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Ontario walks back on ticketing transparency rule, citing artist concerns

Friday, November 24, 2017   (0 Comments)

By DONALD WEBER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

As Ontario gets ready to implement new rules for buying and selling event tickets as early as next week, the province is walking back on a proposed transparency measure it once highlighted as a key consumer protection, arguing instead that it wants to avoid negative consequences for touring musicians.

The original proposal, revealed in June and clarified in October, would have required ticket sellers to disclose the total number of tickets available to the public for a given event at least seven days before they went on sale.

The Globe and Mail has learned that the Liberals will introduce an amendment to its bill to remove this proposed rule – which the government listed as a top-billed transparency measure in June. The Ministry of the Attorney General confirmed the forthcoming change, saying that after further consultations, particularly with touring musicians, the government realized that the rule would be a disincentive for musicians, particularly small and medium acts, to tour the province.

Ontario began the overhaul of its ticketing laws earlier this year after The Tragically Hip's final 2016 tour with late frontman Gord Downie was widely scalped, with tickets resold for enormous markups. The concert-industry association Music Canada Live has warned that despite the high emotions of the tour, scalping costs masked the issue of low supply: only 200,000 tickets were available for the four million people who tried to buy them, the group has said.

Revealing how many tickets are available to the public is a simple way to let consumers know exactly what they are competing for – making the supply half of supply-and-demand better known. But artists, as well as both Music Canada Live and Ticketmaster Canada, have asked the Ontario government not to include this measure in its forthcoming ticket-law revisions.

Skepticism from the ticket-sales side of the industry largely springs from the fact that ticket availability can be fluid. On top of promotional and pre-sale tickets, artists sometimes request sizable blocks of tickets available for their use, including for friends, and can change the requested number over time. Not all consumers are aware of the forces at play, leaving the industry's front line – ticket sellers and promoters – in the crosshairs for something they cannot completely control.

While removing the requirement takes one of the protections away from a ticketing strategy specifically intended for consumer protection, the Ministry said it spoke with many artists who sell tickets in chunks as a sales strategy. Some artists use this as a marketing strategy, releasing then selling out in blocks to build hype. While this might not have a major impact in Toronto, concern arose regarding smaller music markets like Kingston and London.

In a presentation to the Queen's Park social-policy committee this week, Music Canada Live executive director Erin Benjamin told MPPs that because total public-ticket numbers tend to look very different than venue capacity, revealing the number of tickets can lead the public "to believe that unscrupulous activity is taking place with the missing inventory."

Ticketmaster's Canadian chief operating officer Patti-Anne Tarlton told the committee that revealing total ticket numbers could enable scalpers to better use bots to buy bulk tickets where they're known to be scarce.

Progressive Conservative and NDP MPPs also put forth recommendations for amendments on the issue of availability, including to force ticket sellers to make at least 75 per cent of tickets to every event available to the public. While this suggestion puts more control in public hands, it would make the jurisdiction less appealing to out-of-province artists, promoters or event companies that often ask for more than 25 per cent of tickets for other use.

Ontario's proposed new ticket laws also include a ban on rapid-ticket-buying "bot" software used by some scalpers to buy up huge swaths of tickets, and a price cap on resold tickets of no more than 150 per cent of their original value.