BOSTON — Boasting one of the highest priced tickets in the Major Leagues, the Boston Red Sox took an extra step this year to make sure its family-friendly priced tickets aren't gobbled up by professional resellers and sold on the open market for a profit.
The new ticketing system — known as "paperless ticketing" — is intended to make sure families have access to marked-down tickets so that they too can enjoy Fenway Park without breaking the bank.
A bill being studied on Beacon Hill, however, would make the Red Sox strategy illegal. And while its prospects for passage this session remain uncertain, proponents of the bill say consumers should have the right to do with their tickets as they see fit, and not have a team or venue dictate how they use their tickets after purchase.
"No one is guaranteed the right to get into a ball game. We'd love to guarantee that, but the Red Sox have the right to price their tickets however they want, and once they sell the ticket, they don't own the ticket anymore," said Jon Potter, founder of the Fan Freedom Project.
The bill (H 1893) was filed this session by Rep. Michael Moran, a Brighton Democrat and member of the Democratic House leadership team, seeks to restrict so-called paperless ticketing and put in other safeguards to protect consumers from ticket fraud.
"I don't know," Moran said this week when asked about the prospects of his bill passing with the start of baseball season right around the corner. "I think there's some concerns that are being raised by the chair of the committee with regard to paperless versus the secondary ticket market."
"The bill is, compared to last session, a much different bill that deals with counterfeiting and ticket brokers having to be bonded and have an address not a P.O. box. I think that makes it a better bill, quite frankly, but a lot of that has to be worked through," Moran said.
Though the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure held a hearing on the bill last September, co-chairman Rep. Theodore Speliotis said he was uncertain that all of the questions could be resolved in the next five months.
"I do know that we're looking at it much more seriously than we have in the past and trying to get a gauge on how serious the situation is on the ability of the primary source of the ticket sales limiting the secondary market and to see if that's a legitimate threat and what does it mean for the general public," Speliotis told the News Service.
The Red Sox have long sought to make Fenway Park family accessible by offering certain bleacher seats to select games for $12 a ticket.
This year, however, the team went one step further, selling the discounted seats for 30 games as "paperless" tickets, requiring a fan to present the credit card used to purchase the tickets at game time in order to avoid professional ticket resellers buying up and profiting off the promotion.
A spokesperson for the Red Sox declined to comment on the pending legislation.
While families might welcome the cheap alternative for an afternoon at the ballpark, some consumer advocates say paperless tickets infringe on the consumer's right to sell their tickets for fair market value, or give tickets to sporting events and concerts as a gift.
"What if the baby sitter doesn't show up? If $12 is to him what $400 is to the rich guy, it's still a significant investment," Potter told the News Service. "That protects the little guy, and I applaud their creativity in that regard. Having said that, this is the camel under the tent."
Underneath all the intricacies of the bill is a basic question of ownership, and when that ownership gets transferred from the sports team or entertainment venue to the consumer. "If I pay a $150 for a ticket to go see the Stones, that should be my ticket," Moran said.
"I totally support and agree with the concept of what (the Red Sox) are trying to do there, but if you did that for every seat in the House you may as well put the Minnesota Twins on the field," Moran said, explaining that the high price of tickets is art of the reason the team is able to spend for All-Star caliber players.
The idea of paperless ticketing is also not unique to the Red Sox. TD Garden is doing the same for its most expensive tickets to the upcoming Bruce Springsteen concert in March. "If Donald Trump wants to pay a million dollars, why should we care," Potter said.
Potter also wants to require ticket vendors to disclose exactly how many tickets are being offered for sale to the general public, as opposed to being reserved for players, artists, corporate sponsors and other groups.
Moran said he knows that the idea of preserving cheap Red Sox tickets is attractive, but he said the popularity of baseball team often blinds people to what is happing for less-in-demand events.
"The problem in this area is we have the most rabid fans in the country and when people think of ticket pricing the next thing out of their mouth is the Red Sox," Moran said. "It's really hard to break through that. But if I told you you could buy Celtics tickets now below face value you'd say, 'Get out of here.' But you can because the interest just isn't there right now."
Speliotis said his committee was concerned about making sure that the Legislature doesn't inadvertently make it more difficult for venues to attract talent and serve their customer while trying to protect the rights of consumers.
Though Moran said he would prefer to see the Legislature tackle the issue of secondary ticket market regulation in a comprehensive fashion, Speliotis didn't rule out breaking the bill into more easily digestible pieces.
"I don't know if we're ready to tackle the bill that I put forth this session in its totality or at all because there's so much we tried to accomplish. In in my gut, I would rather do a comprehensive bill that solves a lot of the problems than do a bill that only touches the surface. But that's my opinion, and it's up to the committee," Moran said.
Speliotis said he wasn't committed to any one approach, but his instinct was to do the opposite.
"My initial thought was to take it in pieces. I don't know if that's possible, but I thought with everything going on in the industry we could do bits and pieces that were clean and more easily understood. But if that's not acceptable I'm willing to look at it completely," Speliotis said.