Tech'ed Up

Digital Ticket Era • Laura Dooley

October 19, 2023 bWitched Media
Tech'ed Up
Digital Ticket Era • Laura Dooley
Show Notes Transcript

Laura Dooley,  Head of Global Government Relations at StubHub, sits down with Niki in the studio to talk about the tech behind ticket pricing, why competition in the ticketing industry is so important for consumers, and highlights some smart and reasonable paths for policy solutions that will empower consumers and fans.

"When you buy a ticket, it should be yours. That's our point of view. Do what you want with it. Unfortunately, that's not how it works in the status quo." - Laura Dooley

Intro: 

[music plays] 

Niki: I’m Niki Christoff, and welcome to Tech’ed Up! On today’s episode, I’m joined in the studio by Laura Dooley, podcast superfan and Head of Global Government Relations at StubHub.  

Laura shares her insights into the tech behind ticket pricing and the power dynamics that influence supply, demand, and the Taylor Swift tour. Let’s be honest: Swifties and the Beehive are the only reason we’re talking about all of this right now, but their mega tours are highlighting longstanding issues faced by fans. 

Transcript: 

Niki: Today in the podcast studio, I am welcoming Laura Dooley. She's the Head of Global Government Relations at StubHub. 

Laura, welcome. 

Laura: Hi. Thanks, Niki. I'm happy to be here. 

Niki: So we, well, we work together, so that makes this a first for me. 

Laura: Oh, good! I like being the first. That's exciting. 

Niki: You're the first I've worked with who's come on the pod.

Laura: Okay, the pressure is on! 

Niki: Well, this is what I have to say. When I met you, two things. One, I did not understand ticketing at all, which I probably shouldn't say as your consultant, but you've been giving me a 101. 

Laura: Well, it's, it is a very confusing landscape that a lot of people don't understand, so it is by no means, like, a knock against you that you didn't understand ticketing [chuckling] before we started working together.

Niki: And I thought that would make an interesting episode because the audience is people like us, DC people who work in and around tech, but they may not fully understand the ins and outs of the industry. So that's point one. Point two is, I just like you [chuckling] and I drag-

[both laugh] 

Laura: It's mutual.  [chuckling] It's a mutual affection.

Niki: I drag people onto the podcast I want to be friends with. [Laura: laughs]

And I think the first time we met in person, we were talking podcasts  [Laura: Yes!] and discovered we both love, we love a true crime.

Laura: Love a true crime, can't get enough true crime, especially when I'm walking around. It became my COVID passion to walk around my neighborhood in Arlington listening to true crime podcasts and that defined 2020 for me.

So, that's me in a nutshell. [laughs] 

Niki: So 2020 is when I started listening to podcasts too, which is how I ended up starting one. It just was such a great way to learn something, although I am often listening to murder podcasts

Laura: We share that in common, and I think it's something that, very candidly, a lot of people share in common. I think it's like a, almost a universal truth that, amongst my girlfriends in D. C., like, I would guarantee 99 percent of us listen to true crime, true crime podcasts. 

What does that say about us? I'm not exactly sure - We're problem solvers?

Niki: We shouldn't examine it!  [chuckling]

Laura: We're problem solvers. We're trying to look for solutions, fix problems. [both chuckling]  I don't know. I love it though. 

Niki: It's relaxing.

Laura: It's relaxing. 

[both laugh] 

Niki: And additionally, this is your first podcast that you've been a guest on!  

Laura: Correct. First one ever. As a podcast, like, consumer, this is just, like, almost, like, a little dream come true for me to be on a podcast. I'm very excited.

Niki: I love that!  And eventually, we're going to get to the point where you start your own podcast about reality TV called Dooley Noted. 

Laura: Yes! I, as Laura Dooley, last name just implies probably the best podcast name ever.

My sister and I have decided to start this together. We're going to talk about reality television and other things of interest and generally just, like, make fun of each other, I think, in real-time. I'm not sure who the audience is, but when it starts, we'd love a little bit of, like, love back and forth between Tech’ed Up and Dooley Noted.

[both laughing] 

[cross talk]

Maybe we can find some common ground [laughing] in our audience members, but stay tuned. It's coming. 

