Since there’s been events to attend, there’s been people trying to make money reselling tickets. The UK secondary ticketing market makes £1bn a year, and as this figure rises so are the attempts to put a stop to it.
“Any spare tickets,” a man shouts to anyone catching his eye. It’s a familiar sight. They’re always stood outside concerts, wrapped up in lots of layers while they brave the cold just to sell a couple of tickets for an extra tenner. But now, there’s a more sinister trend emerging where unscrupulous sellers can make thousands without leaving their house.
It’s easy to fall into the touts’ trap as they can stay anonymous. Toby Davis was working on the ticket exchange at British Summer Time Festival 2014 in London’s Hyde Park and had to turn away a “distraught” family who’d travelled from South Africa because their tickets turned out to be fake.
There are some who genuinely need to sell their unwanted tickets online, but they’re in the minority. Many of these vendors make a huge profit, and have a distinct advantage when tickets go on sale as they can buy thousands of tickets without doing anything. They use computer software called ‘bots’ which automatically trawl ticketing sites, like Ticketmaster, to find tickets that have just gone on sale.
The people working against the touts
FanFair Alliance is the main campaign against large-scale online ticket touting. Campaign manager Andrew Webb believes the main problem is that these platforms aren’t regulated and need to show transparency in how sellers are presented to the buyer. “Other marketplaces like eBay are built on the basis of trust or reputation to give the buyers confidence. The ticket resale market bucks this trend,” he explains.
Sellers are able to remain anonymous, and yet people still risk spending their money, even though £40m of ticket fraud was reported to the Metropolitan police in 2012. Sharon Hodgson MP told This Is Money: “If we could see who was selling large numbers of tickets, we’d have a greater chance of finding them.” The ‘Big Four’ secondary ticketing sites, Viagogo, GetMeIn, Seatwave and StubHub, aren’t required to do full background checks on their sellers, or monitor listings, so we can never know who we’re dealing with.
As well as not knowing anything about sellers, we’re often left not knowing anything about the tickets we’re buying either. In a study by Which? in May, they revealed all of the ‘Big Four’ have broken the Consumer Rights Act 2015 by not stating face value prices, seat numbers or restrictions. However, this doesn’t stop people taking the risk as they’re so desperate to see their favourite acts. Tickets have been sold for Adele’s upcoming Wembley shows for £9,000 even though there’s no sign of seat numbers or the £175 face value price. Justin Bieber tickets for his O2 Arena show were being advertised at a 1073% mark-up, again without any information about the £150 they originally sold for.
Making a profit
Many of the sellers are business users. They buy so many tickets, they’ve left sold-out shows nearly empty. The Mirror reported that Rihanna’s ‘sold-out’ performance at Wembley Stadium in July had whole blocks of seating left free due to touts unable to shift their high-price tickets. Ticket resale sites don’t check if business sellers have listed themselves as business or personal sellers, so can sell high amounts without paying tax.
The BBC reported in November that HMRC are now targeting ticket resellers who don’t “declare their income correctly or pay the tax they owe”. This follows many hearings parliament has held about touting. At a recent select committee hearing, Reg Walker of Iridium Consultancy raised concerns saying, “this is meant to be a £1.2bn industry in the UK alone, and yet we can only find a turnover of around £200m on published accounts”. This development is just one from the Government’s lack of enforcement over transparency of ticket sellers on resale sites.
Professor Michael Watson, Professor of Economics at the University of Warwick, conducted an independent Government review of secondary ticketing sites in May. He suggested they “should take into consideration existing consumer law protections, including in relation to the provision of information, unfair terms and unfair commercial practices”. Many MPs agree with his view, due to personal and constituents’ experiences, and keep highlighting this problem in parliament.
MPs taking action
Nigel Adams MP lost out to Green Day tickets earlier this year when bots were able to complete the transaction before he could input any details. Determined to stop this happening, Adams has submitted an amendment to the Digital Economy Act which would make it an “offence to use digital ticket purchasing software to purchase tickets”.
