City Councilman Carl Stokes introduced legislation tonight that would limit Ticketmaster and other sellers from charging more than 15% on tickets for sports and entertainment events in Baltimore.
The bill would end the practice by which Ticketmaster, the dominant “middleman” in the region, can tack unlimited fees onto tickets ordered by consumers on-line or by phone.
The legislation would replace a temporary bill, passed by the Council at Stokes’ request last March, which permitted ticket agents to set their own service fees.
That action followed a state court ruling in January that struck down Ticketmaster’s service fees as a violation of the city’s 1948 anti-scalping law. The law prohibits adding more than a 50-cent fee to the face value of a ticket by sellers.
The current legislation will sunset in September, by which time Stokes hopes for passage of his new bill.
He will have a fight on his hands.
While Ticketmaster and its parent, Live Nation Entertainment, have declined to publicly comment on the ticket-fee controversy, the company recently hired Paul A. Tiburzi to represent them before the City Council. Tiburzi is a prominent Annapolis lobbyist and a managing partner of DLA Piper.
Ticketmaster has long asserted its right to charge fees above a ticket’s face value to pay for the services it provides.
End to “Fee Gouging?”
As chairman of the Council’s Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee, Stokes is looked upon as the chief architect for setting tax policy for the legislative body.
But Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has the ultimate power to pass, kill or amend the bill through her block of Council allies. The administration has not yet taken a position on Stokes’ legislation, which proposes the following limitations on service fees:
• 15% on the first $50 of a ticket’s box-office price.
• 10% on that part of the ticket’s price that is more than $50 but less than $150.
• 5% for that part of the ticket’s price that is $150 or more.
This would limit the service charge to $7.50 on a $50 ticket, $12.50 on a $100 ticket, $17.50 on a $150 ticket and $20 on a $200 ticket.
Additionally, the measure would require a ticket seller to “disclose prominently” on the face of the ticket the fee imposed and provide similar information on all advertising.
“What my bill does is try to bridge the gap between the 1948 [anti-scalping] law and at the same time come up with an amiable solution to fee gouging by venues and agencies while reaching a compromise with consumers,” Stokes said in a statement tonight.
Andre Bougeois challenged Ticketmaster for charging him $12 in user fees on a $52 ticket to see Jackson Browne at the Lyric Opera House in 2009.
The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that Ticketmaster’s fee amounted to a violation of the city’s anti-scalping law, throwing the company’s service and “convenience” fees in legal limbo.
Two years ago, Live Nation agreed to pay $22 million to customers to settle a class action lawsuit over its fees in California.