Ticketmaster and its online resale site TicketsNow, which recently drew the ire of Bruce Springsteen and U.S. officials, will be probed to ensure people are paying a fair price for entertainment and sporting events, Ontario’s attorney general said Monday.
The availability and pricing of tickets sold through the entertainment colossus will go under the Ontario government’s microscope, a move the Consumer’s Association of Canada called “long overdue.”
“More and more Ontarians are increasingly concerned about fair access to tickets at a fair price,” said Attorney General Chris Bentley. “I want to make sure Ontario families get fair access to tickets.”
Last week, Ticketmaster agreed to pay the state of New Jersey $350,000 and to change the way it does business in the United States because of an outcry from Springsteen fans about TicketsNow, where tickets for his homecoming show were being offered at hundreds of dollars above face value.
Ticketmaster purchased TicketsNow last year for US$265 million, and takes a slice of every ticket resold through TicketsNow in addition to the original service charges it levies when tickets are first sold.
Complaints about Ticketmaster’s ownership of the site were raised again last week after tickets went on sale for a Toronto concert by Canadian icon Leonard Cohen, Bentley said.
The minister’s staff has been tasked with reviewing Ticketmaster’s settlement with New Jersey, which included a promise to compensate Springsteen fans who had been redirected to TicketsNow.
“Certain changes were made in the United States to make sure that American consumers were being treated fairly (and) I want to make sure that Ontario consumers are being treated fairly,” Bentley said.
“I’ve asked my ministry officials to explore this issue and to provide me with options.”
Bentley wouldn’t say what options his staff could recommend after reviewing the Ticketmaster situation.
It is illegal in Ontario to sell tickets above their face value.
Under the settlement with New Jersey, Ticketmaster agreed to remove the link to TicketsNow from its website in the United States, and has since removed the link to TicketsNow from its Canadian website as well.
Mel Fruitman of the Consumers Association of Canada welcomed the attorney general’s probe, and said Ticketmaster should never have been allowed to redirect customers to TicketsNow, where tickets are often sold at many times their face value.
“That was just so egregious, flipping people automatically from Ticketmaster to TicketsNow, which is of course what Bruce Springsteen complained about,” Fruitman said in an interview.
“As soon as they realized the bad PR they were getting out of that they discontinued (it), but the basic question remains: how do those tickets wind up on their resale site so quickly?”
Ticketmaster did not return calls for comment Monday, but in an email exchange with The Canadian Press the company insisted it did not give TicketsNow any preferential access to tickets.
“Ticketmaster goes to great lengths to ensure that members of the public have the most fair opportunity possible to buy tickets in the primary market,” wrote Albert Lopez, vice-president of strategic communications.
“We intend to co-operate with the minister every step of the way, to get the best possible result for Ontario and the rest of Canada.”
Fruitman said Ticketmaster has such a monopoly on the market that it actually sets the prices consumers pay for tickets to an event, not the performers people are paying to see.
“Increasingly it’s the company that is selling the tickets that determines what the charge to the customer is going to be,” he said.
There have been at least two class-action suits filed against Ticketmaster in Canada over its services fees and charges and over its ownership of TicketsNow, as well as a U.S. Justice Department probe of the company’s planned merger with Live Nation.