U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission Tuesday asking the agency how it plans to combat “the use and operation of bots in the online ticket marketplace.” Blackburn and Blumenthal sponsored the Better Online Ticket Sales Act, which was signed into law in 2016, and is meant to prohibit scalpers from using software to purchase high volumes of tickets, but has been rarely used, according to the Senators.
“While bots may not be the only reason for these problems, which Congress is evaluating, fighting bots is an important step in reducing consumer costs in the online ticketing industry,” the letter states.
The letter comes after Ticketmaster claimed that the site encountered a “staggering number of bot attacks” as part of the Taylor Swift pre-sale earlier this month, which contributed to consumers experiencing difficulty trying to purchase tickets. Ticketmaster later canceled its regular sale of tickets to the public due to “extraordinarily high demands on ticketing systems and insufficient remaining ticket inventory to meet that demand.”
In the letter, Blackburn and Blumenthal also cite high price consumers encountered when trying to buy tickets to see Adele and Bruce Springsteen and the difficulty faced in trying to see Blake Shelton, where 22,000 fans preregistered to buy tickets, but “only a few hundred actually got tickets.”
This comes a week after Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Mn.) and Mike Lee (R-Ut.), said they would hold a hearing to examine the competition in the ticketing industry, with a particular eye on Ticketmaster. Attorneys General in Nevada, Tennessee and Pennsylvania have also launched investigations into the Taylor Swift pre-sale.
The full letter is below:
Dear Chair Khan:
We write to ask for information about the steps the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is taking to combat the use and operation of bots in the online ticket marketplace. As you know, the Better Online Ticket Sales, or BOTS Act, became law in 2016. This law prohibits the circumvention of a security measure, access control system, or other technological control measure used online by a ticket issuer. It also prohibits the selling or offering of an event ticket obtained through a circumvention violation if the seller participated in, had the ability to control, or should have known about the violation. The BOTS Act gives the FTC and state attorneys general the authority to enforce violations as unfair and deceptive practices.
Recently, several high profile incidents arose where consumers encountered serious difficulties purchasing tickets through online ticket vendors, including Ticketmaster and AXS. While bots may not be the only reason for these problems, which Congress is evaluating, fighting bots is an important step in reducing consumer costs in the online ticketing industry. For example, consumers reported trying to purchase tickets to see Bob Dylan at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, only to be told the tickets in their shopping cart no longer existed. Similarly, 22,000 fans preregistered to buy tickets for Blake Shelton, but only a few hundred actually got tickets. Finally, Ticketmaster/LiveNation pointed to online bots as a reason why fans could not get Taylor Swift concert tickets, leading the ticket seller to shut down sales to the general public.
While some consumers opt to purchase tickets on the secondary market, most fans cannot afford to pay thousands of dollars for a single concert ticket. Some reports have found secondary ticket sales ranging from $1,000 (Bruce Springsteen) to $40,000 (Adele). Preventing this type of consumer harm is exactly why Congress chose to enact the BOTS Act six years ago and why we both chose to sponsor that bill.
We understand that, in January 2021, the FTC took its first enforcement actions under the BOTS Act. However, given the numerous high-profile incidents in the online ticket marketplace, it would be helpful to understand how the FTC intends to act to address such conduct going forward. We request answers to the following, which may be provided in a confidential briefing if needed:
- Does the FTC have any pending enforcement matters before it with respect to the BOTS Act?
- Why has the FTC only undertaken a single enforcement action to date using its BOTS Act authority?
- Are there obstacles preventing the FTC from exercising its authority under the BOTS Act that Congress should be aware of?
- Are there other solutions that Congress needs to consider in conjunction with the BOTS Act?