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StubHub sues Ticketmaster, Golden State Warriors, in battle of scalpers

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) after scoring against the Washington Wizards during the second half of a game in Oakland, Calif., on March 23. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

Can a sports team force fans to buy secondhand tickets from a specific scalper?

That’s the question StubHub has asked a U.S. district court to answer. The popular ticketing company filed suit against the Golden State Warriors and Ticketmaster on Sunday in the Northern District of California. StubHub alleges the Warriors and Ticketmaster are part of an “anticompetitive scheme” because the team allegedly “cancelled or threatened to cancel” secondhand tickets not purchased through Ticketmaster.

“In short, Defendants have offered a Hobson’s Choice to Warriors fans: use Ticketmaster’s Secondary Ticket Exchange exclusively or forfeit your Warriors tickets altogether,” StubHub’s complaint read. “To Warriors fans, this is effectively no choice at all.”

The suit says that, as a result of the policy, which was instituted in 2012, the number of Warriors tickets listed on Stubhub has declined by 80 percent in the past year. The result? Higher prices.

“If the anticompetitive actions complained of herein are not stopped, Ticketmaster is likely to seek to replicate them with other teams and entertainment venues throughout the United States, restricting more consumers,” the suit reads. “… As a result, millions of Americans will find themselves captive to a monopoly.”

StubHub alleged the Warriors have been none too subtle in steering season-ticket holders toward Ticketmaster. Complaints that selling season tickets through Ticketmaster was too difficult were met with harsh words.

“The representative pushed back intractably: ‘Well, you’d better figure out how to get on [Ticketmaster’s secondhand retailer] Tickets Now quickly,’ ” the suit read. “According to the season ticketholder, ‘it was more of a threat than a suggestion or a recommendation.’ ”

Another ticket holder noted the policy “seemed more like a Mafia tactic … than [that of] a supposedly fan friendly sports franchise.”

StubHub, owned by eBay, said that it took what was once known as scalping out of the parking lots outside of big games and on to the Internet, making it respectable. In 2013, ABC called the company “the ticket scalper of the digital age.”

“StubHub helped to transform reselling from an often unreliable and economically dangerous activity to a legitimate and safe one,” the suit read.

The suit also pointed out that Ticketmaster was sued by the Federal Trade Commission in 2010 after it used “deceptive bait-and-switch tactics” to sell Bruce Springsteen tickets at inflated prices. That suit resulted in a settlement that included refunds to fans.

“Buying tickets should not be a game of chance,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said at the time. “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.”

Ticketmaster and the Warriors declined to comment to ESPN, which first reported the story. The Warriors, currently leading the NBA’s Western conference, have more than 10,000 people on their season-ticket waiting list. Just getting on that list costs $100.

“We’re not trying to be the industry pariah, but when actions like these are associated with the business impact that we’ve seen, and the outcry comes from fans who are saying ‘our hands are tied,’ we are left with no choice,” StubHub’s general counsel, Michelle Fang, told ESPN.