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Taylor Swift fans and sports teams among supporters of Sen. John Cornyn's ticket selling regulations

Senator John Cornyn answers questions about federal regulation of ticketselling -- in front of Taylor Swift fan Kate Testone, Dallas singer-songwriter Max Hastings and Longhorn Ballroom-owner Ed Cabaniss.
Jerome Weeks
Sen. John Cornyn answers questions about federal regulation of ticketselling -- in front of Taylor Swift fan Kate Testone, Dallas singer-songwriter Max Hastings and Longhorn Ballroom-owner Ed Cabaniss.

Editor's note: This story is part of an ongoing series for Arts Access examining the health and well-being of our North Texas arts economy.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn came to Dallas Wednesday with his campaign to stiffen federal regulation of ticket selling and re-selling.

"What we're trying to do," Cornyn said, "is focus on the predatory scalpers" in order to "protect the fans."

Cornyn spoke about his proposed legislation at the American Airlines Center, as part of a panel that included Longhorn Ballroom owner Ed Cabaniss along with representatives from the Dallas Cowboys, the Dallas Stars, FC Dallas, the Texas Rangers and the American Airlines Center.

The event followed a similar one in Austin Saturday at the Moody Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Cornyn noted that it was last fall's uproar over Ticketmaster's disastrous handling of ticket sales for Taylor Swift's The Eras Tour that brought the abuses of what's known as the "secondary market" to his attention — and to most of the rest of the country. These include the use of automated online 'bots' to buy up masses of tickets and then re-sell them at inflated prices.

Kate Testone, a University of Arkansas student who called herself "a huge Taylor Swift fan," recalled that "the waiting lists were incredibly long. And that was even if you could get on a waiting list," she said. "And then you're waiting seven, eight hours and the site crashes." Amidst all the chaos, "I know some people that bought tickets that didn't even exist."

Testone said she remembers "distinctly being in a lecture hall and just everyone was disappointed. I remember feeling like, 'Who's to blame for this?'

Cornyn is working across the aisle with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Democrat, of Minnesota, to push the FANS First Act. This would require ticket pricing transparency (including taxes and fees) and ban the use of bots to buy tickets.

Full panel, including Sen. John Cornyn, discussing ticket sale abuses
Jerome Weeks
The panel at the American Airlines Center Thursday, May 25, discusses ticket sale abuses. From left: Brad Alberts, president, Dallas Stars; Dave Brown, general manager, American Airlines Center; Kate Testone, Taylor Swift fan; singer-songwriter Max Stalling; U.S. Sen. John Cornyn; music venue owner Edwin Cabaniss; Doug Dawson, senior vice president of stadium revenue, Dallas Cowboys; Jimmy Smith, chief operating office, FC Dallas

It would also empower the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to impose civil penalties on ticket brokers who violate the law. They could also establish reporting websites for fans' complaints.

Two days ago, Governor Greg Abbott signed what's been called the "Save Our Swifties" legislation. It would provide penalties in Texas for the use of bots to buy tickets.

When Cornyn was asked how his FANS First Act fits with the new Texas legislation, the senator said that FANS First encourages just such actions from individual states.

But ticket sales are online, he added, and therefore it will take federal oversight to truly combat the problems.

Penalties needed

A 2016 federal law — the BOTS (Better Online Ticket Sales) Act — already bans the use of bots to buy tickets. But Doug Dawson, senior vice president of stadium revenue with the Dallas Cowboys, said the law provides no real penalty.

So the "bad actors," he said, are not afraid of it. "They just see the upside. They don't see a downside."

And if a fan has wildly overpaid for a ticket or bought a fraudulent ticket to a sold-out show, Dawson said, a venue has "very little opportunity to try and help them navigate that disappointment."

In the end, Dawson said, "oftentimes the artist gets all the bad publicity."

Dallas singer-songwriter Max Stallingagreed, noting that fan disgruntlement over high ticket prices can snowball for an artist.

If fans who've felt they've been cheated come to a concert, he said, "they stand there, cross-armed, at the front of the stage and give me the stink eye all night."

He added, "not only have I lost this fan moving forward, but they also say to themselves, 'You know what, I'm not buying any of your stupid T-shirts. I'm not buying any of your stupid other merch that you have there that generates revenue."

Major sporting events coming

North Texas has a particular reason for wanting online ticket sales to be better regulated: Next year sees one of the biggest sporting events in the country coming here: Major League Baseball's All-Star Game.

And in 2026, one of the biggest international sporting events — the World Cup — will be coming to North Texas as well.

"I think now is the time to get this corrected," said Jimmy Smith, the chief financial officer of FC Dallas. Dallas needs to be able to "provide not only a good experience for our residents but for the thousands and millions of people that will be coming to Dallas."

Ed Cabaniss, owner of the Kessler Theater and the Longhorn Ballroom, said it's no longer just major sporting events or stadium concert tours that are targets of rapacious "second market" sales.

After he bought and renovated the Longhorn Ballroom, which has a 2000-seat capacity, he said he found that "they're coming down-market."

"The day before we even opened and sold a single ticket," Cabaniss said, "we were on the third page of a search engine optimization for tickets for my venue" — meaning that automated online searches had targeted his show.

"I don't know if all the answers are onboard," Cabaniss told Senator Cornyn about the FANS First Act. "But it's a start."

Cornyn said that after the Senate gets back from break, he would sit down with Senator Klobuchar, work out any remaining differences, and then get the bill through the Senate Judiciary Committee — on which both senators sit. Then it would have to get through both the Senate and the House of Representatives before President Biden might sign it into law.

"Passing legislation isn't easy by design," Cornyn said. "But as a practical matter, we have no other choice. We have to work together."

Got a tip? Email Jerome Weeks You can follow him on Twitter @dazeandweex.

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Jerome Weeks is the Art&Seek producer-reporter for KERA. A professional critic for more than two decades, he was the book columnist for The Dallas Morning News for ten years and the paper’s theater critic for ten years before that. His writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, American Theatre and Men’s Vogue magazines.