Ticketmaster, Blue Jays Taking Heat Over Sales Practices

Canada’s Commissioner of Competition escalated its fight to stop Ticketmaster and parent company Live Nation Entertainment Inc. from using what it calls a “deceptive ticket pricing practice” in a new filing with the Competition Tribunal this week.

The Commissioner of Competition challenged a previous claim from the companies that it is standard in e-commerce to advertise ticket prices without including applicable service fees, facility charges and processing fees that are tacked on later when consumers make a payment.

“Any bald suggestion that consumers would somehow be able to divine the actual cost of tickets before the Respondents choose to reveal them is simply incorrect,” wrote the Commissioner in its filing. “Many other e-commerce companies, when promoting other products to consumers, present prices that are in fact attainable as the first price consumers see.”

The escalating skirmish between the global live entertainment conglomerates and the Canadian watchdog agency has been ongoing since January of this year when the Commissioner of Competition asked the tribunal to end alleged deceptive ticket pricing and demanded that sports and entertainment ticket vendors review their marketing practices and display the full price of tickets up front.

In its review of the marketing practices employed by Ticketmaster, the Bureau found that Ticketmaster’s fees inflated the price of tickets by more than 20 percent and as high as 65 percent above the initially stated value. It requested the Competition Tribunal order the practice be stopped and the companies be hit with penalties.

Ticketmaster and Live Nation did not immediately respond to a request from the Canadian Press for comment, but have vigorously fought the claims, saying the commissioner is either misunderstanding or misconstruing the ticket process and stressing that its practices are “standard in the ticketing industry, transparent, pro-consumer and proper.”

“Ticketmaster never suggests or implies that there are no fees associated with a consumer’s purchase. The opposite is true,” it said in a response that it filed with the Tribunal. “Consumers who purchase tickets online are aware that they will pay fees above the unit price of a ticket.”

The dispute has caught the eye of live entertainment presenters both in Canada and abroad. The practice of re-pricing tickets to reflect market demand has been a generally accepted practice for over a decade and was first introduced by Canadian global concert promoter Michael Cohl.

Ticket pricing has attracted the attention of provincial governments in Canada with respect to the role re-sellers have in buying up large quantities of tickets and selling them off to fans with deep pockets who, often grudgingly, have paid excessive prices to gain admittance to in-demand shows. This aspect of the live business is not part of the inquiry but is part of a significant problem in an industry that some argue seems resistant to transparency in fair dealings with customers.

Adding fuel to the fire, the CBC reported Thursday that the Blue Jays baseball club has an arrangement with ticket re-seller StubHub that gives the team a cut of every single ticket resold on its site, helping the baseball club to profit from the scalping of its own tickets.

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