ANALYSIS | Quebec wants to stop sky-high prices from ticket resellers. It won’t be easy | CBC News

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Pat Coveney is a lifelong hockey fan, in particular a fan of the new PWHL team in Montreal.

“They’re doing fabulous. I have not missed a game on TV,” the 67-year-old retiree told CBC in a recent interview.

Coveney would love to see a game in person, especially since he lives in Verdun, just steps from the arena where the Montreal team plays some of its games.

So far that’s proven a challenge. Coveney has tried to buy tickets online, but they sell out quickly. He’s even walked down to the arena to see if he could get tickets in person, but no luck.

Coveney thought the upcoming game for the team Saturday at the Bell Centre might be his chance. But those tickets sold out within minutes, only to appear on resale sites at inflated prices the same day.

A hockey player tries an in-close shot against a goaltender.
After tickets for the upcoming PWHL game at the Bell Centre sold out within minutes, many fans were disappointed to see tickets reappear within hours on resale sites costing hundreds of dollars more. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

“The tickets have skyrocketed. They’re $500 to $1,000 for one ticket,” Coveney said.

Increasingly in Quebec, fans such as Coveney are feeling priced out of live events. The CAQ government has promised to tackle the complex problem, even though other provinces have tried and largely failed.

High ticket prices the new norm

The Bell Centre PWHL game is just one example of recent, vastly inflated prices for resold tickets.

In March, music fans in Quebec city were angered after prices for passes for the popular Festival d’été de Québec were jacked up on resale sites just hours after they went on sale.

In February, tickets for the CF Montreal soccer game against Inter Miami featuring superstar Lionel Messi were selling for as much as $10,000 a piece on some resale sites. 

Lionel Messi #10 of Inter Miami reacts after a goal scored by teammate Robert Taylor #16 (not pictured) during the first half against Real Salt Lake
Tickets for an upcoming FC Montreal game against Inter Miami featuring soccer superstar Lionel Messi were selling for as high as $10,000 on some resale sites. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

And last December there was an incident that the CAQ government described as “the straw that broke the camel’s back” after the death of Karl Tremblay, lead singer of the immensely popular group Les Cowboys Fringants.

Free tickets for a memorial for Tremblay at the Bell Centre were posted on resale sites for as much as $500 just hours after they were distributed.

With some holding their cellphones up in the air, a crowd of people illuminated by blue light watch a stage, during a tribute to the late Karl Tremblay of Les Cowboys Fringants.
When tickets that were supposed to be free for a memorial for Karl Tremblay, the late lead singer of Quebec group Les Cowboys Fringants, appeared on resale sites for as much as $500 last November, the CAQ government decided to do something. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

That prompted the CAQ government to give MNA Kariane Bourassa a mandate to study the problem of inflated ticket resale prices and propose solutions.

Bourassa declined to comment for this story, saying she was still meeting with various groups to discuss the issue.

Ticket-buying process increasingly opaque

Quebec first adopted a law on ticket resales in 2012.

“Basically, the law says it’s not permitted for a merchant to resell a ticket for a higher price than the price that was first advertised, except with the producer’s consent,” Sylvie De Bellefeuille, a lawyer with Option Consommateurs, told CBC in an interview.

Individuals, however, can still resell a ticket at any price they choose.

That’s where ticket resale sites — such as Billets.ca or Stubhub — come in. They act as brokers between individual buyers and sellers — kind of like Airbnb but for tickets. (Quebec has also struggled to introduce effective rules for that platform.)

The sites themselves earn a commission, but since they’re not the ones directly reselling the tickets, they’re not technically breaking any laws.

The law also prohibits resellers from using online software (bots) to purchase large bundles of tickets when there’s a limit imposed on the number an individual can purchase. Despite this prohibition, bots are increasingly sophisticated and still a large problem in the resale market.

Closeup of Ticketmaster concert ticket.
Ticketmaster, by far the largest global player in ticket sales, is facing numerous lawsuits after a CBC investigation revealed the company was working with resale sites. (Paul Sakuma/The Associated Press)

Complicating matters further is the fact that Ticketmaster, by far the largest global player in ticket sales, also acts as a broker, having set up its own resale platform. And Ticketmaster is in hot water after a CBC investigation revealed the company was working with other resellers to inflate ticket prices even further. That resulted in several lawsuits, some of which are ongoing.

Another wrinkle: promoters of concerts and sporting events are now frequently introducing various levels of exclusive presales for select fans who obtain access codes before tickets are put up for general sale. It’s often not clear to presale buyers how many tickets might still be available.