Niki: It's coming, which brings us back to why are we here. Here's why I think we're here. 

Laura: Okay? 

Niki: It's Taylor Swift's world, and we just live in it. 

Laura: No truer words have been said. I think that's absolutely accurate.

And Taylor Swift announcing her tour in 2022, and then, like, going on tour in 2023, has completely changed the landscape of activity in ticketing from a policy perspective. Predominantly in Washington, D. C. but it's also had a huge impact out in the states as well. 

People identifying a problem, trying to solve a problem, sometimes identifying that problem, maybe inaccurately, and trying to solve issues that have already been solved for, and missing maybe the bigger picture, which in our industry really is competition.

Niki: Right! [Laura: Mm-hmm] Competition is the biggest issue, and that's what I want to dig into, the things I've learned since we started working together a few months ago. What are the myths in ticketing? And then, what are things that have just changed over time? So StubHub's been around for a long time,  [Laura: Mm-hmm] but the live ticketing events industry has changed a lot and Taylor Swift is just sort of pushing up against the edges of what the system can bear. [Laura: Mm-hmm]

So it's highlighting, as you said, either issues or issues that have been solved, and there's just a misunderstanding or, or pain point with this one tour, which is an outlier. 

So, one thing you and I've talked about, well, we didn't talk about this: I miss the 90’s!

Laura: Same. 

Niki: I just really do! And one great thing about the 90’s is you got a ticket to a concert that you kept in a shoe box. [chuckling]

[both laugh] 

Laura: Yes! As we're seeing play out, by the way, on the internet with NSYNC's alleged reunion tour and all of the great memes of, y’know, women of our age saying, “Unless you have stood online to get an NSYNC ticket, [Niki: chuckling] know all of the words to “Tearing Up My Heart, like, you do not qualify to go [chuckling] to this NSYNC reunion tour.” 

[both laugh]

And I think, in a lot of ways, those memes are like a flashback to how ticketing worked in the 90’s. You went to your local Tower Records, you stood in line, y’know, people were doing that across the country, but what they weren't all doing is going to one website at one time on a Friday morning and trying to fight for the number of tickets that were available for you.

The practicalities of it were the same. It was still really one retailer in the context of Ticketmaster, but it had all of these different distribution partners. Now, they are their own distribution partner online. Everyone is kind of rushing to this one platform. And a platform that has very limited competition very little incentive to innovate and do better by the customer.

And, unfortunately, Taylor Swift, the scale of Taylor Swift, it's really a symptom, it's not the disease, but it was such a meaningful moment for so many people. The outcome of which I think just kind of led us down this conversation path and this policy path that's been brewing for a long time, just never at this scale. 

Niki: And again, the Eras tour that she's on right now [Laura: Yes] is an outlier, but I think it highlights one of the things we've discussed, which is the concept of face value. [Laura: Yes!]

So, those old tickets: You had the ticket stub. It had a printed price. [Laura: Yes] You were sitting next to someone with the exact same printed price on their ticket. [Laura: Exactly] 

Face value is an outdated term because of the way this shift to digital has changed supply and demand. So that might be our first myth to bust, which is face value.

Laura: Yeah, face value, as I like to say, it's almost completely antiquated. The idea that, y’know, every ticket in a certain section is priced the same way or every ticket has a, has a static value that's been assigned to it is just no longer the case, whether it be sports or concerts or theater.

What you see now is pricing fluctuating to match demand that's out there. Sports are a great example. You used to buy a season ticket package and every game was assigned the same value. Now, you see high-profile games “price up.” You see less in-demand games “price down.” It's something that the secondary market is very comfortable with.

It's what our market is based on, right? Our market has always been a price that's driven by supply and demand, and that never had been the case before in the original sale of a ticket or what we call the primary market. Now, in the primary market, you're seeing this use of dynamic pricing, which in a lot of ways we think is great because it makes a lot of sense for the original ticket seller to get the maximum value out of their product. 

I think what's challenging from a consumer perspective is that consumers aren't all savvy to the fact that these prices are fluctuating. That if you go to a concert, you may have paid $200, but the person next to you paid $400, and you all bought it from the same platform, um, or at the same time on the original market.

That's very confusing, and it's kind of shifting the way people think about live events. 

