NYS Attorney General Targets Fees Tacked on to Theater Ticket Prices
In recent years, it has become common for additional fees of various types to be added to the price of theater tickets. Now, New York State attorney general Eliot Spitzer's office is battling this practice.
"It has come to the attention of this office that you operate a place of entertainment that is charging an additional fee for each ticket of admission over and above the established price of the ticket," begins a letter sent by the Attorney General's office to a number of major New York venues -- including Lincoln Center, Roundabout Theatre Company, the Shubert Organization, Jujamcyn Theaters, Radio City Music Hall, and Carnegie Hall -- about three weeks ago. "Whether the fee is called a 'facilities fee,' 'restoration fund charge,' 'convenience charge,' 'handling fee,' or 'service fee,' charging any additional fee, however denominated, is a violation of New York's Arts and Cultural Affairs Law, §25.29." (Companies such as Telecharge and Ticketmaster may levy their own ticket fees because they act on behalf of venues, but it is illegal for "restoration charges" or "facility fees" to be passed on to consumers through these Telecharge or Ticketmaster.)
Section 25.29 reads, in full: "No operator of any place of entertainment, or his or her agent, representative, employee or licensee shall, if a price be charged for admission thereto, exact, demand, accept or receive, directly or indirectly, any premium or price in excess of the established price plus lawful taxes whether designated as price, gratuity or otherwise. Nothing herein shall be construed to probibit a service charge by agents of the operator for special services, including but not limited to, sales away from the box office, credit card sales or delivery." The letter sent by the attorney general's office encourages offending businesses to "voluntarily stop charging such fees" or the attorney general will "be required to seek appropriate judicial relief, including penalties for any prior violations of the law."
"I think that sometimes restoration fees are applicable and appropriate and sometimes they are not," producer and theater owner Daryl Roth told TheaterMania. "There are a lot of different charges, so I think we have to examine each charge specifically. As both a producer and a theater owner, I can look at it from two sides; it's a complicated issue, it's not just black and white. The effort is to try to keep ticket prices at a reasonable rate, but there are expenses that theater owners incur."
Marc Violette, a spokesman for the Attorney General's office, explained that any additional fees charged to consumers by theaters or other venues must be added to the advertised price of the ticket. Roth agreed, warning that, even if restoration charges disappeared in name, the costs would most likely still be passed on to ticket buyers.