June 6, 2023
Governor Polis Protects Live Event Consumers in Colorado, Vetoes Flawed Ticketmaster Bill
Consumer Advocates Warn the Bill Would Have Permitted Deceptive Ticket Sales; Encourage Lawmakers to Revisit Issue Next Year
Denver, CO - Today, in dealing a victory in the name of consumer protection, Colorado Governor Jared Polis vetoed SB23-060. Though it included some good provisions, this legislation would have given permission to live event ticketing giants Ticketmaster and AXS to deceive consumers when tickets go on sale by creating fake scarcity, and turning a blind eye to illegal software bots that scoop up tickets before humans can instead of reporting their usage to law enforcement. It also contained a loophole that could have handed Ticketmaster, AXS and event venues the ability to cancel, revoke, or otherwise invalidate tickets they already sold for various reasons - a unique power in the market that other ticketing companies argue could harm consumers by making them fearful to buy tickets from another ticketing company even if they find better tickets at a lower price.
“We are thrilled that Governor Polis decided to protect consumers by vetoing SB23-060,” said Brian Hess, Executive Director of Sports Fans Coalition. “Despite its name, the legislation didn’t go far enough to protect consumers, as evidenced by the stripping of several vital consumer protections from the bill. This is why consumer and fan advocates called for a veto, and we are grateful Governor Polis agreed. We look forward to working with lawmakers and the Governor next year to create a true consumer protection bill.”
“We applaud Governor Polis for recognizing that fans in Colorado deserve real reform that begins to fix a broken live event industry,” said John Breyault, Vice President Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud for the National Consumers League. “This legislation would have handed disproportional new power to Ticketmaster, AXS, and event venues over the consumers who already pay too much to attend live events. We look forward to working with all stakeholders in the Colorado live event ecosystem to craft a bill that puts fans first.”
“While under the auspice of consumer protection, consumer advocates were never consulted during the legislative process. In fact, industry opposed many of the protections we sought to include in SB23-060, such as holdback disclosures and bots reporting” said Erin Witte, Director of Consumer Protection for Consumer Federation of America. “Thank you Governor Polis for seeing through the bill’s misnomer and protecting Colorado’s consumers.”
“Fans across Colorado thank Governor Polis for vetoing this anti-fan and anti-consumer legislation. States from coast to coast are looking at passing laws that protect consumers from the monopolistic actions of Live Nation - not finding ways to protect major monopolies. We encourage Colorado to look at legislation like California’s AB 8 and SB 829 which protects fans from predatory and deceptive practices and prohibits exclusive contracts for ticketing respectively. Bills like these are truly consumer friendly,” said Chris VanDeHoef, President of the Fan Freedom Project.
“Through his veto, Governor Polis is doing the right thing by encouraging the Legislature to come up with a better, fans first bill for Colorado, so that from the moment tickets go on sale it is done in a more transparent way with no secret holdbacks or hidden fees, and so that ticketholders can freely use, give away, or sell their purchased tickets if they choose without fear that their tickets will get revoked,” said Gary Adler, Executive Director of Protect Ticket Rights.
The original draft of Senate Bill 23-060 while titled “Consumer Protection in Event Ticketing Sales” was not designed to protect consumers. Instead, it cleverly consolidated power to favor the ticketing duopoly of Ticketmaster and AXS to the detriment of the very “consumers” the bill claimed to protect. These were the companies that pushed for the legislation and participated in its initial drafting. The Colorado House of Representatives amended the bill to include two vital consumer protections – the disclosure of deceptive “ticket holdbacks” that involve tickets secretly not being made available when tickets go on sale to the public, and the reporting of illegal software bot usage when buying tickets. Lawmakers later removed these vital consumer protections and transparency measures before sending the final legislation to the Governor for his signature or veto. This action led to consumer advocates rescinding their support.
Requiring price transparency through all in, upfront pricing along with banning the use of deceptive websites or URLs that mislead consumers into believing they are visiting the website of the event venue, team, or music artist when they are not, are laudable requirements included in SB23-60. These along with other much-needed transparency and ticket holder protections should be the basis of legislation in 2024 and ideally the legislative process will put the consumer at its core and not once again seek to favor certain corporate players in the live event system over others.
Ticket holdbacks are deceptive: Sellers withhold up to HALF of all tickets for shows.
This is a well-documented problem that has been investigated by the US GAO, New York Attorney General, and the City and County of Honolulu. It is not uncommon for up to half of the tickets for an event to be secretly held back from the public when tickets go on sale. This scheme was a huge problem for the Taylor Swift tour, as was documented by the Wall Street Journal. The Journal estimated that 94% of Swift tickets were held back for those with special or exclusive access. Yet while Ticketmaster initially claimed tickets had sold out, Ticketmaster continues to send out access codes for held back Taylor Swift tickets.
Aside from the highly popular Swift tour, this deceptive industry scheme is pervasive across events and creates fake scarcity to induce a ticket-buying frenzy so that consumers panic, and in believing there are scarce tickets left, feel compelled to buy immediately. Consumers without special or exclusive access to pre-sales are abused during the public on-sale of tickets, where they may miss work and spend hours in an online waiting room only to be left with intentionally opaque options. When the true inventory of tickets is not presented to fans, they are not capable of making the best possible purchase decision.
Recent polling commissioned by the Sports Fans Coalition and conducted by RBI Research & Strategies found that nearly 9 in 10 voters (88%) support a requirement of ticket companies to disclose the true inventory of tickets.
Ticket Bots are Illegal and Should Be Reported to Law Enforcement
Software bots used to purchase tickets may certainly be a problem, but they are also an easy scapegoat for Ticketmaster and AXS. These corporations blame bots for ruining the fan experience, but the fact is federal law already prohibits the use of bots to buy tickets to events. This law has only been enforced once, however, because these ticket sellers are not reporting this insidious activity to law enforcement. Due to their substantial size in the marketplace, these companies are in the best position to stop bots by coordinating with law enforcement, and reporting requirements are a logical step to improving the fan experience. Unfortunately, a requirement to report bot usage to law enforcement was removed from SB23-060 at the request of corporate actors in the event system before the bill was finalized and sent to the governor.
February 16, 2023 op-ed in Colorado Politics by National Consumers League and Sports Fans Coalition.
March 27, 2023 letter to Colorado lawmakers announcing consumer advocate support of SB23-060 provided amendments remain intact.
April 26, 2023 open letter by Ticket Buyer Bill of Rights to the State Senate, encouraging adoption of consumer protection amendments added in the State House of Representatives.
May 3, 2023 press release by Ticket Buyers Bill of Rights calling for veto.
May 8, 2023 op-ed in Denver Post by Consumer Federation of America and Sports Fans Coalition calling for veto.
May 30, 2023 public opinion polling by RBI Strategies (which found 88% of Colorado voters want deceptive ticket holdbacks to be disclosed to consumers).
The Ticket Buyer Bill of Rights Coalition was founded in February 2023 by leading consumer and fan advocacy organizations to offer a framework for ticketing legislation that can improve the market that serves millions of fans each year. The Bill of Rights features five pillars; The Right to Transferability, The Right to Transparency, The Right to Set the Price, The Right to a Fair Marketplace and The Right to Recourse. www.ticketbuyerbillofrights.org. The Ticket Buyer’s Bill of Rights has been endorsed by National Consumers League, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Federation of California Consumer Action, National Association of Consumer Advocates, Public Knowledge, Sports Fans Coalition, Virginia Citizen Consumer Council, Protect Ticket Rights, and Fan Freedom.
A web version of this release is available here.