Toronto CBC Investigates

New Ontario government puts brakes on anti-scalping law

No end in sight for sky-high markups, analysis of summer concerts shows

July 04, 2018

Tickets being resold online for high-demand events in Ontario this summer such as concerts by Taylor Swift, Elton John and Bruno Mars have been heavily marked up by scalpers, according to analysis by CBC News and the Toronto Star. (Associated Press, Getty Images, Reuters)

Ontario has quietly shelved a key part of a controversial anti-scalping law that would have capped prices ticket scalpers can charge to fans of live music and sports, a joint CBC News/Toronto Star investigation has learned.

Premier Doug Ford's office confirmed late Tuesday his government is suspending a portion of the law, introduced by the Liberals, that would have outlawed resale of tickets at markups of more than 50 per cent above face value, which was set to take effect July 1.

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"The previous government attempted to institute a cap on ticket resales with no way to enforce that cap, resulting in less consumer protection," Ford spokesperson Simon Jeffries wrote in an email statement. 

"We have paused the implementation of this section until we can review this provision in full to make sure it is in the best interest of Ontarians."

While portions of the law banning ticket-buying bots remain in effect, it's unclear what the new government will do instead to curb skyrocketing prices on resale websites such as Stubhub, Ticketmaster and Seat Geek.

Thousands over 150%

CBC News and the Toronto Star have been closely tracking prices for thousands of resale tickets to 10 popular summer events, in anticipation of the price cap taking effect, to test how Ontario could ever hope to police the online scalping market.

We reached out to the new minister of government and consumer services on Friday and, on Tuesday after the long weekend, the government said it is hitting "pause" on the law. 

But by then, online listings for high-demand events such as Elton John, Taylor Swift and Radiohead had exposed the scope of price gouging by scalpers.

CBC News found thousands of tickets listed on StubHub, Seat Geek and Ticketmaster Resale at prices that would have violated the Ontario cap.

(CBC)

Capping resale prices has been vigorously opposed by scalping websites, which praised the move by Ford's new Tory government.

"This is a very rational and prudent decision," wrote Patti-Anne Tarlton, chief operating officer for TicketMaster Canada, which has been aggressively expanding into the resale market. 

The pause, Tarlton said, will make time to "evaluate the anticipated impact" of the law. 

StubHub said it is "pleased" by the move which, according to a statement from spokesperson Cameron Papp, ensures that sales "occur on platforms that provide vital consumer protections."

Vivid Seats, another resale website, said it is now reconsidering its options after geo-blocking all customers in Ontario earlier this week for fear of running afoul of the law.

Jaw-dropping prices

Some of the most jaw-dropping prices found Tuesday on StubHub and SeatGeek included a $325 face-value ticket, to sit at the feet of Taylor Swift next month in Toronto, posted for $66,000.

Or a Foo Fighters' ticket for next week's show at Toronto's Rogers Centre: originally sold for $96, it is reselling for $9,240.

(CBC)

But price caps are not the solution, argues Erin Benjamin, executive director of Music Canada Live, a lobby group representing the live music industry.

"They've just been shown over and over again not to work," Benjamin said, pointing to a report released last month by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that examined various anti-scalping strategies.

"If the priority is to decrease fraud and to keep fans and consumers safe, that's not the answer," Benjamin said  

"When a lot of people want one thing it drives the price up and people are interested in making money off ticket sales. What's to stop the guy on Kijiji from selling that $100 ticket for $500? It's really hard to enforce. And it makes it makes it really easy to dupe fans."


Methodology: How did CBC track ticket prices?

CBC News and the Toronto Star monitored tickets for 10 popular events in Ontario, tracking face value and resale prices on various secondary resale websites. Some tickets were simultaneously posted for resale on multiple websites. VIP packages or listings without clear section, row or face values were not counted.

(Data collection and analysis by Valérie Ouellet, William Wolfe-Wylie and Jessica Willms.)

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