Fight the Monopoly! Updated February 9, 2012



FROM THE CITY OF LIGHT AND SPIRES TO SOMEWHERE IN THE SWAMPS OF JERSEY…LET YOUR VOICES BE HEARD!
Attention all Springsteen fans in the Empire and Garden states! If the recent NJ/NYC Ticketmaster on-sales left you on the outside looking in, complain to your state attorney general’s office right now by clicking on the appropriate link here:

New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa (links to electronic form that can be submitted online) Also use phone number 609-292-4925

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman (links to PDF that must be printed and mailed) Also use phone number 800-771-7755

The Attorneys Generals' offices should be flooded with complaints and demands for a full investigation into exactly what happened and why, including the prosecution of those involved in criminal activity. Just as importantly, tell your Attorney General to demand that Ticketmaster share in detail any plans they have to prevent similar scenarios from occurring in the future.

Finally, if you’re working in New York, New Jersey or any other state/region to help organize your fellow ticket-buyers around these concerns (or are interested in doing so), please e-mail us at anybodyaliveoutthere@gmail.com and we’ll do our best to help you connect with other like-minded folks in your state/region.
- February 9, 2012


WORK TO DO AND BILLS TO READ
Despite its legal power to overrule or modify the actions of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Anti-Trust Division, the U.S. Congress has done nothing directly to stop the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger from becoming the law of the land (which officially happens once the U.S. District Court enters “Final Judgment” of the merger, due shortly). This shouldn’t surprise those of us who've been monitoring this merger with great concern. Until we ticket-consumers first get more united and organized at local and regional levels, we will continue to lack the political power needed to force Congress or any other branch of the federal government to collectively do much significant work on our behalf.

Nevertheless, there are two pieces of proposed Congressional legislation currently lingering in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce that may be of some value to us in this post-merger environment. Both bills attempt to regulate the "secondary-sales" (legalized scalping) market. Each bill offers different approaches, and in the process they both reflect and shape the debate over how best to control ticket prices.  Some of their provisions are being incorporated into proposals for new state laws, as well, such as in bills introduced earlier this year in Connecticut and Minnesota. Therefore, regardless of whether either U.S. House bill ever leaves the Energy and Commerce Committee, let alone gets voted into law, an analysis of each bill’s strengths and weaknesses may prove to be a useful activity for anti-merger activists around the country.

The federal bills in question are numbered HR 2669 and HR 4795. The complete text of the bills, along with regularly updated information on each bill's status, can be found online at the Library of Congress' THOMAS website.  (Just click on "Bill Number" under “Search Bill Summary & Status” and enter the appropriate bill’s number to obtain its information.)

Some general points to consider while reading any such proposed legislation:  Some proposals and advocates for regulating the secondary-sales market have touted the alleged value or potential value of this market for consumers if it's made more "open" and/or "competitive".  Those of us who've ever had to buy tickets from a scalper, legal or not, know better than this. While you may get access to tickets you may not otherwise be able to get, you ain’t ever gonna get access to such tix without paying extra, and in most cases much extra (with the possible exception of standing outside the venue and waiting for scalper prices to drop rapidly as the show/event starts).  Common sense tells us that the only way for "secondary-salesmen" to turn any kind of profit is to sell their tickets at prices higher than what they paid for them, so how could the existence of such a market, regulated or not, ever actually lower ticket prices for consumers?

With that noted, however, there is something to be said for providing at least some regulation of secondary ticket-sales if they’re not going to be outlawed completely. Placing legal limits on how high resold tickets can be marked up, how soon "ticket brokers" can purchase tickets after they go on sale, etc. might provide a bit of relief to consumers, especially as our wallets and purses begin to feel the full effects of the newly approved Live Nation Entertainment monopoly.

New York’s state legislature also just passed a law making paperless tickets as easily transferable as paper tickets have become in many markets, and New Jersey’s is now considering similar legislation.  Will your state’s or town’s lawmakers be the next to do so?  Again, we’d advise Springsteen fans and other ticket-buyers to wade carefully through the double-speak debate as they consider which such “pro-consumer” legislative measures (if any) to support.  While there were some initial legitimate concerns expressed among some Springsteen fans about exactly how paperless-ticketing would work when it was first implemented last year on the Working on a Dream tour, eventually there were many fans who seemed very happy with the new system.  These were "regular" fans, too, as opposed to “insiders”, many of whom shared their elation at finally circumventing scalpers and getting some of their best Springsteen-show seats ever. One Philly fan who attended some of the final Spectrum shows noted on BTX, "I loved paperless tickets because I had the best seats in my 30 years of following the band - right behind [Bruce's] mom (and up two rows for the last night at the Spectrum....)"

