Hope On The Horizon? Advocates Anticipate Federal Action On Ticketing Reform In ’24

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PUTTING THEIR HEADS TOGETHER: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) speaks to Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) during a June 15, 2022, Senate Judiciary Hearing. The senators are among the sponsors of the Fans First Act, which advocates call the most significant ticketing reform bill in a decade. Photo by Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

Consumers, politicians and live industry movers and shakers have clamored for federal-level ticketing reform legislation for years. Buoyed by broad bipartisan support and similarly broad consensus within the live industry, that reform may be coming soon — and sooner than expected.

“From where we sit, the convergence of factors that ultimately makes for a bill getting done are there,” Stephen Parker, executive director of the National Independent Venue Association, tells Pollstar. “We just have to capitalize on it and make sure that whatever passes is ultimately good.”

Parker is bullish on the proposals that made headlines in late 2023 as Congress engaged in the legislative equivalent of chasing Inbox Zero as the holidays approached.

On Dec. 6, the House Energy and Commerce Committee went through the full committee mark-up process on over three dozen bills, including the TICKET Act and the STOP Act. The bills contained significant overlap, though there were differences in the way each treated speculative ticketing – one banned it, the other merely required disclosure – but ultimately, the bills were merged, with a ban on speculative ticketing prevailing in the combined version, which will maintain the TICKET Act name.

Two days later, a bipartisan group of Senators, led by Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Texas Republican John Cornyn, joined by the ideologically diverse quartet of Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Peter Welch (D-VT) introduced the Fans First Act in the upper chamber. 

In addition to a wholesale ban on speculative tickets, Fans First requires all-in pricing from the beginning of the ticket sale price, disclosure if the ticket is being resold and full refunds for canceled events. It strengthens 2016’s BOTS Act, which has been criticized as difficult to enforce; the FTC  has only brought a single prosecution under the bot-fighting bill in seven years. It also bars ticket resellers from using the intellectual property of artists, venues or primary ticketing sites to sell tickets; this sort of digital flimflam has proven persistent, fooling even the professionally incredulous.

“My job is to talk about this every day
and I was trying to buy tickets to a show in Virginia Beach later this summer and I just Googled it, clicked on the first thing,” Parker says. “I thought it was for that venue and
it was not, so it happens. You click on the
first result and you just think that that has to be it.”

Finally, it funds a study on the ticketing industry from the Government Accountability Office, the first of its kind.

Parker said the House committee’s action — a 45-0 vote in favor of sending the bills to the full House — gave “that last bit of runway that we needed to get a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate” by taking bills that originally just mandated all-in pricing and adding in the spec ticketing ban and the deceptive practices prohibition, which mirrored a long-term project in the Senate.

“What we saw in the Senate was a bill that we’ve been working on since July of 2022. We worked behind the scenes with Sen. Klobuchar, Sen. Cornyn and what turned into a larger group of senators at the end to get a bill that could pass Congress,” Parker says. “It took a year and a half to get a bill that got the support of consumer groups, that got the support of most of the major organizations in live events entertainment and the National Independent Venue Association.”

The bill isn’t perfect — none are — and it’s not universally lauded — nothing is — but Fans First (or whatever it ends up being called) has a chance not only to be the first ticketing legislation since the BOTS Act, but the first comprehensive ticketing legislation at the federal level in a generation and is welcomed by not just NIVA and other indie advocates but the biggest player in the game.

“We welcome legislation that brings positive reform to live event ticketing and protects fans and artists from predatory resale practices. We’ve long supported a federal all-in pricing mandate, banning speculative ticketing and deceptive websites,” Live Nation said in a statement.

So what’s next for the bill?

It’s not always as easy as “Schoolhouse Rock!” made it out to be in “I’m Just A Bill.” And with a Congress that is likely to be remembered more for the House’s prolonged dysfunction than for any major legislative accomplishments, things are harder still. Nevertheless, Parker sees a couple of opportunities that could have Fans First on President Joe Biden’s desk by February.

While this Congress has proven largely incapable or unwilling to pass much of anything, it will have to pass a series of funding bills or face yet another government shutdown. Parker says NIVA is pushing to have the ticketing legislation piggyback on one of those funding bills. Perhaps not the simple pathway — or the idealized one — but one that’s worked for NIVA before, when the Save Our Stages initiative hitched a ride on a COVID funding bill.

The first tranche of funding bills faces a Jan. 19 deadline and the second comes calling Feb. 2. And since the TICKET Act — even after its merger with the STOP Act — doesn’t exactly mirror Fans First, there would still have to be some inter-chamber conferencing to get the texts matched up.

“The TICKET Act is further along than our Senate bill so from a process standpoint, we want the bill that is primed to go to the House to pass first, especially since it has already reported out of committee [unanimously],” Parker said. 

In addition, having a Senate companion working a few steps behind gives NIVA and its ticketing reform allies a chance to tweak some language.

Ticketing reform has engendered robust debate and more than a little puffery from Capitol Hill, so it may beggar belief that an issue that seemed so hard to unravel for years is going to accelerate to a conclusion in just a few weeks and as a result of some parliamentary arcana. But that’s just the way it goes sometimes.

“Our hope is that it’s in a [continuing resolution] that is a little bit more inclusive than just funding proposals because it allows some other critical things that always need to get done get done,” Parker says. “And we think this is a critical thing that needs to get done.”