And I think what's even more complicated in this notion, the way that the system is currently set up, the original ticket seller is also in a position to, kind of, manipulate the release of supply. And so, what you may see on day one are, y’know, X percentage of tickets being offered for sale, but as a consumer, you don't know that X percentage is coming on sale down the road. And those prices may be priced differently, often higher, to accommodate for the demand that's been, like, in waiting and weren't able to access those tickets the first time.

So you get this kind of use of a false sense of scarcity to drive prices. 

Niki: Yeah. 

Laura: That's completely opaque to the consumer. 

From a policy perspective, if you were to shine a light on that practice, if consumers know, “Okay, I'm not going to get one today. I'm just going to wait three weeks and see what comes available.”

They may make more informed purchasing decisions. They may not rush to the secondary market. Y’know, they may decide to wait it out and see how prices fall. That lack of information plays into the, um, the ability for dynamic pricing to occur in such a significant way.

Niki: So, I'm going to recap.  [Laura: Yup] You actually just busted several myths.

Laura: Oh, just nailed it! [laughs]

Niki: You nailed it!  Smashed it. 

Laura: Yeah? [chuckles]

Niki: So, first of all, you talked about sports, which I think is interesting. I didn't know this until I met you: that sports is actually the largest ticketing category in the US on StubHub. 

Laura: Absolutely. 

Niki: Not concerts necessarily.

And you just made the point that I think people don't always think about when you're on the secondary market, which is a platform like StubHub [Laura: mm-hmm], where people, a seller, is just trying to get something recouped for their ticket. That might be higher than they paid, but it could be lower. [Laura: Right]  I think people often think of secondary resellers as boosting prices, [Laura: mm-hmm], like professional brokers [Laura: Yeah] who are, yknow, buying in bulk and then mass jacking up the price.

That's not really how it works. It can be season ticket holders for a sporting franchise who then just need to get rid of tickets and it might be lower than what they paid. 

Laura: Absolutely. So, if you think about baseball. Y’know, there's 81 home games. If you're a season ticket holder for a baseball team, you're probably not going to go to every game, and the team may be doing well; they may be out of contention. At some point, those tickets may not hold the value that they were originally assigned. 

You just want to move the product. You want to move the inventory. And so, you price to what the market can bear, um, and that can be a huge advantage for consumers who maybe can't afford, like, the original ticket price, or have a large family, or just want to go to a game, y’know, randomly on a Friday afternoon, and they can, sometimes for as low as $6 on StubHub, which is, I think, an incredible bargain, right, to go to a Nats game for six bucks? 

You can't buy a hot dog for six bucks! [chuckling]

Niki: Right, you cannot. 

Laura: Right, so I think we see that a lot, and then, but what we end up talking about most of the time from a policy perspective is the Taylor Swift's of the world, the concerts that are in such high demand. There is never going to be enough inventory for Taylor Swift. Everyone wants to go see Taylor Swift. And so, those prices, when they make it to the secondary market, go higher to reflect that demand and the lack of supply. 

And when we think about policy, we want to encourage people not to create policy to the extremes on either side, [Niki: Right] but to kind of find that middle lane that accommodates and, and makes, y’know, fits all scenarios that are out there.

Niki: Right! And I do want to talk about some specific policy solutions. [Laura: Yeah] But before we do that, the other thing you were talking about is dynamic pricing.  [Laura: Yes] And again, supply and demand are just going to net out wherever. [Laura: mm-hmmm] I think Taylor Swift is already doing the most. 

I'm certain no one from her staff is listening to this,  [Laura: chuckles] but I have a suggestion. [Laura: OK?] Having been to the Taylor Swift concert, here's my suggestion. They should be selling like canned wine. I think it's a real miss. I'm like, “This is really a White Claw audience for these, for the me's of the world.”

I don't know. It's just a suggestion.

Laura: Seems like a huge miss for these stadiums. And I think it gets immediately into… 

Niki: [interrupts excitedly] It does! 

Laura: …exclusive contracts! 

Niki: Here we go! Did you see that segue? It's because I've listened to so many podcasts. 

[both laugh]

Laura: That was amazing!

Niki: I know. Perfect. 

Laura: Just picked it up.

Niki: You did. Okay. 

