can charge, the company is limited by its agreements with Baltimore entertainment venues. That is not true of individual ticket scalpers.

Baltimore should seek to protect consumers from exorbitant ticket fees, but a law designed to cut down on post-World War II scalping of Navy football tickets is not the right mechanism to do it. Ticketmaster and its competitors are 21st century businesses, and they need to be governed by 21st century laws.

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