After a relatively quiet few months in the debates over how concert ticketing should be regulated in the US, the action is heating up again.
Three Democrat politicians have introduced The BOSS and SWIFT Act in the US Senate, following its debut in the US Congress in May this year.
American politicians love their tortuous acronyms, and this legislation is a good example. The Better Oversight of Stub Sales and Strengthening Well Informed and Fair Transactions for Audiences of Concert Ticketing Act’s name was crafted to reference Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen and Taylor Swift, whose concert on-sales were flashpoints for complaints about the ticketing market’s dynamics.
The bill focuses on four key measures. It would require sellers to disclose the total cost of tickets up front, including all extra fees. It would prevent sellers from changing the cost of a ticket during the purchase process without alerting buyers.
It would require sellers to clearly disclose their refund policies. And they’d also have to announce the total number and cost of tickets at least seven days before they go on sale.
It sounds good, right? And the bill is backed by a group of consumer-rights groups including the National Consumers League; Sports Fan Coalition; Consumer Action; Consumer Federation of America; FanFreedom Project; the Progressive Policy Institute and the National Association of Consumer Advocates.
But actually, this is where the bill has already proved controversial in its Congress incarnation.
In May, it was strongly criticised by Fix The Tix, a coalition of music-industry bodies that includes UMG, the RIAA, the Recording Academy and the Future of Music Coalition among its founding members.
The group said of the bill that while it “provides some transparency for consumers, it does so in exchange for anti-fan and anti-artist handouts for scalpers and secondary ticketing platforms that do not contribute to the live entertainment ecosystem”.
(Live Nation has its own history of funding consumer-advocacy groups too, in past moments of potential regulatory peril.)
Fix The Tix announced its own set of desired reforms for the ticketing market in June, targeted more at secondary-ticketing platforms.
Meanwhile, other bills floating around the US political system this year include The Unlock Ticketing Markets Act and The FAIR Ticketing Act. They fall either side of the ‘Ticketmaster crackdown’ / ‘secondary platforms crackdown’ divide.
This is not uncommon: a similar thing is happening around the debate about whether terrestrial radio stations should pay performance royalties, with one bill (the American Music Fairness Act) seeking to make that happen, and another (The Local Radio Freedom Act) that would rule it out.
You don’t need to be a veteran policy wonk to guess which has the backing of the music industry and which the radio industry.
It’s too early to tell which ticketing bill will prevail. The ideal, of course, would be a piece of legislation that addresses the problems with both the biggest ticketing companies and the secondary market, rather than just one of them.
You probably DO need to be a veteran policy wonk to understand whether that’s possible, or just a naive hope. But with President Biden on the case, some kind of reforms – next election permitting – will eventually make it to the statute book.