FTC settles with Ticketmaster for concert tix deception

Detractors say the settlement amounts to a little more than a slap on the wrist for Ticketmaster Springsteen concert snafu

After much public stink, the Federal Trade Commission said it has settled charges that Ticketmaster and its affiliates used deceptive bait-and-switch tactics to sell event tickets to consumers

Specifically, the FTC said Ticketmaster has agreed to pay refunds to consumers who bought tickets for 14 Bruce Springsteen concerts in 2009 through its ticket resale Web site TicketsNow, and to be clear about the costs and risks of buying through its reseller sites. 

Detractors say the settlement amounts to a little more than a slap on the wrist for Ticketmaster, who'll wind up paying out "a sum that could reach several hundred thousand dollars," according to the Associated Press.  

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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, the FTC stated. 

"Buying tickets should not be a game of chance," said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. 

In addition to the deception the FTC said Ticketmaster failed to tell buyers that many of the resale tickets advertised on TicketsNow.com 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. 

With the 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, the FTC stated. 

The FTC noted that it was 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.  

The Springsteen fan site Backstreets.com also lamented the recent news that the US 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.  "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 site stated.

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