Mar 13, 2024 - News

Maryland's concert ticket crackdown bill could change the industry

Taylor Swift in a sequin dress and guitar stands on stage at Merriweather Post Pavilion surrounded by fans

Taylor Swift at Merriweather Post Pavilion back in 2009. Photo: courtesy Leslie Furlong

Concert prices are soaring to the tune of thousands per ticket—especially in this exclusivity economy boom — but new legislation in Maryland could increase transparency around exorbitant ticket costs.

Why it matters: If passed, Maryland's bill would make it illegal for resale companies like StubHub and SeatGeek to charge sneaky, sky-high fees or offer "speculative tickets" — setting the stage for more aggressive ticketing oversight around the country.

The big picture: Maryland's bill is part of a national awakening around flaws in the ticket sale system for artists and fans — thanks in large part to the Taylor Swift Eras Tour ticketing fiasco, which exposed problematic practices in the resale industry like scalper bots and junk fees, and set off a glitter bomb of legislation on the state and federal level.

  • The original Senate legislation was poised to be one of the most aggressive anti-scalping bills in the nation because it proposed capping resale tickets at face value, including taxes and fees — a law that would disincentivize ticket scalpers and bots.
  • That provision was gutted in a Senate Finance Committee hearing yesterday because there wasn't enough support for it.

Yes, but: An amendment was added to perform a study on ticket resales and the potential impact of caps, which will be sent to the Maryland Attorney General's Office.

  • The study could provide data that would move more aggressive legislation forward in the next session.

How it works: Artists set their own prices, often working in tandem with venues to assess production costs and market value — but there's no cap on what resellers, removed on the secondary market, can charge.

  • It's common practice for ticket brokers to use aggressive bots and other practices to hoard tickets before regular fans can access them, and then resell them at astronomical prices.
  • Modern-day scalpers also advertise "speculative tickets" before they're even available, banking on these bots to fulfill the orders or refunding fans if they can't. This creates a false sense of scarcity ("Only 4 left!") and drives up market prices when the legit tickets come online.

Stunning stats: Bethesda-based I.M.P., behind the 9:30 Club, The Anthem, and popular Maryland music venue Merriweather Post Pavilion, recently compared its ticket prices to resale sites. Take Weezer tickets at The Anthem, which will be priced at $125 when they go on sale but are currently being offered on spec for $5,572 via StubHub.

  • $150 Alanis Morisette tickets for her upcoming Merriweather Post Pavilion show are up to $3,446 on TicketNetwork.
  • Free parking at Merriweather? "Passes" go for $125 on Vivid Seats.

Zoom out: Nationally, ticket resellers earned an average profit of $41,000 per show by charging a median of two times the original ticket price, according to a recent study by the National Independent Talent Organization (though some charge as much as ten times above).

Zoom in: Maryland state Senator Dawn Gile, who originally introduced a ticketing bill in 2022, seeks more transparency and accountability. Similar in parts to the "Boss and Swift Act" introduced in Congress last year, the local bill seeks to:

  • Require all-inclusive ticket pricing from sellers, with an itemized list of charges — so no surprise fees. It would also cap fees at 10%.
  • Ban "speculative tickets," which currently must be disclosed in Maryland (though legislators say it's difficult to regulate). If passed, Maryland would be the second state to eliminate specs behind Nevada.

What they're saying: "The artists work really hard for a price, and they're also business people. Part of the equation is, 'What can my fans afford?'," I.M.P. communications director Audrey Fix-Schaefer tells Axios. "Some people don't understand [the high prices] aren't the artist or venue, and it disrupts the relationship. To have someone else be so parasitic about our business is galling."

The other side: Opponents of the bill include major resale companies and certain consumer interest groups who argue, among other things, that stricter regulations could hurt fans looking to sell their tickets on the secondary market when conflicts arise.

What's next: The Senate bill is set to move forward with readings this week, while a similar bill is moving through the House.

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