A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 12, 1998
CONTACT: Tom Nolan (617) 722-2230
ENACTING PEARL JAM'S POLICY
WILL SAVE TICKET-BUYERS SOME CLAMS
In today's ever-changing world of pop music culture, where the charts are peppered with bands tagged with such names as The Squirrel Nut Zippers, Soul Coughing, Garbage and Bare Naked Ladies, it has become quite hip for musicians in rock, pop, rap, you name it, to preach their political agendas while shaking their booty on stage. While many of their messages dissipate with the smokey fog that lingers after the show, there are times when these bands actually make a stand and practice what they preach. From major anti-hunger productions such as "We are the World" to local farm relief sponsored by John ("Cougar") Mellencamp, musicians have demonstrated that they can make a real difference in local, national and even world issues.
One such issue that has gained recent attention, yet, has divided the musical ranks involves the controversy of exorbitant surcharges added by ticket outlet conglomerates like Ticketmaster to the already ridiculous ticket prices. These "service charges" added to the face value of entertainment tickets generally run in the range of five dollars, although some of the astronomically priced Rolling Stones tickets are expected to carry a service charge of twenty dollars ($20.00) in addition to the base price (some of which are being sold for as high as $300). It was not too long ago that a twenty-spot would get you in the door. While $20 may be on the steep side, these added fees are not unusual among the corporate rock entertainment giants who are so often responsible for selling tickets to the show. Ticket agencies claim these added fees are necessary to cover a host of costs associated with processing orders, although I would be interested to see an accounting of the twenty dollar charge.
Some bands, recognizing that they were once the young, money-strapped, music hungry fans who now cannot afford to attend a show, have fought this practice by taking the entertainment Goliaths out of their ticket sales entirely. One of the more outspoken critics of these anti-consumer charges, Eddie Vedder, the pseudo-political, popularly trendy, leather-pant-clad, raspy-voiced lead singer of Pearl Jam, refuses to deal with ticket outlet agencies. Unfortunately, Pearl Jam is on a rather short list, and most bands simply let the market "play out", knowing that the real die-hards will purchase concert tickets no matter what the cost. Moreover, these charges are not limited to concerts. Consumers looking to purchase tickets for any event employing the services of a ticket sales agency will find themselves paying a few extra bucks per ticket.
The problem of these unscrupulous service charges is exacerbated by the fact that competition among ticket outlets has been thwarted by multimillion dollar, exclusive-rights deals with the entertainment conglomerates. Just recently, for example, SFX Entertainment, a huge rock-music entertainment entity, offered Ticketmaster exclusive rights to sell tickets for all SFX events. As a result, Ticketmaster, which according to Business Wire, Inc., sells $2 billion worth of tickets a year, will essentially be given free reign to slap these service charges on any ticket sold for SFX events, leaving potential audiences with no other option but to pay these added fees.
Ironically, the only people who truly lose on these deals are the fans themselves, without whom, such events could never be possible. In an effort to turn the tide back in favor of the consumer, I filed legislation, An Act Relative to Surcharge Fees on the Resale Price of Tickets, to cap the allowable surcharges ticket outlets add to the tickets. The laws on the books today simply do not go far enough to stop these unscrupulous fees. While one statute explicitly limits the "profit margin" of the resale on each ticket to two dollars ($2.00) above the face value, the amount one can charge for "processing fees" (over and above this $2.00) is not similarly restricted. Not surprisingly, we have seen these charges begin to balloon. The legislation I have filed will protect ticket-buyers by capping these services charges to $1.00 per ticket.
I have no doubt that the ticket outlet industry will vehemently oppose the very idea of this legislation. That is a battle I not only anticipate, but invite. These charges are simply another example of how corporate Goliaths take advantage of weaker consumers. Too often, the shows go on while the entertainers remain apathetic to this legalized scalping, concerned only about the bottom line for themselves. To be sure, there are performers like Pearl Jam, who cater to their fans by eliminating surcharges and keeping ticket prices affordable. Until everyone jumps on the Eddie Vedder band wagon, however, something must be done to curb this patently unfair trend. While the bill I have filed may not be the most influential or comprehensive piece for the next session, it sure is a pearl for consumers who should find they have a few extra clams to put towards a souvenir from the show.