TN open records law unclear over events at taxpayer-funded arenas

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Credible reports suggest organizers of popular events at some of Tennessee’s taxpayer-funded arenas are making tickets scarce so they can inflate prices, but we may never know because of confusion over state law.

Records that could clarify the issue, depending on who you ask, either are or aren’t public record.

Tennessee Watchdog got wildly differing opinions on the matter from various government officials this week.

Elisha Hodge

Specifically, Tennessee Watchdog wanted to know about ticketing information for this year’s world famous CMA Fest, held at Nashville’s LP Field, earlier this month.

Tennessee open records counsel Elisha Hodge told Tennessee Watchdog on Tuesday that “in my opinion, the CMA is not legally obligated to respond to your public records request.”

“The only way CMA would be required to respond to your public records request would be if they were what the courts have said is the functional equivalent of a governmental entity, and I do not believe that CMA is operating as such,” Hodge said.

Hodge referred the matter to Nashville’s Metropolitan Sports Authority, which contracts with Country Music Association officials for a four-day lease to use LP Field.

Nashville Sports Authority Executive Director Toby Compton said the Nashville government has nothing to do with the actual sale of tickets.

“We don’t collect the money” Compton said. “We don’t sell tickets or things of that nature. That’s something you’d have to go to the CMA folks for. They are the ones who have that information. They could choose to give it to you or not. They’re not a public agency and not subject to an open records request.”

CMA officials haven’t responded to four different requests for comment sent Monday and Wednesday.

Logan Pratt, spokesman for the nonprofit Tennesseans for Ticketing Rights, told Tennessee Watchdog he made a similar request, except he wanted ticketing information for Memphis’ NBA Grizzlies, at the taxpayer-subsidized FedEx Forum.

Logan Pratt

Logan Pratt

Tennessee Watchdog sent its own open records request to FedEx Forum officials and was denied as stated in a letter from facility spokesman Jason Wallace.

“FedEx Forum is not subject to the Tennessee Open Records Act,” Wallace wrote.

But that’s not necessarily correct, according to Memphis-Shelby County Sports Authority spokesman Bill McGaughey.

“It is public information,” McGaughey said in a statement to Tennessee Watchdog, which has yet to send its own official open records request to the Shelby County Sports Authority.

As Nashville media has previously reported, organizers behind a Justin Bieber concert at Nashville Bridgestone Arena last year made just 1,000 out of nearly 14,000 tickets available to the public. Scalpers raised prices to as much as $250, according to those reports.

“If more people knew how big of a problem this is, then it wouldn’t happen and there would be more tickets available, which makes it cheaper to fans,” Pratt told Tennessee Watchdog earlier this year.

The organization’s website describes it as a coalition of individuals, businesses and nonprofits that believe in fair-market principles and individual property rights concerning the live-event ticketing market.

Members of the public, Pratt said, still need to know more about the issue.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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