Op-Ed: When Property Rights & the Free Market Work for Sports & Music Fans

peter abbate
Assemblyman Peter Abbate Jr.

New Yorkers know a fair deal when we see it. We know when things are on the level and when we’re being taken advantage of. That’s why I’m calling foul on big league sports and major concert promoters that use city- and state-funded venues and enjoy the benefits of our transportation systems, our diversity and our markets, and then stick it to working-class New Yorkers at every turn. I’m also calling foul on ticket scalpers who use robotic software to hoard tickets and resell them for high prices.

In 2015 the Yankees told fans we could no longer resell tickets we purchased, and that the team hoped to “maintain price integrity” (code language for high prices) to ensure that middle-class folks aren’t bothering corporate moguls in their fancy seats and suites. In 2016 we learned that NFL teams have used secret price floors on their official ticket resale websites. Some concert venues entirely prohibit ticket transfers or resales, and some try to stop high-priced resales in the name of protecting fans.

It offends me that sports teams and concert venues are selling tickets for lots of money and then using legal shenanigans to continue controlling the tickets that fans purchase. Once the team is paid or the artist sells a ticket, why do they care what I do with the ticket and whether I attend the event, let a charity re-sell the ticket for a fundraiser or give it to my kid?

Thankfully New York is at the forefront of laws that protect sports and music fans who buy tickets. Every year – with strong bipartisan support – legislators renew laws to keep tickets accessible to all. New York laws require sports teams and concert venues to let fans choose if the tickets we purchase are transferable, and the law protects fans who exercise their transfer and resale rights.

Imagine if your season tickets were non-transferable. How would you give tickets to your local school or charity for the annual fundraiser, or resell tickets if a game conflicts with your kid’s school play or a business trip? Recently the Cleveland Indians cancelled a season-ticket holder’s World Series tickets because he supposedly sold too many of his playoff seats. That cancellation cannot happen in New York.

Some concert venues require fans to use the credit used to purchase tickets as the mechanism to enter the venue. But New Yorkers understand that some fans – particularly in immigrant and underbanked communities where cash is predominant – do not have credit cards.  Our New York ticketing laws should be amended to make sure this practice doesn’t spread into our communities.

Some consumer advocates want Price Caps – they want the government to impose upward limits on ticket prices or to stop prices from being marked up by resellers. But market forces that increase ticket prices also decrease ticket prices. We shouldn’t let the government require low resale prices just as we shouldn’t let teams require high resale prices. Many season-ticket holders resell the hot games for high prices but sell many games for low prices. On balance this works out for many more fans – I know many fans who buy great seats for low prices when our home teams are out of the playoff race or the visiting team isn’t great, or even when the game time is inconvenient because it is on a holiday weekend or a Sunday night.

What the government can do is enforce our existing law against robotic ticket-buying software so that unscrupulous scalpers don’t get all the tickets on sale. If we prevent resellers from snatching up all the tickets unfairly, then more fans will get tickets at the on sale and more fans will have fair and free-market access to tickets in the aftermarket. Attorney General Schneiderman busted several scalpers earlier this year, and he should bust a few more every month or two so they take their dirty business elsewhere.

Governor Cuomo, a Queens guy from way back who also enjoys a good game or concert, said he’ll be convening a task force to study the issues around ticketing. I look forward to working with him on these concerns and promise to be a strong voice for common sense protections that union families, immigrant communities, and all of our neighbors who live in the real world – not the luxury suites – count on to ensure games and concerts stay fair. It’s what New Yorkers throughout our vast and diverse state expect.

Peter Abbate, Jr. is a Democratic Assemblyman representing the 49th District in Brooklyn. He is Chairman of the Committee on Governmental Employees.