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Live-event companies warn proposed ticket-law changes may have unintended consequences

Ticketing companies, brokers and the live-music industry are making a last-ditch effort to warn Ontario lawmakers of what they believe will be unintended and costly consequences for consumers if proposed rules become law.

Ticketing companies, brokers and the live-music industry are making a last-ditch effort to warn Ontario lawmakers of what they believe will be unintended and costly consequences for consumers if proposed rules become law.

In hearings at Queen's Park's social-policy committee this week, Ticketmaster Canada, Stubhub and associations representing the live-event industry argued that a new law enforcing resale-price caps, set to come into effect as early as next week, would drive consumers to less-safe and less-legal means of ticket trading, exposing them to more fraudulent tickets through less-regulated websites or through old-fashioned parking-lot scalpers.

Key players in the ticketing industry have spent nearly a year fighting the proposed ticket-law changes, which include capping the price of resold tickets. But the industry faces a tough audience: in a survey of nearly 35,000 Ontarians earlier this year, 89 per cent said they'd be in favour of a price cap. The Liberals' Ticket Sales Act would bring the province a number of first-in-Canada transparency and consumer-protection rules, including the decree that live-event tickets cannot be resold for more than 50 per cent above their original cost. Even the opposition believes it's a move worth trying, then reviewing.

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On Monday and Tuesday, live-event companies and associations asked legislators to hold back from passing price caps and other proposed measures in the Act so that the province might study them further. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce backs them, having sent a letter this month to Attorney-General Yasir Naqvi arguing that price caps could increase fraud by pushing ticket resellers, and in turn consumers, to less-regulated markets.

Since public consultations began in February, Ontario has become Canada's primary battleground for the future of live-event ticketing, with British Columbia monitoring developments closely and Alberta expected to reveal more details about its own law revisions in the coming weeks. The public presentations are among the final steps before the Ticket Sales Act gets third reading, which is scheduled for Nov. 29.

Ticketmaster Canada, the secondary ticket marketplace StubHub, the Canadian Ticket Brokers Association and the concert-industry lobby group Music Canada Live brought various concerns before the Queen's Park social-policy committee this week, but the most common refrain was frustration over price caps.

Despite the specific concern, legislators had few questions on the matter, focusing instead on bot software, which the legislation would ban, and understanding the broader ticket marketplace.

Jim McDonell, the Progressive Conservatives' consumer services critic, did raise one question on price caps, though he told The Globe and Mail after the meeting that he does not expect them to disappear in the bill's final language. "It's a hard thing to fight, because consumers think it's a great idea," he said, suggesting the results could be reviewed in a year or so. "We're just worried of unintended consequences."

NDP critic Wayne Gates was not at the committee meetings, but said in an e-mail: "We believe folks should have a fair shot at getting tickets to the events, concerts and games they love – and that we can't keep allowing them to be let down by a broken system."

In its presentation, Stubhub cited a 2016 report reviewing British ticketing that found price caps on ticket resales "would be extremely difficult to police or future-proof."

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"These ticket sales are going to move to channels that are not safe, not transparent, not protected," said Jeff Poirier, StubHub's North American general manager for theatre and music, in an interview after his presentation.

Ticketmaster, which lets fans resell tickets for some events on their platform, joined Stubhub in warning against price caps. "If the seller knows they can get more than 50 per cent of what they paid for, and they can't on a legitimate site … they're going to find a place to do so," Ticketmaster's Canadian chief operating officer Patti-Anne Tarlton told The Globe.

She also argued that one of Ontario's proposed transparency measures – to reveal the total amount of tickets available to the public for a given event – would be detrimental for consumers, as it would let scalpers better program bot software to buy up tickets for the events.

In the case of concerts, artists or event hosts can dictate how many tickets they'd like held and may change their mind several times before they go on sale – and sometimes after. Erin Benjamin, Music Canada Live's executive director, said this would make it difficult to enforce another transparency proposal: that the total number of public tickets be made available seven days before they go on sale.

She also noted that revealing the number of tickets available, especially if it is much smaller than the venue capacity, might lead consumers to believe "unscrupulous activity is taking place with the missing inventory." Venues, artists and promoters regularly hold back tickets for friends, promotions, special sales and other reasons. "Providing the public with only the supply half of the supply-demand equation does nothing to protect consumers," Ms. Benjamin told the committee.

In its presentation, the Canadian Ticket Brokers Association, which has 19 Ontario members, recommended, among other things, that the province should consider only letting consumers based in Ontario buy tickets for the first hour they are on sale. This, president Angie Coss said, would keep scalpers based outside the province – since they can operate from anywhere – away from tickets until Ontario consumers have a chance at them. Saskatchewan has a similar law.

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About the Author

Josh O’Kane is a reporter with The Globe and Mail's Report on Business. Since joining the paper in 2011, he has told stories from New Brunswick to Nairobi. More

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