Schumer pushes for federal investigation of Ticketmaster

[9 February 2009]

By Tom Davis

The Record (Hackensack N.J.) (MCT)

Calls for a probe into the online sale of Bruce Springsteen tickets gained momentum Sunday when Sen. Chuck Schumer demanded an investigation by Congress.

Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., appeared at Madison Square Garden to criticize Ticketmaster for doing a “bait-and-switch” when it distributed tickets to Springsteen’s upcoming “Working on a Dream” tour.

Angry fans of the Monmouth County rocker contacted the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs with allegations of scalping last week after they were unable to buy tickets at Ticketmaster’s online store, and were instead directed to an affiliated seller’s far pricier Web site.

Schumer joined Pascrell in demanding that Congress probe Ticketmaster for a possible violation of antitrust laws. Pascrell first called for the investigation last Tuesday.

Ticketmaster, which acquired TicketsNow last year for $265 million, describes the reseller as “its leading online marketplace where buyers and sellers meet in open exchange.”

Schumer and Pascrell said the partnership - along with Ticketmaster’s potential merger with one of the world’s largest concert promoters, Live Nation - could potentially increase ticket prices even further and create a monopoly in the ticketing industry.

“There is great potential for abuse when two companies of this size join forces,” Schumer said. “We must protect consumers against these practices.”

Attempts to reach officials at both Ticketmaster and Live Nation were unsuccessful.

Pascrell has already written the Federal Trade Commission and other government authorities, asking them to investigate whether Ticketmaster and TicketsNow have a conflict of interest.

Pascrell said Ticketmaster leads customers to believe TicketsNow is their only option if they’re unable to purchase tickets through the standard methods.

In a Feb. 5 letter to the House Judiciary Committee, Pascrell said the potential merger with Live Nation could allow for “an incredible potential for abuse when one company controls the primary and secondary market for concert tickets.

“That potential will surely be magnified exponentially should one company be able to control every aspect of recording, record sales, licensing, venue ownership and ticket sales,” Pascrell wrote in his letter.

Though most Springsteen shows sold out within minutes, Ticketmaster prompted many customers to go to TicketsNow, where hundreds of tickets were immediately available but at prices far above face value.

Seething fans contacted the state Division of Consumer Affairs with allegations of scalping. One woman, in an e-mail to The Record, said her husband was unwittingly charged more than $1,900 - “over 6 ½ weeks’ worth of grocery money!”

Ticketmaster has attributed the Internet lockout to a software issue isolated to three show dates, and said it was contacting customers whose orders were canceled mid-transaction.

Tickets for the Bruce Springsteen concert, which includes several show dates in the New York metro area, went on sale Feb. 2.

Springsteen, on tour to promote his newly released album “Working on a Dream,” will play the Izod Center at the Meadowlands on May 21 and 23. posted prices of $65 to $95 when tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. last Monday.

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, TicketsNow had 1,052 tickets to the Izod Center shows for $200 to $4,998.

TicketsNow tickets “come from licensed brokers, as well as from individual sellers,” according to its Web site.

Ticketmaster says that “on occasion” it may place tickets for sale on TicketsNow.

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