September 22, 2023
Music Industry

The Ontario Government Just Blew It with Their Ticket Pricing Legislation

As early as Wednesday, the Wynne government’s new rules for selling concert tickets (and tickets to hot sporting events, theatre productions, etc.) will get third reading as it makes it way into law. The new laws–brought to life following the outcry when four million Canadians tried to buy 200,000 tickets for the Tragically Hip’s final tour–were supposed to curb the use of ticket-buying bots, put price caps on reselling tickets (which I have a big, big problem with) and to offer more transparency for consumers.

With just days to go before the new laws go into effect, one of those provisions–the one detailing with transparency–has been dropped. This is not good news for consumers.

In its original form, the legislation would have forced ticket sellers to tell the public how many tickets are actually available for any given show. For example, while the maximum capacity of an arena show might be 15,000, not all those tickets will be available to the general public. Some are held back for promotional reasons, for VIP offers like American Express’ Front of the Line, special fanclub offers, band guest lists, radio station presales, etc., etc. Of the 15,000 tickets we assume might be available, only a certain fraction (up to 75%–or so I’ve heard) will actually go on sale to general the public when the clock ticks past 10 o’clock and zero seconds on the appointed day.

While this wouldn’t have made it easier for anyone to get tickets, it would at least give us an idea of what we’re up against. We’d understand the “supply” side of the supply and demand equation for tickets. Transparency, right? How could that be a bad thing?

Apparently, it IS bad–for the ticketing companies and for artists.

Speaking to the Globe and Mail, Clare Graham, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney-General, said “We heard from artists that part of this bill may have the unintended consequences of creating a disincentive for artists to come to Ontario–especially smaller and regional markets…This change will ensure fans get the information and access they need while keeping Ontario a strong market for entertainment.”

Er, what?

Companies like Ticketmaster and Live Nation both opposed the new transparency rules. First, they say (rightfully) that ticket availability fluctuates over time between when a show is announced and the lights actually go down. These holdbacks are beyond the control of both the ticket seller and the promoter. Second, they also say that the general public doesn’t understand all the machinations involved in holdbacks vs. capacity. Therefore, they say, offering the public an idea of the number of tickets available would be impossible without making it look like that someone is scamming someone on the issue of capacity vs. general availability.

Meanwhile, artists pushed back. Concert tickets can be used as marketing tools, issued in blocks bit by bit as a way of building hype for a show. Being transparent–in other words, giving fans an idea of how many tickets are available when–would be bad for hype. That’s the disincentive for out-of-province artists to tour Ontario.

Patt-Anne Tarlton, the COO of Ticketmaster Canada, told the government that making actual ticket numbers available could inspire bot users to work their schemes better. For example, if it’s known that the number of tickets for a specific show is known to be particularly scarce, then the bot operating could theoretically bump up bot operations targeting that gig.

So much for transparency, then. The number of tickets available for any given show in Ontario will remain secret, stored inside a black box. You’ll have no idea how many people you were competing against.

Want to complain? You’ll be told to sign up for radio station presales, join official fanclubs of your favourite artists, get a credit card with ticket benefits or become one of Ticketmaster’s “verified fans.” Or you can just go to the secondary market and pay whatever the market value is.

Remember that the next time the sold out sign goes up for a gig you so terribly wanted to see.

PS: By the way, Alberta is looking at similar legislation.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37089 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

2 thoughts on “The Ontario Government Just Blew It with Their Ticket Pricing Legislation

  • I really do not see how forcing Ticketmaster or Live Nation or the artist to say there are 15,000 tickets and 12,000 of them are for sale does ANYTHING to help. That is in NO WAY going to change peoples behavior. Let’s face it, 60%, 70%, 90% or 100%, if you are not clicking refresh at 9:59:59, you are not getting seats. This provision just makes artists look like scammers for giving away the best seats to their friends (even though that is not the case)

    • No, but at least it will educate people what’s actually available for sale. And what’s wrong with being truthful and transparent? People will finally learn how the ticket business works. And if they want to gain an advantage, they can join fanclubs, get “verified” by Ticketmaster or get a credit card that offers you special packages or any of the many other ways to legally jump the queue.

      Or would you rather that everyone still be completely be in the dark?


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