Secondary Ticket Websites - A Personal Bug Bear

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Secondary Ticket Websites - A Personal Bug Bear Empty Secondary Ticket Websites - A Personal Bug Bear

Post by Rowley on Fri 18 Mar 2016, 2:11 pm

I have previously touched on this on the boxing page, but did not want to post it solely on there, as a, it will descend into just bashing one promoter, and b, in a related point the issue is wider than just one promoter or sport and is an industry wide phenomena (I’ll avoid calling it a problem, some may not consider it one). The issue is around the secondary ticketing market that has sprung up over recent years with websites such as StubHub, Get Me In, Viagogo and countless other such sites.

As anyone who has attended gigs, sporting events or any live performances of any nature will know touting, the practice of selling tickets for inflated face values, is as old as the hills. It used to be the case such sellers would line the streets outside the venues offering to sell tickets to those without them. The amount they charged was largely dictated by the demand for the tickets. From what I understand the rationale behind allowing the formation of websites such as those mentioned above was to try and eliminate this practice and create a regulated and trustworthy market place where those who had bought tickets who could not attend could sell on their tickets to other fans, as most of these websites were run by large corporations I guess the thinking would be that the seller and buyer have some protection, the government gets tax revenue from the sale the criminal gangs often involved in outside the venue touting get squeezed out. All very laudable and above board so far.

There has been a lot in the press recently with a number of high profile artists such as Elton John, Bruce Springsteen etc coming out in condemnation of these websites suggesting the realities of these websites is somewhat different to the aims outlined above. As anyone who has tried to get a face value ticket from a direct selling website, such as Gigs and Tours or Ticketmaster will testify, getting tickets for certain events is nigh on impossible. To give you an example I tried to get tickets for the Stone Roses gigs in Manchester this summer. I wanted three standing for the Saturday. As I am not stupid I knew it would not be easy to get them so asked my sister in law and mate’s other half to try on my behalf to complement the limited efforts I would be able to make at work. Between us we had two laptops, two phone lines, two tablets and the app on my phone and not one of us could get through. Whilst I eventually got tickets they were for a different day and different location in the venue to my preference.

Now, was it the case that the venue holds 60,000 and 100,000 wanted to go and I’d been one of the unlucky ones I can live with that. However, within ten minutes of the tickets going on sale the secondary ticketing websites were awash with tickets, for every day and pretty much every area of the ground and all at prices frequently up to four of five times face value. This is not an isolated incident either, check any large event where demand is high and the tickets will appear on these sites within minutes of them going on sale. There was a news report recently of one of these sites having tickets for the upcoming Adele shows for in excess of £20,000. This surely gives lie to any remaining pretence that these sites only act to allow fans to sell unusable tickets on to other fans, because who knows within ten minutes they cannot attend, and as a fan why do you need to get back four times your ticket price? Personally if I could not make it to a gig I would be happy to get my money back was I to know it was genuinely going to another fan.

I’ll nail my colours to the mast I hate the secondary ticketing market, I think it exploits fans, rips them off and is unjustifiable. What frustrates me most is there seems no desire within either the industry or government to address the issue. The government have held consultations (one is ongoing currently) but none of them thus far have done anything to curtail the practices of these sites or the prices they are permitted to charge. I should say at this point, in the interest of me not getting sued, that the practice of primary, face value ticketing sites holding back tickets and selling them on their secondary sites (they tend to own them) is illegal, and so I will assume this does not happen. However what seems pretty widely accepted is specialist software has been developed to allow those with it to jump the online queues when the tickets initially go on sale and bulk buy the prime tickets, which inevitably then go on secondary websites. The government seems uninterested in stopping this as they can get tax on the initial sale and then again on the secondary, grossly inflated sale, the owner of the website can do likewise with their commission. Similarly the promoters of the events have little interest in stopping the practice as whoever buys up these tickets is also buying up the risk if demand for the event being lower than expected. The only person who does not seem to benefit from this arrangement is the consumer, who seems to have two choices, get extremely lucky when they initially go on sale or pay through the nose for them on secondary sites.

I should add I am not a young man. I have been attending gigs from long before such websites existed and can absolutely say that it is harder to get tickets for events now than it ever has been. To give you an example I went to see Mike Tyson the first time he fought over here and I bought tickets, at face value a couple of days after they went on sale, there are posters on the boxing board who could not get tickets for the recent Frampton Quigg fight within 15 minutes of them being on sale, both events were held at the same venue and both ended up as complete sell outs, so no difference in demand or anticipation.

I am sure some will say it is survival of the fittest and those who sell these tickets are just go getting, thrusting capitalists of the kind we should all admire and those who oppose them are tree hugging lefty commie pinko types opposed to anyone making money, but my own view is in order to profit from a process or an event you should add some actual value to it. If we’re talking a gig I have no problem with the band profiting from the event, they get up there any play, have no issue with the promoter making money, he books the band, the venue, advertises the band, drafts up the contracts etc, hires the lighting and sound people and so forth, but for the life of me I cannot see what value the people who buy tickets to sell them on at inflated value or the websites who facilitate this process actually add.

Having now ranted long enough about this it seems sensible to suggest things that can be done to stop fans getting exploited by these websites. My own view is there should be one of two things done. The first is when purchasing tickets you should be required to state who is attending, and once there everyone should be required to take photo ID to ensure the person purchasing the ticket is the person who uses it. If a person cannot attend they can return the ticket to the original seller, and subject to it being a reasonable period before the event they can obtain a full refund, the ticket seller can then resell the ticket, at face value, under the same conditions. Nobody is getting ripped off, nobody is getting stuck with a ticket they cannot use. Alternatively put a cap on the amount over face value these websites or their users can charge, say 10% over face value. If you do this you probably don’t make it a profitable enough business to involve touts but still ensure people who genuinely can’t attend have a safe place to sell their tickets on with some level of consumer protection.

I have to say I don’t anticipate the latest government consultation into this resulting in anything quite so positive. In their previous paper on this they opened with noting that the secondary ticketing market generated £1 billion of revenue for the economy, completely missing the point that it did it by completely ripping off consumers. What does it matter how much something generates if it does not do it in a morally justifiable way?

Rowley
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