Why Pearl Jam is wrong about the BOSS Act

I love Pearl Jam. I can vividly remember the first time I heard their debut album Ten as a pimply-faced high school freshman in 1991. Songs like “Alive,” “Jeremy,” and “Daughter” were the soundtrack of my teenage years. The band’s willingness to fight back against the entrenched Ticketmaster monopoly only made me a bigger fan, which is why it was so surprising to hear that the band will allow Ticketmaster to ticket this summer’s Gigaton tour.

Unfortunately, it seems like Pearl Jam is not just taking Ticketmaster’s advice when it comes to ticketing for its shows. It’s also aping its corporate talking points by opposing the Better Oversight of Secondary Sales and Accountability in Concert Ticketing (BOSS ACT), sponsored by Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.). This pro-consumer bill would, for the first time, give fans real protections in the live event ticketing marketplace, which, in its current state, is among the worst industries we see in terms of how it’s fleecing consumers.

Pearl Jam says it has two main concerns with the BOSS ACT. First, it takes issue with the bill’s requirement that the total number of tickets to be sold be disclosed seven days in advance of the on-sale date. The band claims that “THIS HURTS CONSUMERS MORE THAN IT WILL HELP, because consumers don’t make purchasing decisions based on how many tickets are available—bulk purchasers like professional resellers do.”

How does the band know that “consumers don’t make purchasing decision based on how many tickets are available”? Consumers, after all, have never been given this information to make a decision with in the first place. Giving consumers more, not less, information is the best way for fans to make informed decisions in the marketplace.

Perhaps what Ticketmaster and bands like Pearl Jam are actually afraid of is fans knowing that, on average, more than half of tickets to in-demand acts are held back for connected insiders (including scalpers) instead of being made available to the general public. Absent this information, it’s very easy for bands to deceptively claim that their show is “sold out,” when in fact there may still be plenty of tickets available. Frustrated fans inevitably go to the secondary market, where they see marked-up prices they believe accurately reflect high demand. In fact, all that the prices on the secondary market may actually reflect is manufactured ticket scarcity driven by undisclosed ticket holdbacks.

Pearl Jam’s second problem with the BOSS ACT is the bill’s requirement that tickets be transferable. It’s understandable that the band would take issue with this, since they are employing Ticketmaster’s SafeTix technology to prevent (or at least limit) the ability of fans to resell, donate, or give away tickets for this summer’s tour.

Prohibiting ticket transferability as a way to prevent scalping is a cure worse than the disease. Fans often have to buy tickets for shows months in advance. Unexpected events can prevent someone from attending the show. Forcing consumers to eat the cost of those tickets is patently unfair. By protecting ticket transferability, the BOSS Act will make sure consumers can sell or give away their tickets when life inevitably intervenes and they can’t attend an event. It will also prevent Ticketmaster from introducing anti-competitive restricted-transfer tickets, which prevent resale on any exchange where Ticketmaster can’t control the prices and set the rules.

To be fair to the members of Pearl Jam, they aren’t saying that the BOSS ACT is all bad. They agree with the bill’s provisions that would crack down on anti-consumer conduct in the secondary market like speculative ticketing and deceptive “white label” resale websites. They also support requirements that primary and secondary ticketing companies adopt an “all-in” pricing model where all fees are disclosed up front.

This week, the House Commerce Committee will have an opportunity to question a who’s who of live event industry executives. Chances are that the ticketing industry witnesses will have to answer some uncomfortable questions. If past experience is any indicator, they are likely to try and point the blame at each other, at artists like Pearl Jam, or even at fans. Congress should not let them get away with avoiding accountability. The BOSS ACT will fix many of the problems the hearing will examine.

I love Pearl Jam, but they’re wrong about the BOSS ACT. Here’s hoping that Congress sees this, too.

John Breyault is the Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud at the National Consumers League. 

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