As always, we’re eager to know what you think, too.  Drop us a line at anybodyaliveoutthere@gmail.com and let us know your opinions on any or all of these bills.  More importantly, keep us posted of any ongoing efforts in your town, region or state to help keep ticket-buyers from getting ripped off.  We'll continue to do our best to help spread the word about all such efforts and encourage others to get involved.
- July 28, 2010


SEE WHAT THEM RACKET BOYS CAN DO NOW
Before it recently approved Ticketmaster's merger with Live Nation, one of the "concessions" that the U.S. Department of Justice's Anti-Trust Division required of Ticketmaster was the mandatory licensing of its ticketing software to two of its competitors: Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) and "either Comcast-Spectacor or another buyer suitable to the department, respectively — allowing both companies to compete head-to-head with Ticketmaster." According to its official press release, the Anti-Trust Division believes that forcing Ticketmaster to share its primary ticketing software with competitors, along with the other concessions in the merger settlement/approval, "enhances short and long term competition in the primary ticketing market" and will “ensure ticket sales are maximized for the benefit of consumers."

This all would sound almost reasonable if, among other things, the software itself weren't shown to be extremely vulnerable to illegal scalpers, which apparently has just happened. According to Reuters, on Monday March 1, four men were issued a 43-count indictment by the U.S. Department of Justice. The men, operating as part of a company appropriately named Wiseguy Tickets Inc., are accused of bypassing Ticketmaster's CAPTCHA software ("the squiggly letters aimed at defeating automated programs") and buying thousands of tickets to various entertainment and sporting events that they then could resell at much higher prices, including "nearly half of the 440 general admission floor tickets for a July 2008 Bruce Springsteen concert at Giants Stadium." For yet another reason now, we fans are left to wonder what exactly will stop us from getting shut out and/or ripped off repeatedly in the future with the newly created Live Nation Entertainment and/or any of its so-called competitors who soon will share its software. Suffice it to say that this illustrates again exactly why we're keeping this page up and running as a tool for fans to use in continuing to oppose the effects of the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger.
- March 3, 2010


ANOTHER SLAP ON THEIR WRISTS, ANOTHER SLAP IN OUR FACES
But still an example of our potential power, too.
On February 18, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a settlement of its pre-merger charges against Ticketmaster and its own "ticket resale" (legal scalping) website, TicketsNow. The FTC accused Ticketmaster and TicketsNow of using "bait-and-switch" tactics to sell tickets at unnecessarily higher prices to 14 Bruce Springsteen concerts performed in various locations during May and June of 2009. (All of Ticketmaster's and TicketsNow's actions were conducted without any prior knowledge or approval of Springsteen or his management/touring associates.) Here are the pertinent details, as outlined in the FTC's own press release:

...According to the FTC's complaint, when tickets went on sale February 2, 2009, for Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band concerts in May and June, Ticketmaster displayed a "No Tickets Found" message on its Web page to consumers to indicate that no tickets were available at that moment to fulfill their request. The FTC charged that Ticketmaster used this Web page to steer unknowing consumers to TicketsNow, where tickets were offered at much higher prices — in some cases double, triple, or quadruple the face value. Ticketmaster also displayed the same misleading Web page to consumers looking to buy tickets for many other events between October 2008 and February 2009, the agency charged....

Compounding this deception, Ticketmaster failed to tell buyers that many of the resale tickets advertised on TicketsNow.com were not "in hand" – in other words, they were not actual tickets secured for sale at the time they were listed and bought. In fact, some tickets were being sold speculatively — that is, they were merely offers to try to find tickets. For example, many consumers hoping to go to a Springsteen concert at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC in May 2009 paid for tickets in February that never materialized. Ticketmaster kept the sales proceeds for more than three months without a reasonable basis for believing it could fulfill the orders, the FTC complaint alleged [NOTE: According to the Los Angeles Times, the FTC also cited an example in which “the same set of 38 tickets….were sold and resold 1600 times."]....

