Big news for professional football fans was made public recently. A policy by the National Football League (“NFL”) that limited ticket holders’ ability to resell their tickets on their own terms is now banned. As part of a multi-state Settlement Agreement with the Attorneys General of New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Florida and the District of Columbia, the NFL agreed to halt its league-wide “price floor” policy that artificially restricted the resale price of NFL tickets in the secondary market. In addition, the Settlement Agreement prohibits the NFL from directing or requiring ticketing practices among teams that are designed to preclude fans from using competing exchanges. This is an important precedent, and certainly a win for consumers and fans. This Settlement Agreement is a step in the right direction toward protecting ticket rights.
The Attorneys General launched an investigation earlier this year that looked into whether the NFL’s ticketing policies, including the policies associated with “price floors” on exchanges, breached state antitrust laws. This investigation came as fans and our Protect Ticket Rights campaign began speaking out more publicly about these unfair practices. Earlier this month, a column in The Times Union noted how in Ohio and other states, “ticket sellers can prohibit resale, can prohibit tickets from being transferred to friends or family members, or can even tell you that your tickets must be sold for a certain price.”
In announcing the Settlement Agreement, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said:
“No sports fan should be forced to buy, or sell, a ticket at an artificially inflated price. Under the NFL’s price floor scheme, fans were forced to pay inflated prices for even the least desirable NFL games. That is a slap to both sports fans and free markets. My office will continue to fight for the rights of sports fans and concertgoers by ensuring that secondary markets are free and competitive. In the meantime, I encourage every NFL team – and every team in professional sports – to heed the call of all sports fans and remove price floors from every team-authorized secondary ticket market.”
“With the resolution of this matter, NFL football fans should benefit from a more competitive marketplace,” Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi pointed out in reaction to the Settlement Agreement. Pennsylvania Attorney General Bruce R. Beemer said, “We believe this policy could have resulted in ticket prices rising above their true market value.”
The National Association of Ticket Brokers (“NATB”) could not agree more. “Price floors” and exclusive resale exchanges owned or controlled by leagues or teams where terms are mandated are just some of many restrictive ticketing practices we see in the secondary marketplace. The primary ticket market, which includes teams, venues, artists, promoters and large corporate ticket issuers, is restricting the purchase, sale and transfer of tickets, which punishes even the most vested fans. We applaud the work of these Attorneys General for their commitment to end these practices that are against the public interest.
NATB believes in an open secondary resale market, where ticket holders can continue to resell tickets on the ticket exchanges of their choice at actual market value and not at an arbitrary minimum set by a league or team that was already paid its full asking price in the initial sale.
This Settlement Agreement is a major victory for open markets, however, there is more to be done. This Settlement Agreement only applies to the NFL on a league-wide basis. NFL teams may “unilaterally” impose their own floors, but would need to make clear this is a team-level decision.
The Baltimore Ravens is an example of a team more focused on delivering a unique VIP experience for its season ticket holders as a means to recruit more of them versus competing with or choking the resale market. The team’s Vice President of Ticket Sales indicated in a November Baltimore Sun article that the Ravens organization does not support minimum prices in its exchange. Baltimore Ravens season ticket holder and council president of Raven Roosts fan clubs, Jim McCain, said “The key for fans is having a choice of sites on which to buy or sell tickets.”
The ticketing environment is changing on an almost daily basis. The more we and others do to call attention to anti-consumer practices by leagues and teams that are not in the public interest, the better. This is at the core of our very important Protect Ticket Rights initiative (www.ProtectTicketRights.org).