“It creates a vibe so that maybe people will be willing to pay a higher price if they feel that there’s a limited amount of tickets available,” De Bellefeuille said.

It all makes for a very confusing landscape for the consumer.

Class-action lawsuit

Some of these issues are at play in a class-action lawsuit Option Consommateurs is trying to get approved against Quebec ticket broker Billets.ca.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Nathalie Gravel, bought a ticket on the site in September 2022 to see a show by Quebec comedian Dominic Paquet.

Gravel had no idea it was a resale site.

“She didn’t know because it really looks like a real site like Ticketmaster. She thought she was buying the tickets at the right place,” Marie-Anaïs Sauvé, the lawyer leading the class action, told CBC in an interview.

Lawyer Marie-Anais Sauvé is leading a class action lawsuit against Quebec-based ticket resale site Billets.ca, alleging to site was violating existing consumer-protection laws.
Lawyer Marie-Anais Sauvé is leading a class-action lawsuit against Quebec-based ticket resale site Billets.ca, alleging to site was violating existing consumer-protection laws. (Sylvestre Painchaud et associés)

It was only when Gravel attended the show three months later that she realized she’d purchased resold tickets — and that she’d paid almost double the face value.

The class action alleges that Billets.ca violated the law by not making it clear the tickets were being resold, not showing the original price and not obtaining the consent of the producer to charge more than face value.

The lawsuit also contends Billets.ca is more than just an intermediary between buyers and sellers. 

“They pretend they’re not a merchant. If they’re not a merchant, the Consumer Protection Act doesn’t apply to them. We strongly contest this,” Sauvé said.

“They are an enterprise making money out of this business,” she said.

The lawsuit is seeking compensation for the difference between the face value price of Gravel’s ticket and the amount she paid, as well as punitive damages.

Sauvé is inviting other people who’ve had the same experience to join the class action.

“We think there’s thousands of people that bought tickets this way and we think that it’s going to be an important case,” Sauvé said.

The lawsuit has yet to be approved, and none of the allegations have been tested in court.

Billets.ca declined to comment.

Other provinces have tried and failed

Other provinces have tried to find solutions to high ticket resale prices, and then been forced to backtrack.

Manitoba had a long-standing ban on any reselling tickets at higher prices, but the province lifted the ban in 2023, after finding it did nothing to stop out-of-province resales.

Option Consommateurs’ De Bellefeuille said this will be a challenge for Quebec as it tries to come up with new rules.

“Sometimes platforms are in other countries. How do you manage that? How do you implicate a company who’s situated in China or the United States?” she said.

Ontario tried capping the amount a ticket could be resold for at 50 per cent above original face value, but also backtracked, concluding the rule was unenforceable.

WATCH | An inside look at how reselling works on Ticketmaster:

The People vs The Ticket Giant

Fans tell us they’re fed up with the high cost of tickets. The former Ticketmaster CEO says stop complaining. And one insider gives us the inside scoop on how much he makes from reselling.

De Bellefeuille agreed that approach likely won’t work.

“How much is a ticket really worth? If someone wants to re-buy something from another person, it’s difficult to say whether there should be a cap or not,” she said.

“If you’re willing to pay three times the price I paid because this is a show you really want to attend, that’s a person-to-person situation,” De Bellefeuille said.

“But when it comes to websites and resellers, we think the law should be made clear that they do have a responsibility,” she said.

Late last year a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced new legislation called the Fans First Act to protect consumers from high ticket prices. But that law includes mostly familiar measures that have already been adopted in various parts of Canada: more transparency, prohibiting bots, strengthening penalties.

Fairness versus profit

De Bellefeuille said just because there’s no easy fix to the problem doesn’t mean governments shouldn’t try.

She said the whole issue is really a question of fairness.

PWHL Montreal fan Pat Coveney has tried in vain to get tickets for a game.
PWHL Montreal fan Pat Coveney has tried in vain to get tickets for a game. (Submitted by Pat Coveney)

“I believe if a show is really, really popular, and people are willing to pay a higher price, it’s one thing,” De Bellefeuille said.

“But creating a situation where people have to pay a higher price for a regular show just because all the tickets are bought or sold very rapidly, there’s something wrong about that,” she said.

PWHL fan Pat Coveney has lost hope.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get to see a game. It’s too expensive. And I want to go, believe me,” he said.

“The robots, or whatever you call them, the bots, they’re buying blocks of tickets and the scalpers are selling them and they mark it up. If it’s not Ticketmaster, it’s scalpers,” Coveney said.

“They price themselves right out of the average guy or woman getting tickets,” he said.

“Everything is about money and that’s the problem,” he said.

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