Laura: So, our industry is interesting. And if you think about it from a retail standpoint, our, the ticketing product, or the original sale of a ticket, is predominantly, in the U.S., done by one exclusive provider. Seven to eight out of ten times, that provider is Ticketmaster. Ticketmaster is owned by Live Nation. 

Live Nation is a worldwide entertainment conglomerate that has various business units. One includes artist management. They manage 450 of the world's best artists. The second is a tour promotion. They promote tours across the globe, and they do it at such a scale that they're the largest promoter in the world. The third piece is that they're venue owners. They own properties, they own actual venues, and when they don't own the venue, they actually have exclusive operating rights to those venues instead. So, it's kind of like a twofer, depending on the relationship they have with that venue. And then three, they have the ticketing arm. 

All of those things tend to be exclusive. And so, if you really think about the concert landscape, right? Artist decides to go on a tour. She needs someone to back that tour financially. She works with a promoter. The promoter then goes and scouts out the landscape and decides what venues to put that tour into. And then, the venue has an exclusive contract with the ticketing company. 

And so, you can see from, like, a value chain perspective, if you control all aspects of that value chain, there's a disproportionate reason to enter into exclusive contracts with a company like Live Nation because they have the content creation on their side, too. 

And that's the accusation that's always been made against them with the Department of Justice, which we saw play out in the consent decree. They're allegedly not allowed to use the content to secure an exclusive agreement with the venue, but there have been reports of that happening. And the downstream impact to a consumer is you've got one place to shop when you want to buy a ticket on the primary market.

If you want choice, if you want flexibility, that's when you enter into the secondary market space, the resale space that StubHub plays in. There are many choices in that resale space. StubHub, Vivid, SeatGeek - also, Ticketmaster. [Niki: mm-hmm] And what folks I think don't understand is that Ticketmaster is disproportionately growing fastest in this resale space.

Largely because of the technology they use to sell that initial ticket. They're doing it in such a way where they can sell you a ticket, require you either through technology or terms and conditions to transfer that ticket, or resell that ticket on their own platform. And so, you can see, kind of, like, the monopoly they've created on the first sale of a ticket can very quickly be used to influence and create a monopoly on the second sale of a ticket as well. 

And that's really what we're fighting. 

Niki: Right. I do want to talk about tech [Laura: Yeah] and how there is a use of technology to reinforce a monopoly status. [Laura: Yes!] 

And I am not just saying this because we work together. The more I learn about it, the more obvious it is that this violates competition rules in the US. And I'm often on this podcast saying, “Listen, the law in the United States is not to protect competitors. It's to protect consumers.” But what you just described, which is a self-reinforcing power structure [Laura: Mm-hmm] where the supply, the artist choices, the release of tickets, the platform you have to buy on, the ownership, all of these interconnected pieces mean that you are constricting what consumers can do and there absolutely is an impact in price because of that. 

And that's literally what the FTC and Department of Justice are supposed to be looking at.

Laura: Yes! And you know, the media suggests and is reporting that they are looking at that now, which we think is really important.

And we think it's really important that they don't look at the industry as just the original sale market, right? This, this vertical integration of, of artists, promoter, venue to get these exclusive ticketing contracts has always been the focus. We'd love to see that focus expand and say, “Let's make some changes here that impact and disrupt how people actually buy tickets on the primary.”

It's always the point of frustration for consumers when any of these quote-unquote on sales happen. But let's also take a look now at how technology, anti-competitive terms and conditions are impacting what happens to a ticket after it's been purchased by somebody.

Niki, when you buy a ticket, it should be yours! That's our point of view.  [Niki: Yeah]  

Like, do what you want with it. Unfortunately, that's not how it works in the status quo. And in order to ensure that you have that right, we've had to see public policymakers kind of step in, right? And we've seen that happen in a handful of states now.

We know it's a consideration that is, is being taken into, like, discussion on the Hill as well. We'd love to see, like, a scaled solution to make sure that consumers actually have a right with the ticket that they've purchased so that they can make decisions for themselves about if they want to transfer it, if they want to resell it, if they just want to use it and like give it to their mom as a gift without having their mom have to download the Ticketmaster app and kind of go through that exercise.

