It is not a snappy title, but Sunderland MP Sharon Hodgson and her co-chair Lord Moynihan’s cross-party Parliamentary Group, drawn from the Commons and the Lords, are the front-line of attempts by artists, managers, promoters, producers in sport, the arts and entertainment to stop the public being “ripped off” in the re-sale of tickets.  These are knowledgable people, who sit on the Boards of major organisations in our industry.  And the petition to Parliament they support, now has nearly 40,000 signatures.

the front-line of attempts by artists, managers, promoters, producers in sport, the arts and entertainment to stop the public being “ripped off” in the re-sale of tickets

The Parliamentary Group (APPG) thought that much of what they wanted was included in the UK’s Consumer Rights Act of 2015, which had specific provisions for secondary ticketing.  Originally rejected by the Tory Government, this was achieved after clauses were inserted in the Lords and later approved in the Commons.  However, as Which? reported last Autumn, from monitoring the secondary re-sellers sites, and as the APPG noted, the re-sellers are mostly ignoring the law and defending their failure to supply the information to consumers that the law requires.

Of course, with Business Secretary Sajid Javid have spoken out in favour of touts as “classic entrepreneurs”, it is not cynical to think a Government committed to the ‘free market’ might just be ignoring the inconvenient need to implement the provisions.  Which does make it odd that he has commissioned a detailed review from Professor Waterston into the implementation of the Act, when plainly it is not being implemented in relation to secondary ticketing.  Since people from the industry who had met the professor had found him to be ignorant of ticketing practices and the contractual arrangements for presentations in the UK, there is not a lot of optimism about this “review”, due out on 26 May 2016.

conflicts from time immemorial

There have been conflicts between those responsible for ticket sales and achieving audiences for events, and those who see an opportunity for exploitation because the public want to buy specific tickets, from time immemorial.  One senior Ticketmaster executive said “there are those who work in the entertainment industry and there are those who work on it”.  Pre-Internet, when they were plain “touts”, their often fraudulent activities and abuses were much more in plain sight; and of course some people responsible for ticket sales and achieving audiences abused their position and helped tickets reach touts or unauthorised agents – and some lost their jobs as a result (prosecutions were rare).

The Internet has turned this, as the Police pointed out after Operation Podium and the London 2012 Olympics, into facilitated white collar crime.  There is a challenging problem here.  If your moral compass doesn’t see”ripping off” the public by charging huge sums many times larger than face value tickets (plus large booking fees on top), then you don’t see any part of these activities as a potential crime.  Indeed more than one person has argued to me that if people are willing to pay then they deserve to be ripped off.

It may be that if you think the public are stupid then you extend that thinking to people in the entertainment industry who don’t agree with secondary ticketing.  If secondary ticketing is actually legitimate, then surely tickets could not be listed for sale BEFORE the primary on-sale has happened, and all tickets would carry the full information of the seat location, face value, block, row and number; and as originally proposed, the real name of the re-seller so an Amazon or e-Bay style reputable profile could be built up based on purchasers’ experiences.  And of course, there would be no “power sellers”, and tickets would never be especially bought for re-sale, or fraudulent non-existent tickets offered, or tickets fail to materialise (in these circumstances, the offer of a guarantee or refund is not much compensation when the person thought they had a real ticket to attend).

Since some of the primary sellers actually own some of the secondary ticket re-sellers, and try to make deals with artists and managers which encompass some tickets going straight to the secondary market, it is clear that there is a huge problem from those working on the entertainment industry.  Clearly they could check and provide the seat location, face value, block, row and number information since they supplied the ticket in the first place.  That vertically integrated Live Nation reports its huge increase in earnings from secondary market re-sales demonstrates the size of the problem.

tickets being offered for unauthorised re-sale

Many artists and managers, arena and venue managers say that despite their terms and conditions of sale they can see their tickets being offered for unauthorised re-sale – even when they offer an official exchange or re-sale mechanism.  Some simply cancel the tickets – not necessarily great for the innocent public end-purchaser – as the only way to keep sales secure, and the identity of the attenders known.

OutTheTout

There are of course, alternative secondary market providers offering genuine attenders and fans simple face value (or less) re-sale mechanisms, though some of these are finding secondary ticketers trying to purchase tickets from them to sell at inflated prices on their platforms.  Twickets promise only face value or less re-sales and Vibe Tickets is running an OutTheTout campaign petition.

And arena and venue managers report that fraud continues to be a major problem.  The APPG think that if the Consumer Rights Act 2015 is correctly implemented, then some of the secondary market companies will join others in re-locating outside the UK (and probably EU) to avoid the UK jurisdiction and EU enforcement.  That tends to confirm that secondary ticketing is more underworld than mainstream.

Observer Special report (Sunday 15 May 2016): http://www.theguardian.com/money/2016/may/15/shady-world-of-the-ticket-touts

Statement from Co-Chairs APPG on Ticket Abuse: https://appgticketabuse.wordpress.com/news-2/

On-line petition to Government : https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/128969

Roger Tomlinson

16 May 2016