State of Alabama and/or federal agencies tasked with the enforcement of price gouging violations should review actions by those who seek to profit from sports ticket sales during a declared state of emergency.
On March 13, 2020, Gov. Kay Ivey declared a State of Alabama Public Health Emergency due to the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19. The state of emergency is still in effect and extended through Nov. 8, 2020. The law specifically prohibits the “unconscionable pricing” of items for sale or rent during state of emergency.
The University of Alabama, Auburn University, UAB and other colleges have placed emergency restrictions on sports tickets so that only 20 percent of the capacity of the stadium or venue can only be used. The select few patrons who are awarded tickets to Alabama, Auburn and UAB games will have a commodity that, if sold, could result in a higher price and excessive profits for the select few who receive and sell those tickets.
The Office of the Attorney General and the local district attorney’s offices should be on guard for excessive prices charged for sports tickets. The price gouging laws of the State of Alabama are active and should be enforced. The law does not create a private cause of action. The attorney general and district attorneys are the only officials who can enforce the laws.
The attorney general’s office sent a memo in March 2020 that stated:
“Alabamians should be on guard against those who would seek to prey upon them through price gouging of commodities and services for consumption or use as a direct result of the public health emergency,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall. “Furthermore, those who seek to profit during this time of emergency through price gouging will be subject to the law.”
Football season has just begun, and already the prices for the limited available tickets are escalating. A family not lucky enough to be awarded sports tickets must purchase the tickets in the open market and be subject to possible price gouging. Already we have seen prices as high as $1,000 and 3 to 4 times the face value during this public health crisis.
Alabama’s price gouging laws should be enforced for sporting events with restricted ticket availability during the crisis.
The price gouging statute does not define what constitutes an unconscionable price. The law states that a price that is 25 percent or more above the average price charged in the same area within the last 30 days — unless the increase can be attributed to a reasonable cost in connection with the rental or sale of the commodity — is a prima facie case of unconscionable pricing. Penalties are a fine up to $1,000 per violation. Further, those that are determined to have willfully and continuously violated this law may be prohibited from doing business in Alabama. Each university assigns a ticket price for specific games each season, which should be in compliance with the current price gouging statue. Recipients of those tickets should be cognizant of the Alabama price gouging laws.
Families and individuals should not be forced to pay high prices for tickets due to the limited supply of tickets. During this difficult time, everyone has been affected by COVID-19. Sports tickets should be sold at normal prices instead of sky-high, price gouging prices. We, as legislators, are calling on the appropriate agencies to enforce our laws.
Alabamians who want to file an illegal price gouging report are encouraged to do so via the Alabama Attorney General’s Consumer Interest Division web link at alabamaag.gov/consumercomplaint, or by calling 1-800-392-5658 to receive a form by mail to complete and return. You may also write the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, 501 Washington Avenue, Montgomery, Alabama, 36130.
It is important to all sports fans and families that during this time of emergency that price gouging should not be tolerated.
Demand for tickets is high. Supply of tickets is low. Protection of the public should be a high priority. We ask you, our constituents, to report any suspected violations of price gouging.