Under the FTC settlement, eligible consumers who have not previously received a refund will get back the extra money they paid to buy the higher-priced tickets from TicketsNow. For example, if a consumer paid $400 for two tickets from TicketsNow, and those same two tickets would have cost $200 from Ticketmaster, the customer would get a $200 refund. Refunds will be determined by the FTC’s redress administrator based on purchase information in TicketsNow’s database and available in approximately six months.

The Commission staff is sending a warning letter to other ticket resale companies whose practices may violate the law. The letter discusses the Ticketmaster settlement and the FTC's concerns about the failure to disclose to consumers when tickets offered for sale are speculative or otherwise not in hand. According to the letter, which is available at the FTC's Web site and as a link to this release, the FTC strongly recommends, "that you review your own company's Web site to ensure that you are not making any misleading statements or failing to provide material information to prospective purchasers of tickets listed on your site."

In plain English, if you're Ticketmaster/TicketsNow, and the FTC charges you with practicing a "deception" that literally cost fans hundreds of unnecessarily extra dollars per ticket (or, in some cases, imaginary ticket) sold, here's what you can expect your "punishment" to be: no fines, no criminal charges, not even a mandate to admit any wrongdoing. You'll eventually have to pay back all of the extra money you collected, of course (provided the FTC's "redress administrator" is supplied by your own purchase records with the accurate data necessary to ensure accurate refunds). This could take up to six extra months, however, and you won't need to pay back to any of the ripped-off fans any of the interest that has and will have accrued on their money while you sat on it. Oh, and you and other ticket resellers will get a very stern written warning not to try this again, lest any of you wish to risk the same "punitive" actions.

Despite the lack of anything resembling justice here, it's worth noting that even the slap on the wrist given to Ticketmaster/TicketsNow would not have happened without the actions of ordinary fans. The investigation and settlement of this matter happened mainly because enough ripped-off Springsteen fans in Illinois, New Jersey, Washington, D.C. etc. got angry enough to file some complaints and put some pressure on their states' Attorneys General to take action. That pressure, in turn, eventually led to the FTC's involvement, however ineffective. The important lesson here is that even with a relatively minimal amount of action at the local/regional/state levels, significant steps can be taken that will at least help to minimize the impact of these deceptive and exploitative tactics. If fans become better organized and more powerful at these levels, eventually we can have more influence at the federal level, too.

Therefore, we should begin now to organize ourselves more effectively in our own towns, cities and states, so we'll be in a much better position to address whatever rip-off attempts spring up in the future. And you can bet your concert money that they're gonna spring up. Since the U.S. federal government now has pretty much given its final approval to a full-scale monopoly of the concert industry, affecting everything from venue contracts to ticketing prices to the cost and quality of t-shirts and other souvenirs, many more problems are likely to occur down the line.

Let’s keep in touch with each other, then, and figure out ways to get/stay organized and active locally, regionally and/or statewide, using this website and other tools. If you also know or hear of anything that Live Nation Entertainment gets up to that is hurting fans, please let us know about it right away by e-mailing us at anybodyaliveoutthere@gmail.com. We'll continue to do our best to help spread the word and put you in touch with others in your neck of the woods who share your concerns.
- February 25, 2010


POST-MERGER-APPROVAL Q & A WITH THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
Jim DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun-Times conducted an excellent interview with representatives of the U.S. Department of Justice just a few days after the Justice Department’s Anti-Trust Division approved the merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation, creating Live Nation Entertainment. While it certainly drives home just how depressing the news is, it nevertheless is essential reading for anyone who seeks to remain active in opposing the effects of the merger. Point by point, DeRogatis asks the important questions and offers the Justice Department every fair chance to explain/defend its decision. In the process, it becomes clear to anti-merger activists that at least for the time being, our chances at gaining significant help or support at the federal level will remain virtually non-existent. Therefore, we need to focus on developing alternative strategies at the local/regional/state levels. Check out the full text of DeRogatis’ interview here.
- February 16, 2010


