NYC Council bill makes ‘hidden’ fees in ticket sales transparent

Andrew Kogan

The New York City Council passed legislation on Apr. 11 that  mandates ticket vendors show full prices of tickets for live entertainment and sports programs upfront. 

People who have wondered what those mysterious “fees” were when buying tickets online to a concert or professional sports game in the city will soon find out what they are.

The move is aimed at ending a popular tactic, deployed by online merchants such as Live Nation Entertainment Inc.-owned Ticketmaster and StubHub, of showing a lower sticker price to lure customers into buying tickets, only to add mysterious fees at checkout.

If the bill is signed into law, violation of the measure would begin with a warning and be followed by a $250 penalty. But repeat offenses could result in fines up to $5,000 for online ticket corporations.

Council Member Justin Brannan, who sponsored the bill, condemned this “bait-and-switch” advertising done by retailers.

“Don’t advertise that tickets are $20 when by the time you’re done paying all sorts of surprise fees they’re actually gonna cost $80,” Brannan said, according to the New York Post.

The measure passed with a unanimous 49-0 vote on the council floor on April 11, but the idea was not always popular among council members. The proposal was shut down in 2018, but this did not stop Brannan from reintroducing it five years later, which met a more positive outcome.

But council members, including Brannan, acknowledged the limits to what they can do about the imposition of these fees in the first place, whether hidden or not.

Brannan told Gothamist that “the main goal, in a perfect world, is we cap the fees, but we don’t think we can legally do that.”  He said these costs were private industry fees as opposed to government fees, and so all that could be done on the council’s end was to make prices more transparent but not actually eradicate the add-on fees.

Nevertheless, Brannan hoped that the measure will pressure online vendors into making prices more reasonable, so that perhaps while tax and fee amounts would remain the same, the base price of the ticket would decrease. 

The council was not the first government body to target big-ticket corporations for their consumer-deception schemes.

The U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing into Live Nation’s ticket rollout for pop singer Taylor Swift’s “The Eras” concert tour in January. Ticketmaster, the brand which fostered the rollout, experienced website outages, used mysterious pricing and imposed long wait times for customers.

Consumer deception committed by major ticket retailers even got the attention of U.S. President Joe Biden, who called upon Congress to pass legislation eradicating “junk fees.”

New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration also passed a bill that forces online ticket sellers to show the full price of the tickets being sold up-front, as well as mandating resellers to reveal the prices they had paid for tickets originally. 

The law could have serious implications on ticket prices for popular venues across the city, such as Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center and Yankee Stadium, as these sports and entertainment spaces often add fees up to 30% of the original ticket price, much to the dismay of fans in the tri-state area. 

As of April 18, the bill still needs New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ signature for avid sports fans and concertgoers to finally be made aware of what it is they are paying for that’s not going directly toward the entry ticket.

Upon Adams’ signature, the law would go into effect within six months.