Pa. bills to respond to Swiftie ticket woes could have unintended consequences, advocates warn

The bills would ban bots and restrict speculative ticketing, but consumer groups warn they could hurt concertgoers’ ability to buy and sell tickets on the secondary market.

Rob Matzie speaking at a podium

Pennsylvania State Rep. Rob Matzie (D., Beaver) is backing a bill to restrict speculative ticketing. (Commonwealth Media Services)

This story originally appeared on Spotlight PA.

Following a summer of extreme sticker shock among concertgoers seeking to see megastars like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, Pennsylvania policymakers are considering legislation that would restrict deceptive ticket sales practices.

But consumer advocates and the tech lobby argue that as written, the bills may reinforce Ticketmaster’s monopoly on the live events industry and hurt concertgoers’ ability to buy and sell tickets to their favorite shows on the secondary market.

One state House lawmaker wants to ban the use of bots to purchase tickets or other products, while another representative has introduced legislation that would restrict speculative ticketing, which is when a reseller markets tickets that they do not own at the time of sale but hope to acquire before the event.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Both bills are supported by Ticketmaster, which merged in 2010 with events promoter Live Nation amid federal scrutiny and gained a 70% market share in the ticket-selling industry.

That share extends to the secondary market. According to a 2022 regulatory filing, the company handled $4.5 billion in ticket resales that year, more than double its total from 2019.

The legislation awaits consideration in the state House Consumer Protection, Technology & Utilities Committee. State Rep. Rob Matzie (D., Beaver), the committee’s chair, told Spotlight PA he plans to hold votes on the bills in the coming weeks as the chamber returns to session.

“We’re not against secondary sellers,” Matzie said. “But we’re just against this part of that business model, because of what it does to consumers.”

While the globe-trotting tours of Beyoncé and Swift shined a light on ticket sales, high prices amid limited supplies existed long before 2023.

A 2018 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that resale tickets could sometimes be as much as 40% higher than the initial price.

These brokers “can use numerous staff and software (‘bots’) to rapidly buy many tickets,” a report summary said. “As a result, many consumers can buy tickets only on the resale market at a substantial markup.”

Speculative ticketing in particular has drawn attention from policymakers looking to regulate the events market. In those cases, the sale itself represents a promise of a future ticket, rather than an actual one. And if the broker can’t find a ticket, the purchaser likely won’t be getting through the venue doors, concert promoters told lawmakers at a September state House committee hearing.

“That consumer confidence that they had to buy the ticket in the first place is something our organizations have built up over years, and speculative tickets are eroding that confidence with every transaction that’s fraudulent,” said Kerri Park, chief operating officer of Philadelphia music venue World Cafe Live.

If a reseller violated the proposed ban on speculative ticketing, a concert venue, ticket merchant, promoter, or musical artist would be allowed to file a lawsuit against that secondary seller.

Resale platforms like Vivid Seats and StubHub, and trade groups that represent the tech industry strongly oppose the bills.

They’ve pointed to language in the speculative ticketing ban that defines a ticket as “subject to the terms and conditions as specified” by the venue, artist, or ticket seller. This wording could be used to restrict a consumer’s ability to resell a ticket if they can’t make a show, said K.J. Bagchi, vice president of technology policy at the Chamber of Progress, a tech trade group.

“Pennsylvania’s bill, it’s using the term speculative ticketing, but honestly, it’s just another way of pushing anti-competitive provisions under the guise of protecting consumers from deceptive behavior,” Bagchi said.

This stance is echoed by consumer groups. John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications, and fraud for the National Consumers League, told Spotlight PA that many of the issues in ticket sales come down to a lack of transparency.

When seats go on sale to the general public, Ticketmaster makes only a portion of the total seats available, Breyault said. The rest — anywhere from 10% to 65%, according to the GAO — are made available as special presales for fan clubs or certain credit card holders, creating artificial scarcity. There are also fees, hidden until checkout, that drive up the final price.

Breyault said lawmakers should consider adding more pro-consumer language to their proposals, such as disclosure of how many tickets are available, all-in pricing that shows fees, and state-level protection for refunds and transferability.

He also argued the speculative ticketing bill’s private enforcement, through civil lawsuits, gives police power to Ticketmaster, which has “an incentive and the ability to restrict competition.”

“If the intent is that consumers don’t get roped into speculative ticket sales, that’s one thing,” Breyault told Spotlight PA. “If it’s designed to put the state’s thumb on the scale of competition in favor of the dominating ticketing platform, then that’s the problem.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Breyault called the language in the bots bill overly broad and said it would be difficult to enforce without requiring ticket sellers, including Ticketmaster, to report suspicions of bots to legal authorities.

“Ticketmaster knows who is buying every ticket to every show and they could find patterns. The state attorney general can’t do their job without evidence,” he said. “And if Ticketmaster has evidence, they should turn it over.”

Pennsylvania law already has some recourse for spurned concert attendees with bad blood. A state law signed by former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell in 2007 requires a ticket reseller to provide a full refund if a ticket “fails to conform to its description on the Internet website.”

That same law axed a requirement that only licensed resellers could offer second-hand tickets, with a markup of no more than 25% of the ticket’s face value.

Those provisions have been used by Pennsylvania officials, most notably last fall to aid Swift fans locked out of the Eras Tour.

The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, controlled then by now-Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, received more than 2,000 complaints after soliciting concerns with Ticketmaster’s tour presale.

A month later, after working directly with Ticketmaster, the office announced that an unidentified number of fans would get another crack at tickets using their existing presale codes.

In an email, Brett Hambright, a spokesperson for current state Attorney General Michelle Henry, said that the office “regularly receives complaints from consumers impacted by ticket purchases, and we vet all of those for mediation options.”

“We also compile them for use in any potential investigations or litigation — as we do with all consumer complaints,” he said. The office has recently taken legal action against four ticket resellers.

The office, Hambright said, is aware of the pending legislation and provided input on the speculative ticket ban. A Shapiro spokesperson did not reply to a request for comment.

Amid national political pressure, Ticketmaster is pursuing further changes. The company has lobbied for similar laws federally and in other states, and backs the Pennsylvania effort.

“Predatory resale practices like speculative ticketing hurts fans and artists,” a Ticketmaster spokesperson said in an email. “Ticketmaster and a broad coalition of artist and venue organizations support a ban on [speculative ticketing] and many other reforms, and we are grateful Pennsylvania policymakers are looking into this.”

While outrage about unaffordable and unavailable tickets this summer prompted many calls for greater oversight, proposed changes have stalled at the federal and state levels. A bill containing similar language to both of Pennsylvania’s bills was vetoed by Colorado’s Democratic Gov. Jared Polis in June.

While he agreed with some of the protections, Polis sided with consumer groups who argued that the bill could discourage competition.

With Colorado in mind, Matzie said he introduced separate bills in hopes of getting something through both chambers and to Shapiro’s desk. (In the state Senate, there already is a proposed bipartisan speculative ticket ban.)

“I want to get stuff done,” Matzie added.

Spotlight PA logoSpotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit newsroom producing investigative and public-service journalism that holds the powerful to account and drives positive change in Pennsylvania.

Show your support for local public media

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal