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Pressure on Ticketmaster grows after CBC’s TradeDesk exposé

World News
October 31, 2018

NORTH AMERICA             

The furore over the close relationship Ticketmaster (TM) has with professional ticket touts and scalpers has not died down since undercover reporters in Canada revealed how its TradeDesk software helps resellers manage inventory on TM sites.

The joint Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and Toronto Star investigation (see Audience, issue 224) filmed a TradeDesk staff member explaining how touts used multiple accounts to handle ticket resales, contrary to the company’s official policy.

CBC has since obtained leaked emails from artiste managers Paul Crockford, who represents Mark Knopfler, Adam Tudhope (Mumford & Sons) and Richard Jones (Pixies) to TM  on the day the story broke.

Crockford, refering to an earlier discussion in London, emailed TM president Jared Smith, saying “the impression given, from your side was that TM do not support or engage with industrial sellers … was this all just b*****ks for public consumption when, in fact, you are taking a hypocritical and unprincipled stance and actually assisting scalpers?”

Smith responded, “The answer is no. The press has completely misrepresented what TradeDesk is and who uses it. Neither it nor we facilitate mass purchase of tickets by brokers or anyone else. To be absolutely clear our priority is the artiste and your fan.”

Adam Tudhope

Tudhope, one of the managers copied on Crockford’s email, asked TM executive vice-president David Marcus, who took over the correspondence, “From where do the brokers whom you’re providing this [TradeDesk] tool for get their tickets? Why be in the business of facilitating brokers at all?”

Talking to CBC News, Tudhope later said, “The most important thing, from our point of view is to keep the fans as informed as possible, and to encourage them at every turn not to buy from secondary websites, which is where scalpers and brokers ply their trade.”

Pixies manager Jones, who was also copied on the Crockford email, added “They are a conflicted company … the more the ticket is, the more they earn from the fees. So if a ticket is sold once, two times, three times [on TM sites] at inflated prices, they get a greater percentage for each ticket.”

TM and parent company Live Nation Entertainment are not commenting on the managers’ emails.

Tudhope was a founding member of artiste manager-funded FanFair Alliance in the UK, supported by Crockford, Jones and the managers of Ed Sheeran, Adele and Iron Maiden among many others, which campaigns against industrial-scale ticket touting.

Political pressures

National Democratic Party MP Brian Masse has called for his government to launch an investigation into TM’s activities.

“Canadian consumers should not have to rely on investigative journalism to be protected from uncompetitive and potentially illegal practices in any sector of the economy,” says Masse in a letter to minister of innovation, science and economic development Navdeep Bains.

Masse has also sent a letter to the industry committee, asking it to call the head of TM Canada to testify.

A Competition Bureau investigation into LNE and TM is already underway, over allegations that they “employ deceptive marketing practices”, including “drip pricing” — that can inflate the face price of a seat by more than 60 per cent.

Meanwhile in the US, congressman Bill Pascrell Jr has asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to widen its investigation in LNE, reported in the New York Times, to cover “additional monopolistic abuses resulting in higher [ticket] prices and anti-competitive market distortions, like … colluding with scalpers.”

In a 5 October letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Pascrell also asks whether the DOJ will be investigating “potential violations to the 2010 consent agreement” under which promoter and venue owner Live Nation was allowed to merge with Ticketmaster to form LNE.

Pascrell was an early critic of the merger, and repeatedly urged the Obama administration to reject it, warning that the union would crush competition and harm consumers.

The previous year, he was behind the introduction of the BOSS Act (Better Oversight of Secondary Sales and Accountability in Concert Ticketing). The move followed an incident in which Bruce Springsteen fans were directed by TM to its secondary platform where tickets were listed at inflated prices, despite face-value tickets still being available via its primary site.

In the letter, Pascrell points out that TM is the largest ticket agency in the US, with “more than 80 per cent of market share in 2008, and still the market leader as of 2017” and “also holds the second-largest [after StubHub] market share of secondary ticket sales as of 2016”.

He also notes, “In 2009, before the merger, Live Nation’s then-CEO Irving Azoff told the Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee that he believed ‘scalping and resale should be illegal’.”

In another political intervention, responding to written questions from senators Jerry Moran and Richard Blumenthal (see Audience, issue 224) to LNE co-president and CEO Michael Rapino, following the CBC/Toronto Star exposé, TM president Jared Smith was emphatic in his 5 October response.

“Ticketmaster does not have, and has never had, any product or program that allows ticket scalpers, or anyone else, to buy tickets ahead of fans and circumvent the policies we have on our site  regarding on-line ticket purchasing limits.”

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