Concert and sports fans have a new ally in the battle over the way tickets are sold in America.
Powerful U.S. Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) says he will take time out from the national health care debate--possibly as early as next week--to introduce a bill requiring ticket distributors to disclose the fees they add to the price of each ticket.
"Both performers and the public have expressed concern that consumers are not properly informed of the charges for ticket services," said Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "This would be a modest and simple proposal to address their concerns."
If passed, it would mark the first nationwide regulation of ticket distribution. It would put transactions conducted by firms such as Los Angeles-based Ticketmaster under the purview of the Federal Trade Commission.
Ticketmaster Chairman Fredric D. Rosen could not be reached for comment, but a senior executive for the firm said Thursday that Ticketmaster supports Dingell's full-disclosure bill. Though critics dispute Ticketmaster's claims, the company maintains that it already informs consumers exactly how much the firm charges in service fees before each transaction and prints that amount on the face of the ticket.
News of the proposal comes as the Justice Department is stepping up a probe of anti-competitive practices in the ticket-distribution industry, sources said.
The investigation was triggered by a civil antitrust complaint filed May 6 by Seattle rock band Pearl Jam, which accused Ticketmaster of exercising a national monopoly over ticket distribution and of using its influence with promoters to thwart the group's planned low-priced tour this summer.
At issue are the fees charged by independent ticket agencies--an industry dominated by Ticketmaster--to sell tickets by phone and at record stores and other sites on behalf of promoters. Ticketmaster service fees for many rock concerts add from $4 to $8 to the price paid by customers.
Justice Department officials--who in May ordered Ticketmaster to surrender records pertinent to the probe--have added investigators to the case and are conducting extensive interviews in several states with major promoters, talent agents and ticket software firms, sources said. Dingell became interested in the ticket issue after members of Pearl Jam testified at a June 30 hearing on Capitol Hill called by the House Government Operations subcommittee to explore the $1-billion concert industry in the United States. The hearing was chaired by U.S. Rep. Gary A. Condit (D-Ceres), co-sponsor of Dingell's bill.
The Dingell proposal is designed to prevent such actions as this summer's attempt to bury escalating service fees in the price of tickets for a nationwide Eagles concert tour.
At one Southern California show, tickets sold for as much as $115.
"I'm very glad to hear that Congress sees this as a national issue," said Pearl Jam manager Kelly Curtis.