Amid heated competition and consumer complaints about ticket scalping, live event and ticketing giant Live Nation Entertainment and ticket reseller StubHub, part of eBay, have launched nonprofit groups to represent consumer interests as part of a public relations battle, the New York Times reported Thursday.
StubHub attracts many brokers, or professional scalpers, which tend to be unpopular, and Ticketmaster has long been criticized for its ticket surcharges, it pointed out.
The Fans First Coalition was unveiled this week with a mission of protecting consumers from predatory ticket scalpers and with support from the likes of R.E.M., the Dixie Chicks, Maroon 5 and Jennifer Hudson, according to the paper. But it is financed by Live Nation, which owns Ticketmaster, and has grown out of a lobbying fight with StubHub over control of the secondary ticketing market, which is worth billions of dollars, the Times said.
StubHub's similar consumer outreach group is called Fan Freedom Project.
Neither company is represented on the groups' boards, but they do leave their fingerprints, according to the paper. Of the 35 artists listed among the Live Nation group's members, at least 21 are managed by the company and its affiliates, it said.
The organizations, which both call for a ban on so-called bots, or computer programs that buy the best tickets for resale, were also launched with the help of Washington public relations firms. While unusual for the entertainment industry, the Times said in other fields the creation of populist nonprofits is a common practice.
"This is a classic," said Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, which monitors lobbying, told the paper. "The campaigns present them as ground-up activities, but they are really nothing more than fronts for particular interests."
Nathan Hubbard, Live Nation's CEO for ticketing and head of Ticketmaster, acknowledged that the company supports the Fans First Coalition. "This company hasn't focused on the fan, and the industry as a whole hasn't focused on the fan," he told the Times. "And as a result we have a fan experience problem across the board. Everything you've seen us do publicly, we've been pushing for how to re-orient the industry on what's right for the fan."