Niki: This is a major pain point for me personally [Laura: Yes] and I know that people are noticing it increasingly because the conditions and constraints seem to be increasing. [Laura: Yeah] 

So, here's a perfect example. I bought, on the secondary market, on StubHub, [Laura: Mm-hmm] concert tickets that the original, had originally been purchased from Ticketmaster.

Laura: Okay. 

Niki: Months ago! The concert was last week [exasperated chuckle]; I didn't get the tickets released until, I think, 48 hours ahead of time! [Laura: Yep] And then, I wanted to transfer them to someone else, but I couldn't because he didn't have a Ticketmaster app, and we didn't go through it. So, I couldn't actually transfer them. 

So, we go to the concert. I'm showing my Ticketmaster [chuckling], which I didn't even, I didn't even buy them through Ticketmaster.  [Laura: Right]  But I have to have the app.  [Laura: Right] I have to show them. And then, they checked my driver's license against my ticket.  [Laura: Mmmh] And I just felt like... It's too much entanglement with a company I didn't interact with.

I interacted with an independent dude who had an extra Death Cab for Cutie ticket!  [chuckling] I just found it really limiting in a way that I didn't, I didn't appreciate.

Laura: Yeah, and I think that's, that's today's frustration in the ticketing market.

It's, you know, in so many ways, we've seen technology be used to disrupt in a positive way, right? Or to change the face of an industry. And I think, in many ways, StubHub did that. 

Back in 2000, we said, “Listen, no longer does it make sense for you to buy a ticket on the street corner outside of, y’know, the Capital One arena. There's got to be a better way to do this.” 

And that's really what StubHub was founded to do: Create a better way to connect buyers and sellers at scale, on a global basis, and then insert the customer protection into it, right? And so, 20 years ago, we were able to do that. 

It was successful enough as a business model that now there's several competitors in the same space, including Ticketmaster. But what we didn't see was technology be used to disrupt how the original ticket was sold. And in many ways, what we're now seeing is technology being used to lock that down even further to the disadvantage of the consumer. And so, when tickets are digital, Ticketmaster and others - this is happening in various ticketing companies as well using what they call a rotating barcode to effectively make sure that if you want to access the venue, that ticket has to be populated in their app

The app of the ticket company that sold the original ticket is how you have to enter. It's like an access control system, right? 

If you want to transfer that ticket, the only way you can transfer it is if the original company allows you to. If you want to resell it, as long as transfers on, you can do that, and you can choose to use a company like StubHub, but at the end of the day, StubHub has to send all of its customers back to the original ticketing company. Eight out of ten times, it's Ticketmaster. And so, what does that create? It creates an excessive amount of friction in that transaction.

Stubhub, uniquely in the secondary market, has always catered to consumer sellers. I think it's something like 99 percent of sellers on our site are consumers. 

Niki: Right! This is, wait, so repeat that. 

Laura: Yeah, this is important!  

Niki: There's an idea [Laura: Yes!] that it's like computers and bots buying up all the tickets and jacking up the price.

Laura: When you talk about the number of people selling on StubHub, the vast majority, almost 99%, are actually consumer sellers, most of which sell less than ten tickets a year, right? So you're talking season ticket holders, people who bought extra, things like that. 

We certainly also work with ticket brokers. These, these are professional businesses abiding by the laws that exist out there, and StubHub is very supportive of those laws. These are guys and gals that, y’know, have employees, they pay taxes, they do all of those things. They are creating access and choice in a market as well. Oftentimes, working directly with the original ticket seller or the venue or the team to help dispel some sort of risk and so they play an important role in our system. 

But getting back to the consumer, if you're a consumer that's selling a ticket ten times a year and you're like, “Wait a second. How do I sell this on StubHub? Because I have to now, like, find a buyer, StubHub's going to email me their address. I'm going to have to then go back to the Ticketmaster app and send this ticket to this person. Why don't I just resell it on Ticketmaster?”

That's exactly the goal of this technology, right? It's to eliminate competition. And then what happens if a seller is like, “Absolutely not. I'm not working with Ticketmaster. I already paid them the fees. I'm not paying them more fees. I'm going to go to StubHub.” 

