With little fanfare this month, New York State bucked a show biz trend pushed by Ticketmaster and megastars Bruce Springsteen and Miley Cyrus, likely becoming the first state in the nation to guarantee concertgoers a printed ticket.
The law - signed on July 2 by Gov. David A. Paterson as part of a larger scalping bill - slows down moves by Ticketmaster, Madison Square Garden and other companies toward a "paperless" system.
Both sides of the debate contend they're acting in the best interests of the consumer.
Madison Square Garden officials had warned Paterson and the legislature that Springsteen and Cyrus - who had held concerts without paper tickets to thwart large-scale scalpers from inflating prices - wouldn't play New York if the law passed.
Last week, Springsteen and Cyrus representatives declined to comment when asked by Newsday whether they would now shun New York. A Madison Square Garden spokesman also declined to comment.
Industry experts said it was unlikely stars would stay away. "I can't conceive of any artist that would refuse to play New York City simply because there wasn't a paperless ticketing system," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar, a concert industry magazine in Fresno, Calif.
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Aims to aid concertgoers
The measure was passed July 1 by lawmakers, along with provisions banning software used by scalpers to purchase huge blocks of seats and extending the legalization of ticket reselling without price caps. In 2007, New York legalized scalping as a temporary experiment, removing price caps and giving licenses to legitimate brokers.
Paperless systems burst into public view only in the last year, after Springsteen and Cyrus were angered by scalpers scooping up premium tickets with sophisticated online programs. Fans were forced to pay exorbitant prices.
Under Ticketmaster's paperless system, fans buy tickets by credit card on the phone or online and must appear at the show with that card. If the ticket can't be used, it can be sold on a Ticketmaster-controlled website.
While the systems have hampered unscrupulous scalpers, they have also drawn complaints from consumers who want to give tickets to friends or family or want to resell them because their plans changed, Paterson administration officials said.
"We decided consumers needed to at least have the option of a paper ticket, which they can do with as they choose," said Brendan Fitzgerald, Paterson's top adviser on the issue.
Debate far from over
The Assembly and State Senate passed the bill last month after an intense debate in which all sides claimed to have consumers' interests at heart. Paterson and the legislature came down on the side of ticket resale brokers such as Stubhub.com, which provide forums for ticket holders to sell.
"It is our hope that other states will follow New York's lead," said Glenn Lehrman, a spokesman for Stubhub.com.
Ken Solky, president of the National Association of Ticket Brokers, said it was the first law requiring paper tickets that he knew of.
The law will have wide-ranging effects, experts said. New York Yankees are developing paperless systems, Fitzgerald said, while others such as Broadway theaters are watching closely.
Theatergoers at the TKTS booth in Times Square on Saturday were mixed on whether paper or electronic tickets are preferable, but all said they want the option of receiving a paper ticket. Homemaker Robbi Walberg, 49, of Los Angeles, said a paper ticket is necessary "because at the last minute you should be able to give it to someone else or sell it to someone else."
Sarah Morrison, 30, a teacher from Oceanside, said she would prefer an electronic ticket because there would be no need to stand in line. "We have kids so it makes it a lot easier," she said.
Developers of paperless systems said the law restricts attempts to allow fans a chance to buy tickets at face value. And it does nothing to help consumers in their often-demoralizing quest to see big-name acts, they say.
Ticketmaster did not respond to requests for comment.
Samuel Gerace, the chief executive of Veritix, a Cleveland company that has run paperless ticketing systems for several professional sports franchises, said lawmakers and Paterson appeared too intent on limiting the influence of Ticketmaster.
Gerace said other paperless systems, such as his company's, give ticket holders more options for transferring or selling tickets - often requiring only the transferee's e-mail or phone number.
"New York missed an opportunity," Gerace said.
The debate isn't over. New York's new law expires in one year, and it will be up to the legislature and a new governor to fashion a new policy all over again.
Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington), chairman of the State Senate Investigations Committee, which considered the issue this year, said he wanted to "craft a permanent solution once we will see what the economic impact that the changes had on New York State."
With Ted Phillips
How Ticketmaster's paperless ticket system works
Purchase tickets with a credit card.
Take that credit card to the venue along with a valid photo ID.
The credit card will be scanned at the gate.
A slip will be provided to locate each seat purchased. If more than one ticket is purchased on the credit card, each person must be present to receive the tickets.
Tickets that cannot be used can be sold through a Ticketmaster-controlled website.