THINGS WILL GET WORSE, THEY GOT TO GET BETTER…
Talk about your Blue Mondays. On January 25, the U.S. Justice Department’s Anti-Trust Division officially approved a “watered-down” version of the merger between ticket-sales agency Ticketmaster and concert-promoter/venue-owner Live Nation, creating a new company called Live Nation Entertainment.  (One of the better initial reports/analyses of the deal can be found here.)  In reality, there’s very little “watered down” from the original proposal first made a year ago, which essentially will solidify and strengthen what many considered to be a live-entertainment monopoly already since Pearl Jam et. al. unsuccessfully sought restrictions on Ticketmaster from the Anti-Trust Division back in the ’90s, during the Clinton presidency. Springsteen fans in particular should be appalled that not a single item in the “significant changes” ordered by the Justice Department even pretends to address the blatant conflict of interest that is Ticketmaster’s wholly-owned “secondary ticket market” (legal scalping) subsidiary TicketsNow, the source of so many problems for fans who attempted to buy tickets during the Working on a Dream tour last year.

Speaking of conflicts of interest, one of the other "concessions" that the new company surprisingly did not have to make allows it to keep its artist-management wing, headed by Irving Azoff, to boot. To understand just how anti-artist and anti-fan this move is, just remember that when Springsteen was forced to mount his famous lawsuit against former manager Mike Appel, Bruce's major source of revenue to sustain him and his band through that period came from their live performances. Any artist managed by Ticketmaster could be restrained from repeating such a strategy now, with the new company's increased power to control access to venues, ticket sales, etc. Even if you're an artist who's not directly managed by Azoff, if you don't like any aspect of how you or your audience get treated by Live Nation Entertainment, it now will be even more difficult, if not impossible, to oppose the company's policies and continue to make a living as a professional musician.

This latest action (or, more accurately, inaction) from the Anti-Trust Division comes in spite of the public opposition of many, including Bruce Springsteen, his management and touring organizations, and many of his fans who wrote letters, sent e-mails and/or made phone calls urging the Anti-Trust Division to stop this merger. As Springsteen's official website previously noted, "[T]he one thing that would make the current ticket situation even worse for the fan than it is now would be Ticketmaster and Live Nation coming up with a single system, thereby returning us to a near monopoly situation in music ticketing." Barring any significant actions from Congress or the President (who still could actively oppose the Anti-Trust Division's ruling if they chose to do so), it looks pretty certain now that we're headed further down that road.


Despite the discouraging news, however, this battle isn’t over just yet. Backstreets urges all fans who remain concerned about even higher ticket prices, fees, further legalized scalping. etc. — all of which will continue to happen under this anti-consumer merger — to get involved with supporting or helping to organize the various state and local efforts to keep this new company in check. Even before the merger went through, complaints from Springsteen fans in Illinois, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. led to those states' Attorneys General investigating Ticketmaster for various violations. These violations included forcibly redirecting ticket buyers to TicketsNow, TicketMaster's "secondary ticket market" subsidiary that was selling tickets for more than four times their face value, despite the fact that seats were still available in the regular on-sale. In Washington, D.C., the same shenanigans occurred with an even crueler twist: many fans who purchased tickets to the D.C. concert through TicketsNow paid scalper-level prices for seats that weren't even available. The company admitted to overselling the show. (All of these actions were conducted without the knowledge or approval of Bruce Springsteen, his management or his touring organization.)

These state-level investigations have resulted and can continue to result in lawsuits, settlements and other actions that at least provide repercussions when the new monopoly gets up to no good. At the same time, working together at the state and local levels offers fans and consumers a greater chance to network and begin developing more long-term solutions.

This is crucial if there's going to be any kind of successful movement for affordable live music and other entertainment and sporting events. Only everyday fans and consumers can build such a movement. And those people are out there: TicketDisaster.org recently claimed that their website alone generated approximately 25,000 e-mails opposing the merger. The importance of such a movement should not be underestimated, either. It might be easy to forget or deem as trivial such cultural concerns, especially as we continue to feel the sting of other economic and social catastrophes. In addition to peace, justice, health and economic security, however, we also need music, culture, and joy to entertain, enlighten and inspire us. Nobody knows this better than fans of Bruce Springsteen. As the old saying goes, "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution."

In that spirit, Backstreets also promises to do our best to help keep anti-monopoly activists in various locations in touch with each other, both locally and nationally. If you're involved or are interested in getting involved with any state or local campaigns to help protect ticket buyers from further gouging, we want to know about it. Drop us a line at anybodyaliveoutthere@gmail.com and let us know what you're up to or trying to do. We'll try to help you publicize your efforts and get in touch with others in your area who share your concerns and can help.
- January 27, 2010


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