Opinion: Michigan must modernize ticket laws for consumers

Chris VanDeHoef

From the birthplace of the legendary Diana Ross and Motown Records to home ice for one of the winningest teams in NHL history, Michigan has historically been and continues to be a state rich with music culture and athletic tradition. But unfortunately for Michiganians, the state’s outdated ticket resale law belongs as far in the past as its roots in live entertainment.

A large group of Lions fans gather outside Lincoln Financial Field for the game against the Eagles in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 22, 2019.

Michigan is one of only six remaining states with laws that restrict fans from reselling tickets they’ve rightfully purchased. These antiquated laws were written before the rise of the internet and the evolution of online ticket sales and are no longer reflective of today’s ticket market.

Tiffany Walker of St Clair Shores shows off the concert ticket  outside the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre for Kanye West Sunday Service concert on Friday, September 27, 2019.
A long line of fans wait for the gates to open at the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre for the Kanye West Sunday Service concert Friday afternoon in Detroit.

Specifically in Michigan, it’s illegal for music, sports and theater fans to resell live-event tickets above face value without first obtaining written permission from the ticket issuer. This makes it incredibly difficult for fans to recoup the costs of tickets after adding on all of the additional fees from the original transaction. Although ineffective and largely unenforced, this antiquated law limits the rights of fans and encumbers consumers with unnecessary restrictions.

While this law burdens Michigan’s consumers, it allows big corporations like Ticketmaster — under the Live Nation Entertainment umbrella — to rake in all of the profits. If you go to Ticketmaster.com and look for regular season hockey tickets, you’ll find standard Red Wings tickets and verified resale tickets in the same seating chart. Often the verified resale tickets will cost more than the standard tickets issued from the team, even for seats located in the same section and row. This is completely legal for Ticketmaster to do because they have a partnership with the NHL. Yet it’s illegal for a Red Wings season ticket holder to do the exact same thing (unless they use Ticketmaster’s platform, of course). This law is skewed to favor the ticket monopoly and squeeze as much money from the fans as possible.

A snow-covered Lions fans looks on as Detroit loses.

Michigan Senate Bills 384 and 385 offer comprehensive, common-sense solutions to the state’s ticket issues. These bills give fans more control over the tickets they purchase and build in other consumer protections to protect Michiganians from bad actors.

For example, Senate Bill 385 prohibits the use of software programs, known as BOTs, that interfere with initial on-sales by buying up large quantities of tickets faster than humans can navigate the primary sale websites. BOTs are especially problematic for sell-out events where they can prevent fans from purchasing tickets at the initial on-sale. In turn, these tickets are often sold on the secondary market at artificially inflated prices.

Senate Bill 385 also prohibits the use of deceptive URLs, known as white label websites, that mislead consumers and regulates the sale of ‘speculative’ tickets — tickets that are listed for sale when the vendor does not own, possess or have a contract to possess the ticket.

Last year similar legislation (House Bill 4224) passed in the Michigan House of Representatives only to be silently killed in a State Senate Committee. Everyone loves a good comeback story. This year the Michigan Legislature must pass Senate Bills 384 and 385 to protect consumers and to put control of tickets in the hands of real fans.

Chris VanDeHoef is the president of Fan Freedom, an organization comprised of entertainment and sports fans from around the country that support legislative proposals protecting the rights of fans and consumers.