In a debate about the bill in November, fellow campaigner Sharon Hodgson MP argued that “the only effective deterrent [against touting] is a very clear criminal offence, with appropriate punishment on conviction” that is needed in the amended Act. However, Andrew Webb disagrees, saying that “we require a combination of actions from them and the music industry”.
FanFair Alliance published “A Guide to Fighting Ticket Touting” to tell people across the industry what these needed actions are. It suggests limiting ticket transactions per card, personalising tickets and paperless tickets.
Glastonbury Festival has been personalising tickets with ID photos since 2007, and has been 100% successful in stopping the reselling of tickets. Currently, there are no Glastonbury tickets on any of the Big Four. Back when the initiative began, a spokesman for No 1 Sold Out Event Tickets confirmed to the BBC that there was “no way around” the new registration system.
Personalised tickets would only work for gigs if primary ticketing sites allowed refunds for fans no longer able to go, or huge shows that would make the added cost worth it. It makes sense if you paid £175 to see Adele, but not for an £5 gig at your local pub. Also, would this cause more hassle for people wanting to resell for genuine reasons, not just to make a profit?
When Radiohead played an intimate show in London earlier this year, Callum House bought a ticket off another fan who couldn’t go anymore. Even though he had the buyer’s ID, card details, confirmation email and proof the ticket had been bought at face value, the Roundhouse still refused him entry because the original buyer wasn’t with him. Venues need to be tough, but while making sure real fans are allowed in even if their tickets are second hand.
After hearing Callum’s story, Andrew Webb says: “Face value resale is something that the market is responding to and [we] are heavily supporting. We want to encourage face value exchange or reallocation.”
On apps like DICE, tickets are paperless and personalised, and are locked on the device they were purchased on, unless the buyer chooses to transfer them to a friend. This completely misses the touting middle man as there’s no way to increase the price or buy more than the app allows. Twickets is similar, but allows paper tickets to be sold at the face value price and under.
These apps aren’t fool proof though. Twickets spokeswomen Lottie Peart admits: “Touts [can] use our service to buy popular tickets for face value or less, and then sell them outside the app. We can’t guarantee the intentions of our sellers but we do monitor all sellers, so we can ban any users showing suspicious activity.”
Despite this, the app still only allows tickets to be sold at face value or below limiting the chance for touts to try exploit the platform. Many artists promote buying tickets through Twickets, but mostly DICE. On their most recent tour, Theme Park advised fans to buy their tickets via the app rather than the standard primary sites which were also selling tickets.
What do the bands think?
“We see it as the Uber of ticketing,” bassist Marcus Haughton laughs before his twin and frontman Miles jumps in. “It just makes it so much easier for fans to buy tickets for our shows. They can save on booking fees and there’s no waiting around for tickets so it’s less hassle. It’ll soon take over the ticketing world!”
Fans may expect touting to have a detrimental affect on musicians, but Miles disagrees: “what happens after the ticket initially sells seems irrelevant to us. If a fan has the money, it’s not going to stop them buying a t-shirt at the show. They may buy more to commemorate such an expensive evening.”
“When we played Heaven in London, some fans blamed us for expensive tickets that they’d bought off touts,” Marcus says. “I don’t want fans not liking us because of someone trying to make a profit. Places like New York and Italy are putting a stop to touting, so I don’t see why we can’t.”
Theresa May has called for a scrutiny of the industry, but the Government can’t do it alone. Venues, promoters, musicians and anyone else involved in ticketing need to make buyers aware of who they’re benefitting when buying high-price second-hand tickets. It’s definitely not the band they love so dearly.
It’s going to be a long fight but we can hope that one day we can buy second-hand Adele tickets without having to take a year out of university to afford the £9,000. The best advice for now is say no to the touts, and stick to the safe apps and save some cash along the way.