The Pearl Jam vs. Ticketmaster free-for-all has returned to the House of Representatives.
Inspired by complaints from the popular Seattle rock band, two members of Congress have proposed legislation that would require distributors to identify handling and service charges for tickets to entertainment events. Ticketmaster Corp., as the nation's largest purveyor of tickets, would be most affected.
Rock fans may recall the congressional hearing June 30 during which Pearl Jammers Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament complained about ticket-handling service charges, which can run as high as $8 for stadium concert events. Last spring, the band canceled plans for a summer tour after Ticketmaster refused to limit handling charges to $1.80 per ticket.
The band also complained to the Justice Department, claiming that Ticketmaster has monopolized ticket distribution. Justice has set up an antitrust investigation.
On Friday, Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Gary Condit (D-Calif.) introduced the Ticket Fee Disclosure Act -- dubbed "the Pearl Jam bill" by some on the Hill -- which would require sellers and resellers of entertainment and sporting event tickets to print clearly "the amount of any additional fees and charges beyond the face amount of such tickets" either on the ticket or on a receipt of sale.
In a statement on the floor Friday, Dingell called the legislation "a modest effort to protect consumers by requiring disclosure" of handling fees. Hearings on the bill are scheduled to begin this fall before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which Dingell chairs.
Friday's proposal is not linked to the Justice Department investigation, according to Dennis Fitzgibbons, deputy staff director of the Energy and Commerce Committee. "This would simply provide disclosure so that when you buy a ticket, you know where your money is going. Apparently Ticketmaster does not have a problem with it."
But that assertion could not be confirmed yesterday. Ticketmaster officials did not return phone calls yesterday, but the current Billboard notes that charges are already printed on Ticketmaster tickets in some markets and at the request of particular acts. In June, the Los Angeles Times reported that Pearl Jam had asked Ticketmaster to print service charges on its summer concert tickets, and that the company had refused.
"We're happy about it," Kelly Curtis, Pearl Jam's manager, said in a phone interview yesterday. "Anything that educates the consumer is a good thing."
"This is obviously addressing one of the dimensions of the problem," said Bertis Downs, R.E.M. band manager, who also testified at the hearing. "It helps people know what they're paying for."
But while he calls the proposed legislation a step in the right direction, Downs added that the alleged antitrust violations should be the government's first concern.