Ticket trouble ahead?

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September 20, 2011, 9:02 pm

(NECN: Peter Howe, Beacon Hill) - Frequent flyers have come to think nothing of "paperless" tickets -- a reservation number for a flight bought online, linked to your credit card, that you use to get a boarding pass at the airport or off your computer printer.

Now that's a concept that's showing up in more and more sports and entertainment venues. Teams like the NHL Colorado Avalanche and the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver Nuggets, and Houston Rockets now use paperless tickets, and the NFL's San Francisco 49ers plan to go there.

While it has upsides and conveniences, paperless technology is also raising issues around how easily you can give away tickets to other people or resell them, directly yourself or through regulated and authorized ticket agencies like Ace Ticket and StubHub.

That's sparked a drive for some pre-emptive legislation in Massachusetts, aimed at overhauling a 1924 law that now loosely governs ticket resales and making sure sports teams and concert venues won't use paperless tickets as a way to force patrons to use their own systems -- at their own prices - for reselling or transferring tickets.

Representative Michael Moran (D-Brighton), sponsor of the measure, H. 1893, says the intent is that "we put the consumer first, and you say, the consumer actually owns that ticket and the ability to transfer that ticket to whomever they choose. It's a lot easier when there's a paper ticket involved.''

Jon Potter, president of the Fan Freedom Project, a nationwide advocacy group that's been backed financially by StubHub and other resale agents, said, "Consumers own the tickets that we buy, and if we own the tickets, then we actually have the right to give them away to share them with our friends to sell them, and to sell them on any marketplace we choose.''

Already, New York has enacted legislation severely restricting paperless tickets and mandating that consumers keep the same rights with electronic tickets they'd have with paper versions. Connecticut is considering legislation on the subject as well.

What makes it complicated: proponents of the paperless ticket services say there actually are a lot of ways it can help and protect you as a consumer.

"There's no counterfeit tickets, there's no fraudulent tickets, there's no lost tickets,'' said Jeff Kline, president of Cleveland-based Veritix , the company that runs the paperless ticket systems for the three NBA teams, the Avalanche, and several minor-league and collegiate teams, through a site called www.FlashSeats.com . He travelled to Boston Tuesday to testify on the legislation and urge legislators not to ban, but to intelligently evaluate how or if to regulate, paperless tickets.

Kline offers up some scenarios in which paperless tickets actually are better for you, such as, "You're on your way to a concert or game what have you, the phone rings, the babysitter cancelled, you've got a flat tire -- whatever the reason is -- you've got those paper tickets in your pocket. You're out of luck. You're eating that money.''

"A Flash Seats ticket, if you're on the side of the road, you can pull over you can email your brother your sister your friend whoever you want to send those tickets to and they get used,'' Kline said.

Paperless ticket systems also offer things like Internet-based password-protected accounts so you can still get in to a venue if you've forgotten to bring the right credit card when you show up for an event.

Kline notes that Flash Seats has a full-featured secondary marketplace for people to buy, sell, and trade tickets, with information clearly presented about what ticket sellers are asking and what people are paying for those prices. (That said, however, it's a marketplace controlled by the teams, much like the way the sold-out-for-years New England Patriots control the resale of tickets by season-ticket holders; ticket owners can't attempt to resell the tickets through an Ace or StubHub or Craigslist.)

Moran said he remains convinced that the only way to keep "secondary markets" for people to buy and sell tickets fair and free is to make sure they're built around physical tickets.

"What this bill hopefully will do at the end of the day is it will clarify the laws that are on the books, to allow a consumer-friendly secondary ticket market to exist,'' Moran said.

It wasn't clear Tuesday night when, if ever, the legislation might comes out of the Legislature's Committee on Consumer Affairs and Professional Licensure, but it appeared there was strong interest among Massachusetts legislators in making sure Boston-based Ace and other ticket agencies aren't at risk of being effectively squeezed out of business by sports teams going paperless.

One interesting angle: If you compare this debate to the automobile 'Right to Repair' legislation (mandating that carmakers make their diagnostic codes available to car repair shops so people can get their cars fixed anywhere, not just car dealerships), or debates over what you can do with digital music you've bought and want to share or transfer, all of these basically come back to the same question: Once a sports team or concert venue or car company or iTunes have sold you a ticket or car or digital file, how much do you really own it? And how much does the seller get to keep some control?

As tickets join so many other once-physical products in becoming online and digital, it's opened up the question of what it now means in 2011 to "own" a ticket.

With videographer David Jacobs


Tags: , Tickets, Peter Howe, Beacon Hill, Craigslist, stubhub
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