Marlins, others need to play fair with ticket holders

This column originally appeared in the Sun Sentinel on September 6th, 2016:

Nick Barbella is a lifelong Marlins fan and season ticketholder. He'd love to attend every home game but he's also a husband, a father to a toddler and last summer, his wife was expecting their second child. Attending every game isn't possible. This past month he was denied renewal of his season tickets because he resold "too many" tickets to games he couldn't attend.

Barbella likely thought putting another fan in his otherwise empty seats would be better for everyone as it would help him recover some costs, and help the players play in front of a couple less empty seats. Concessions benefit when fans are in the stadium. But no, the Marlins will not accept this fan's money.

However, this isn't just a story about Nick or the Marlins. Today, the most devoted fans are being threatened by teams for reselling some of their tickets outside of teams' reach. Locally, the Miami Dolphins have done the same.

The primary ticket market, comprised of teams, box offices, management companies, artists, and large corporate ticket issuers, are restricting the purchase, sale and transfer of tickets, which punishes the most vested fans. In an open market, if you purchase a ticket, you can do whatever you would like with it. Yet, perhaps from observing a healthy secondary resale market for tickets, these large, powerful players in the multibillion dollar primary market want in. They are moving to seize control from ticket holders and professional secondary market resellers in the name of more profit.

In addition to cancelling season ticket accounts, another dangerous trend is the use of restrictive so –called "paperless ticketing."

They pitch paperless as a convenience for fans or as a way to fight some massive phony ticket scheme that isn't as widespread as they suggest. In practice, paperless ticketing means showing up in person and waiting in line with the credit card and corresponding ID used to purchase the tickets. Very often venues cannot handle using "paperless tickets," since it pushes ticket holders to wait in endless lines at will-call instead of a using a print-at-home ticket.

It's not uncommon for fans to still be waiting in line as a game or show gets underway. Just look at what happened in late July at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. USA Basketball is refunding some 500 tickets because the paperless system failed and so many fans were unable to get inside for the game. It's not about convenience, obviously, and it's not about fraud prevention. It's about preventing you from giving away or selling your ticket if you want to, at the price you choose to accept, on a website of your choosing.

Teams will take offense to my revelation by pointing to an easy-to-use ticket resale site they encourage ticketholders to use. I call these sites "walled cities." The team owns or sets the terms inside the walls of these exchanges, and they often charge more fees even though fees were paid during the initial purchase. Some set minimum resale prices too, which neglect actual market value. If someone is willing to sell a ticket for $15, you should be able to buy that ticket for $15 - not some higher price fixed by the team.

The truth is a lot of tickets on the resale market can only fetch prices below face value. That's better than a total loss and an empty seat, right? And if a ticketholder resells his or her ticket and it can command more than they paid, that's okay too because it's the basic principle of supply and demand competition.

The Marlins set an arbitrary 30 percent limit to the number of season tickets they will permit you to resell before cancelling your account. This should not be tolerated. Whether it's one game's worth of tickets, or every game, the team was paid full price for the season ticket package. Imagine if car dealerships suddenly required car owners to only resell their cars back at the dealership and at minimum prices the dealer sets – it wouldn't take long for the public to demand change.

Actions to restrict the purchase, sale and transfer of tickets like these by the Marlins and other teams lack transparency, harm open market competition, and punish the most vested ticket holders. It is no wonder fans are speaking out and want these practices to end. And it smacks of hypocrisy that the Marlins, and other teams across the country, rely on local governments and taxpayers to help finance their stadiums yet they turn around and restrict taxpayers' ability to resell their tickets.

Unless the Marlins end this unfair practice, local lawmakers and taxpayers should demand the team return every penny it has received from the public. Other teams should do the same. This is a central mission of the Protect Ticket Rights campaign (, an initiative seeking to advance solutions to ensure harmful practices in the ticketing system do not get worse.

The Marlins can fix this wrong easily and quickly. It will result in more fans in seats. This is what happens when the ticket resale market is left open and allowed to function freely.

Gary Adler is Executive Director and Counsel of the National Association of Ticket Brokers (NATB).

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