The friction that it causes it drives so many customer service inquiries, like,  “I sold the ticket, now what do I do? Or, I bought this ticket. Why do I have to watch out for an email from Ticketmaster?” It's just a deterrent in this process. And it's really what we're fighting for. 

Niki: And I think you make a good point about, um, it, it's a deterrent, but it also, you just said it takes up customer service time. [Laura: Yes] 

And, and again, I know it's an outlier, but when you have people [Laura: Yes] selling for the first time ever and then they may not understand all the steps [Laura: Yep] they have to go through, and because those original tickets aren't released until right before the concert, you under [Laura: Yess!], you end up with these sad stories of people who didn't get their tickets, not because they're being somehow scammed or there's fraud [Laura: Yep!], but because it's increasingly complicated. They hold the ticket back till the last minute [Laura: mm-hmm], allegedly because of fraud. [Laura: mm-hmm] 

Why do they do that? 

Laura: When you have first-time sellers, I think we had a crazy statistic like 83 percent of sellers for Taylor Swift were first-time sellers on our site.

That's a huge number! There's multi-steps to the process now when you have to send someone back to another platform.

And that's multiple times that something can go wrong. I think one of the biggest challenges that any secondary market faces are these delivery delays that are there. [Niki: Right]  They've been there forever. Before my time, [laughing] there were delivery delays.

Often it was like 24, or 48 hours before an event, the PDF wouldn't be delivered, right? Now it's the release of the barcode, which condenses the amount of time that anyone who has resold or transferred that, wants to transfer that ticket has to execute [Niki: Right], and it reduces that time that anybody who wants to participate in this market has to troubleshoot.

So many of the issues that, y’know, like the fraud or security concerns that are often used as a, as a reason or a rationale for anti-competitive practices could be solved by, I don't know, giving people the product that they paid for immediately. 

Niki: Right!  [Laura: Right?!] You paid for it, but you don't get it for months! Or, y’know-

Laura: Many months, [Niki: Weeks!], weeks, months. And so, why wouldn't you just deliver it immediately? [Niki: Right] And if that person wanted to resell it, than give them months to do so. Right. 

Niki: And it would give platforms, not just StubHub,  [Laura: Yeah] but any other selling platforms time to work with the customer  [Laura: Yes!] instead of compressing your time and increasing cost to make the transaction work.

Laura: Yeah, to solve problems. 

Niki: Right. To solve problems!  

And in many ways, like the, the ills that are being used as an excuse: fraud, bots. 

Y’know, 15 years ago, when Hannah Montana went on sale, a lot of people tried to get tickets for their kids and couldn't get them. And the narrative was the exact same as it is today: “The bots and the resellers have purchased all these tickets, and they're reselling them for profit on secondary websites.” 

So, you saw a handful of states go out and pass quote-unquote Hannah Montana bills, which were really anti-bots bills, [Niki: Right] fast forward to 2016 in Congress. 

Actually, Congress passed a bipartisan piece of legislation to prohibit the use of bots to unfairly procure tickets. What does that mean? You're using a piece of software that either somehow jumps the queue, right, like an electronic queue that's been established for parity. [Niki: Mm-hmm] 

So, you're jumping the queue, or you're bypassing established ticket limits. So, you're only allowed to buy six tickets. The allegation is that bots buy a thousand, right? Now, that's illegal. 

StubHub supported the BOTS Act when it passed. We support BOTS legislation in the States. But what we have never seen is, like, strong enforcement [Niki: Mm-hmm] of that legislation. Those regulators, the FTC, State AGs, how would they ever know that a bot attacked someone's system unless that person shared that information, [Niki: Right], without being compelled to do so? 

We heard in the Senate Judiciary hearing on tickets this past January, they asked, I think, Ticketmaster or Live Nation, y’know, “How many times have you reported bots usage to the FTC?” And they mumbled, and mumbled, and Senator Blackburn was very clear, like, “The answer is ZERO. Like, you have not done that.” The FTC's had one enforcement action in what, seven years now? And so, unfortunately, the tools are in place to go after the bots, the bad actors, but it doesn't happen. [Niki: Right]

And so, from StubHub's perspective, how do you fix that? You don't need to create new bots laws. You need to better enforce the ones you have, and maybe that requires [pause] some moderation to the existing law to require or compel reporting. And that's kind of how we're thinking about it now.

