Fans Sue Springsteen Tour Sellers Who Glommed Tickets for Brokers

Fans Sue Springsteen Tour Sellers Who Glommed Tickets for Brokers Saed Hindash/The Star-Ledger Bruce Springsteen (r.) with Clarence Clemons

Bruce Springsteen fans who claim they paid too much for tickets to his 2012 “Wrecking Ball” tour are suing the concert promoters for consumer fraud.

The suit, filed in federal court in Trenton, alleges the promoters, Live Nation Entertainment and three subsidiaries, set aside large blocks of tickets for brokers, forcing fans into the much more expensive secondary market or pricing them out.

It is one of three putative class action suits alleging such practices. The others involve Jon Bon Jovi’s 2010 “Circle Tour,” Justin Bieber’s 2013 “Believe Tour” and the 2014 Super Bowl.

All three suits allege violations of a N.J. Consumer Fraud Act prohibition on anyone with access to tickets for an event prior to their release for sale to the general public withholding more than 5 percent from the open market.

In the Springsteen suit, Forst v. Live Nation Entertainment, filed in federal court in Trenton on April 17, the putative class includes the estimated thousands of fans who bought tickets at higher than face value for Springsteen and E Street Band’s five New Jersey stops on the 2012 tour. It also encompasses would-be buyers who allegedly did not purchase tickets because they could not afford to pay the marked-up prices.

Named plaintiff Marilyn Forst, of East Windsor, claims that on Jan. 27, 2012, she paid $225 apiece plus almost $57 in additional fees for two tickets to the April 3, 2012, show at the Izod Center in the Meadowlands.

She alleges that Live Nation had deals with ticket brokers or others allowing them to purchase large blocks in advance, above the 5 percent ceiling set by N.J.S.A. 56:8-35.1, and that it was a per se violation of the law for which the defendants are strictly liable.

In addition, Forst claims unjust enrichment from the millions of extra dollars in profits allegedly gained.

She is asking for injunctive relief, compensatory damages and the treble damages and legal fees available under the statute.

Her lawyer, Bruce Nagel of Nagel Rice in Roseland, also represents the plaintiffs in the other two suits, also in the District of New Jersey.

In one, Jessica Pollard, of New York City, is suing AEG Live, AEG Live New Jersey and Concerts West, the alleged promoters of four Bon Jovi shows at MetLife Stadium in May and July 2009 and two Justin Bieber dates at Newark’s Prudential Center in July 2013.

The complaint in Pollard v. AEG, filed Feb. 21 and amended April 11, alleges she paid $175 each for four Bon Jovi tickets and $213 each for three Bieber tickets, amounts “far in excess of the face value.”

In the third suit, Josh Finkelman of New Brunswick alleges the National Football League held back from public sale all but about 1 percent of the 2014 Super Bowl tickets, which were distributed through a random drawing.

Of the rest, 75 percent went to the 32 teams in the league and 25 percent were distributed by the NFL and related entities to companies, broadcast networks, media sponsors, the host committee and “other league insiders,” says the complaint in Finkelman v. National Football League, which was filed on Jan. 6, in advance of the game played Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium.

Finkelman alleges the franchise teams did not make their allotments available to the public but offered significant numbers to resellers who charged grossly inflated prices for the tickets alone or as part of even more costly packages that included luxury hotels, restaurants, pregame parties and limousines. He claims he paid $4,000 for two tickets,

Ben Hoch-Parker of Eugene, Ore., who was added as a plaintiff on Feb. 11, alleges he wanted to go to the game with his wife and three children and was willing to spend as much as $1,000 per ticket, but they all stayed home because the cheapest seats he could find cost $4,200 each.

The NFL moved to dismiss on March 14, calling the suit a “strained attempt to stretch [the Consumer Fraud Act] far beyond its obvious scope” and contending that the high secondary market prices are caused not by its distribution policies but by the “overwhelming demand for tickets to one of the most popular sporting events in the world.” It also argued Hoch-Parker lacks standing.

The plaintiffs have filed opposing papers and cross-moved for partial summary judgment.

Live Nation has not yet been served and AEG just got an extension until May 9 because of the amended complaint against it.

The 5 percent maximum on withholding tickets was added to the Consumer Fraud Act in 2002, in response to the findings of the Ticket Brokering Study Commission created by Gov. Christie Whitman in 1997 to review industry practices.

Legislation has been attempted at the federal level too. In 2009, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., introduced the BOSS ACT (Better Oversight of Secondary Sales and Accountability in Concert Ticketing Act) in response to problems experienced by people trying to buy Springsteen tickets. The act would have required primary ticket sellers to disclose the total number of tickets offered for sale to the public and the number withheld and keep brokers from buying tickets for the first 48 hours.

Pascrell plans to reintroduce an updated version of the BOSS ACT with added provisions to address paperless ticketing and the use of computer software to circumvent security features on a ticket-selling website or flood it with requests.

Nagel did not return a call, nor did AEG’s lawyer, James Richter of Winston & Strawn in Newark.

NFL attorneys, Karen Confoy of Fox Rothschild in Lawrenceville and Jonathan Pressment of Haynes & Boone in New York, decline comment. ■

Contact the reporter at mgallagher@alm.com.

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