State's high court equates Ticketmaster fees with scalping

In a decision that could have implications for how show and sports tickets are sold in Baltimore, the state's highest court ruled Friday that service fees charged by Ticketmaster amount to scalping — setting up the possibility that people who attended some events might ultimately be eligible for refunds.

The ruling, which stems from a class action lawsuit brought in federal court in 2011, relies on an obscure 1948 Baltimore ordinance rushed through the City Council to curb scalping of Navy football tickets. But it underscores a modern frustration many concertgoers and sports fans have had with service charges that are frequently tacked on by ticket vendors.

Whether the ruling will result in refunds for people who attended games at Camden Yards, performances at the Patricia & Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric or shows at other major venues in the city will depend on how the U.S. District Court for Maryland decides on several unresolved questions.

Service charges are "a way of masking the real price for consumers and driving up the cost," said Marty Wolf of Towson-based Gordon & Wolf, which brought the lawsuit. The decision, he said, could affect "almost every venue in the city."

A Baltimore man, Andre Bourgeois, filed the suit in 2011 after paying $12 in Ticketmaster service charges on a $52 ticket to see Jackson Browne perform at the Lyric in 2009. It is one of several lawsuits that have been filed over the fees against Ticketmaster, which merged with events company Live Nation in 2010.

A spokeswoman for Live Nation declined to comment, citing the pending federal lawsuit. Sandy Richmond, president and executive director of the Lyric, also declined to comment.

The federal court requested the Maryland Court of Appeals to decide whether a Baltimore City ordinance banning the sale of tickets above face value applied in the case. That ordinance was rushed through the City Council in one day in 1948 after reports that city residents were being charged exorbitant prices by ticket agencies to attend a Navy-Notre Dame football game.

The Maryland court ruled that the ordinance does apply.

It's not clear how many tickets could be affected by the decision.

Even if refunds never come, the ruling may force Ticketmaster to use what's known as all-in pricing on tickets sold in Baltimore, meaning additional charges would have to be included in the face value price, which the company sometimes already does.

In a brief filed in state court, Ravens and Orioles officials said they support the current ticket sales structure in Baltimore.

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