How do we take the tools we have and do better with them than just create new tools that have the same problems from an enforcement perspective?

Niki: Right. So this leads us to the final topic, which is it's Washington, D. C. 

Laura: Yeah. 

Niki: You sort of mentioned this in passing, but the scuttlebutt around town [Laura: yes] is the Department of Justice is looking into Ticketmaster and Live Nation, which it is sort of tough when people approve a major acquisition, and then it has anti-competitive concerns.

Also, the Department of Justice is a little busy with a bunch of other... 

Laura: [interrupts] They're very busy! 

Niki: They're very busy. [chuckling] US v. Google... 

Laura: But I read Politico, and you read Politico, and we've seen the reports, so fingers crossed there's something there.

Niki: So it seems like there's certainly, there's certainly, murmurings that they're looking at this and that likely something will emerge imminently [Laura: Yeah], which in Washington that could be, I don't know, six months, three months, two years.

Laura: The Washington timeline is very hard to relay, by the way, to people that don't understand [chuckling].  

Niki: I know sometimes I'm like, is it a football minute [Laura: laughs] or is it a, is it a minute minute? 

Laura: That's a great question. I'm not even sure it’s a football minute. 

[both laugh] 

Niki: No one knows. It's a D.C. minute. 

Laura: It is what it is.

Niki: It's a D.C. minute. It'll take as long as it takes. [Laura: Yep] 

But in the meantime, there's some legislation percolating on the Hill. If you could click your heels together, what are some of the things that Washington or the states could be doing to make things better and more competitive in a healthy way? For the secondary markets, but also ultimately for consumers? What are the few things you would like to see?

Laura: Yeah, so I think from our perspective, y’know, regulation is not a bad word. It's an, it's a good word. I think we can regulate and do it comprehensively and look at the industry from start to finish.

We always get concerned when regulation is, like, solely focused on the secondary market or the, or attempts to just put the secondary market out of business because that's not the answer. 

The answer is more competition. So, how do we get there? It's really about empowering consumers to make decisions for themselves.

That doesn't mean they decide to resell the ticket, and it certainly doesn't mean they decide to resell it on StubHub, but at least they have that power because, right now, that power doesn't exist. So, states like New York, Illinois, Colorado, Virginia, Connecticut, Utah, the, our, our favorite states out there [chuckling], have opined upon this and said, “Consumers have some rights in this area. They have the right to transfer if they want,” which we think is really powerful. 

And we know that's being debated at the federal level in the Boston Swift Act, which was introduced by Mr. Pascrell. We think it's a great policy. I mean, we don't love everything in it, of course, [Niki: Mm-hmm] but like there's great things.

More transparency on the primary and the secondary market, right? What more can we all be doing to share information to make consumers informed? And I think that one of the biggest missing pieces right now is how tickets are allocated and distributed by the original seller. 

How many are going on sale tomorrow? How many will be available, and then are more coming down the pike?  [Niki: Right] Those two pieces, I think, could be really informative for consumers. Those two are a gold standard of public policy from our perspective. And then, y’know, the list goes down from there. Prohibiting price controls, whether they be price caps or price floors, we shouldn't put a floor on how low someone can go when they want to resell their ticket if they just want to make some money back.

Unfortunately, you do see price floors on resale websites that are controlled by the original ticket seller. It doesn't happen universally, but it does happen. 

Niki: Why is that? 

Laura: Artificially inflating a market, right? [Niki: I see] And so, in a world where the ticket can't maintain the value that it was originally assigned, you don't want to undercut, y’know, the brand of the artist.

Niki: It looks bad!

Laura: Yeah, it looks bad. And so you keep the price artificially high. 

So, like, price controls, up or down, we think would be great to eliminate. Bots reporting, we think would be a great, y’know, step forward. Exclusive contracts. I don't think anyone's really figured out how to get to those. There is legislation from Senators Blumenthal and Klobuchar that attempt it. We've seen a couple of bills on it this year. Very organic bills that kind of came out of just people reading the news and figuring out what the problems were. 

