Some fans of The Boss are due to collect some loot.
In a settlement of Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges of deceptive bait-and-switch tactics, Ticketmaster has agreed to pay refunds to consumers who bought tickets for 14 Bruce Springsteen concerts in 2009 through its ticket resale Web site TicketsNow.
The company also has agreed to be clear about the costs and risks of buying through its reseller sites.
According to the FTC's complaint, when tickets went on sale February 2, 2009, for Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band concerts in May and June, Ticketmaster displayed a "No Tickets Found" message on its Web page to consumers to indicate that no tickets were available at that moment to fulfill their request.
The FTC charged that Ticketmaster used this Web page to steer unknowing consumers to TicketsNow, where tickets were offered at much higher prices -- in some cases double, triple, or quadruple the face value.
Ticketmaster also displayed the same misleading Web page to consumers looking to buy tickets for many other events between October 2008 and February 2009, the agency charged.
"Buying tickets should not be a game of chance," said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. "Ticketmaster's refrain is that it sold through TicketsNow to give consumers more choices. But when you steer consumers to your resale Web sites without clear disclosures, and they unknowingly buy tickets at higher prices, they'll be left with a sour note."
Compounding this deception, Ticketmaster failed to tell buyers that many of the resale tickets advertised on TicketsNow.com were not "in hand" -- in other words, they were not actual tickets secured for sale at the time they were listed and bought. In fact, some tickets were being sold speculatively -- that is, they were merely offers to try to find tickets.
For example, many consumers hoping to go to a Springsteen concert at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC in May 2009 paid for tickets in February that never materialized. Ticketmaster kept the sales proceeds for more than three months without a reasonable basis for believing it could fulfill the orders, the FTC complaint alleged.
"TicketsNow.com sold phantom tickets without letting consumers know that the tickets did not exist. Then, the company held onto consumers' money, sometimes for months, when it knew those fans weren't going to see Springsteen," Leibowitz said. "Clearly consumers deserve better. They deserve to know what they're buying, including the risk that their tickets won't materialize."
Under the FTC settlement, eligible consumers who have not previously received a refund will get back the extra money they paid to buy the higher-priced tickets from TicketsNow. For example, if a consumer paid $400 for two tickets from TicketsNow, and those same two tickets would have cost $200 from Ticketmaster, the customer would get a $200 refund.
It wasn't just Ticketmaster's handling of Springsteen tickets that raised the ire of consumers.
Bruce of Coppell, TX, tells ConsumerAffairs.com that he bought tickets online for a Dwight Yoakam concert on Feb 5. "We took tickets to arena but could not find parking and were turned away by Mesquite police. We did not get to attend the concert although we paid good money for these tickets and felt that this was the most poorly planned concert. We are not happy Ticketmaster customers."
"I am outraged at the fees being charged by Ticketmaster (25 percent of the cost of the ticket)," says Ray of Wilton, CA. "I was looking for tickets for Jeff Dunham. I was so outraged, I went down to the arena myself."
The Commission staff is sending a warning letter to other ticket resale companies whose practices may violate the law. The letter discusses the Ticketmaster settlement and the FTC's concerns about the failure to disclose to consumers when tickets offered for sale are speculative or otherwise not in hand.
According to the letter, the FTC strongly recommends, "that you review your own company's Web site to ensure that you are not making any misleading statements or failing to provide material information to prospective purchasers of tickets listed on your site."
The state of New Jersey settled a complaint regarding Springsteen tickets about a year ago.