Don't Get Misled By Online Ticket Resellers
Stephen Barrett, M.D.
Many sites that resell tickets are misleading. Many use URLs that are similar to box-office sites and get top search engine placements with paid ads. On most reseller sites, most prices are higher than the original ticket prices, and the seats you get may differ from what you expect. In some cases, the tickets will be counterfeit or will never get delivered. It is safest to deal with the official venue Web site. Official sites that do not sell tickets tickets directly will either link to an online service agency (such as Ticketmaster) and/or provide a phone number to call for reservations.
I am not a fan of Ticketmaster because I believe that its service fees (often as much as $10 per ticket plus a delivery fee) are unfairly high. But, in my experience, they tell you clearly what you will be charged, and they deliver genuine tickets. If you can pick up tickets at the venue box office, you will save money. If this is not practical, you may be able to order tickets by phone from the venue box office.
I don't normally write about problems that are not health-related. But a few months ago, my wife and I had a bad experience that caused me to investigate how tickets are resold. The ticket resale marketplace, estimated to be $8 billion worldwide , involves several problems:
- Some sites are falsely described as the official site or box office and contain images that suggest that they are.
- The official or box office site may be difficult to locate because sites with similar URLs and content often top the search engine results by paying for ads or using optimization techniques.
- The original (list) price of the tickets is not disclosed. The site may state somewhere that the ticket price "may" differ from the list price, but they don't tell you when they do or the amount of extra charge.
- There may be outright fraud in the form of unauthorized charges to your credit card and/or nondelivery of the tickets.
- The company may drive up prices by buying up tickets to popular events to create an artificial scarcity.
Official and box-office sites usually have seating diagrams that tell you the list prices of the tickets. The site that triggered this article had a seating plan with prices marked for each seat, but they did not indicate that these were not the list prices. Since every other site I had previously used had displayed list prices, I assumed that I was looking at list prices. I didn't find out that they were higher until the tickets arrived by e-mail. When my wife and I complained to VISA, the reseller claimed that because their site indicated that ticket prices may be higher than the original price, we knew or should have known that they might be higher. I argued that because they knew the price was higher, they should have said so, and that the honest way to present the information is to disclose the list price and the markup separately.
In 2014, TicketNetwork and two of its marketing partners affiliated ticket resellers settled charges brought by the FTC and the Connecticut Attorney General by agreeing to pay $1.4 million into Connecticut's fund for education and enforcement and to refrain from deceptively advertising their services . According to the complaint:
- TicketNetwork operated an electronic exchange enabling ticket brokers and other ticket-holders to resell their tickets to consumers on the secondary market. It promotes the sale of these tickets through its own websites and through affiliate marketers and private-label marketing "partners."
- TicketNetwork and two of its top partners, Ryadd, Inc., and SecureBoxOffice (SBO), LLC, violated the FTC Act and the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act by using Google ads to direct people to sites that were misrepresented as the "official" site or "box office" for the actual venue where an event was being held.
- Ryadd and SBO routinely misrepresented their resale ticket sites as actual venue sites; failed to adequately disclose that the sites offered tickets for resale and that prices often exceeded the tickets' face value; and that the websites were neither owned by the venue, sports team, performer, or promoter, nor authorized to sell tickets on their behalf.
- Ticket Network helped create the deceptive portions of certain ads, provided legal cover through inadequate disclosures, and helped to maintain the deception by defusing complaints and bad publicity.
The complaint also named Charles A. Lineberry and Ryan J. Bagley, who were officers of Ryadd, Inc., and James P. Moran, who owned and managed of SBO, as defendants.
In 2016, Congress passed the Better Online Ticket Sales Act (BOTS Act) to outlaw the use of computer programs ("bots") to buy the best tickets to popular events so they can be resold at inflated prices. In an article in The New York Times, Ticketmaster estimated that bots have been used to buy 60% of the most desirable tickets to many shows .
People who feel they have been misled should complain to the Better Business Bureau. The BBB cannot force a company to behave ethically, but sometimes the fear of a poor rating will will inspire a company to fix the problem. The BBB pages also enable consumers to read other people's complaints and ratings. The nature of the complaints is often more useful than the BBB's overall rating. So if you find that a company has many complaints, be sure to read a representative selection. Here are two reports I have found for ticket resellers who had many complaints. If you find any others, please e-mail me.
|Company Name||BBB Rating||Complaints||Negative Reviews|
Ticket Fulfillment Services LP
|Online City Tickets
27 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL 60606
The Bottom Line
My advice is simple. If you are looking for tickets to an event and have no reason to think they are scarce, make sure you deal only with official sites and do not, under any circumstances, do business with a reseller. If you still want to deal with a reseller, make sure you understand that any displayed prices are likely to be higher than the original price—and read complaints in the Better Business Bureau report if one exists.
- TicketNetwork and marketing partners Ryadd and secure box office settle charges of deceptively marketing resale tickets. FTC news release, July 24, 2014.
- Sisario B. Congress moves to curb ticket scalping, banning bots used online. The New York Times, Dec 8, 2016.
This article was posted on April 2, 2017.