So, there's probably a lot more creative thinking we can do. We think there are very reasonable solutions to the sale of speculative tickets or brokers and figuring out ways to regulate the profession and whatnot, y’know, all things reasonable as long as we create and maintain a competitive landscape that empowers consumers. 

And that's really, kind of, our North Star when we think about public policy. 

Niki: Which seems completely reasonable to me. 

Laura: Thank you!

Niki: And, and I don't just say that. 

Laura:  You'd be surprised! [chuckling]

I would argue that tickets have been sold the same way for so long,  y’know, in in certainly 20 years, if you take the internet into account, once we moved away from Tower Records [Niki: Mm-hmm] and we went online, there's been no changes really in a meaningful way.

All of these, like, innovations, I'm using quotations, that are out there, they all kind of circle the drain around one thing and it's data. It's, like, “Give me as much data as you can.” 

The digital ticket is all about data. I know who bought it and I know who they transferred it to. We know some of the policy conversations on the Hill, folks from various associations that represent primary market interests, venues or whatever, are pushing hard for complete data access to data that's being collected by competitor companies like StubHub.

The Feds are still trying to figure out how to protect data [Niki: Right] across the board. You've seen states opine on it, and I think now you're seeing industries just go after it [Niki: Yeah] because it's powerful.

Niki: Which I think we just ended on a really interesting note, which is at the end of the day, some of the protections, in addition to, it's the price [Laura: Yeah], but it's also your privacy. [Laura: Yeah]  And it's who you've really agreed to give things to, and then who you have to give it to. [Laura: Yeah] 

 I love working with you guys. [Laura: Yes!]

I've learned a lot doing this and I do think this is a voting issue. [Laura: Yeah]  I think there are some tech issues voters just don't care about. I think this is one they do care about. It'll be interesting over the next year to see what might pop on Capitol Hill.

And there are very reasonable solutions. 

Laura: Agree! And I think, y’know, we, we've seen without question kind of universal acknowledgment that we have a competition problem in this industry. And I think what folks are kind of slogging through right now is, like, what are the right solutions? 

And, y’know, I, I would suggest that the right solution isn't to empower one aspect of this industry in a way that lessens the control of a consumer, that forces competition out the door. 

When you kind of empower or let the pendulum swing so far in one direction, and some of these policy proposals, unfortunately, do that, you're just giving the keys to the kingdom to an ingrained monopoly. Our argument would be: swing in the other direction. Let consumers decide, create a fair marketplace, and then people are going to win or lose based on how they treat the consumer, right? How they price the ticket, how their fees, kind of, operate. If we can let consumers solve that, like, I'm, like, singing my true free market song here. [chuckling]  

From our perspective, that's the way to do it.

It doesn't mean that Subhub inherently wins, and I think that's what's really important. Like, we only win if we provide exactly what the consumer wants: free market.  [chuckling]

Niki: I'm for the free market! 

Anyone who listens to this podcast knows I'm a major free market person! [chuckling]  It needs to be functioning because right now [Laura: Yes] it's, it's artificially inflated.

Laura: And you're leaving people behind because maybe they don't have a cell phone, y’know, like my dad, god bless him, and he'll probably listen to this podcast! You've got one new viewer or listener, [Niki: Oh, Great!] but y’know, he didn't have a smartphone until, like, six months ago. 

He's a lifelong Yankee fan. If he wanted to go to a Yankee game, I had to help him, like, find a friend with a smartphone to download the app so that they could go. 

That is like a real-life example and true story.

Technology should be used to disrupt in a meaningful way, but we shouldn't leave people behind either [Niki: Yes] and I think about that a lot in our industry and how to make sure we can kind of touch all corners of the world and do it better for the consumer.

Niki: I'm not a Yankee fan, [Laura: laughs] but your dad getting baseball tickets is a very good place to end. 

Laura: It's a great place to end. 

Niki: Laura, thank you for taking the time to come into the studio. This was really fun! 

Laura: So fun! I loved being here. Lifelong dream fulfilled. 

Outro:

[music plays] 

Niki: On our next episode, I’m joined by the new CEO of Project Liberty, Martina Larkin. We discuss the non-profit’s mission of making the internet safer and healthier. Specifically, how can DSNP help you wrangle control of your data back from the social media giants? Also, what the heck is DSNP? Tune in to find out.