Whether it’s the chance to see the latest pop sensation, favourite act from our younger days, hit musical straight from the West End, top comedian on tour, sporting spectacle or theatrical masterpiece, the demand for live entertainment has always been high. Yet many of us have experienced the frustration of going online when tickets go on sale only to find they’ve sold out within minutes. Some people, when faced with this disappointment, turn to secondary ticketing websites for another bite at the cherry.
Initially set up for people to sell tickets they could no longer use, secondary ticketing sites like Viagogo and Get Me In! stand accused of profiting from technology that ensures ordinary fans can no longer access event tickets at face value. The UK’s ticket resale market is worth around £1,000 million each year and most people believe secondary ticketing websites are a rip-off.
No doubt some transactions on these sites are genuine fan-to-fan exchanges but there’s overwhelming evidence that a huge proportion of tickets are sold by professional ticket touts. There is also evidence that secondary websites purposefully anonymise sellers, so that promoters, in cahoots with some artists and their management, can put aside an allocation of tickets to sell exclusively through the secondary market. As a result, fans are unable to buy these tickets at face value through authorised, primary sellers.
Profits from secondary ticketing are made through commission on tickets sold. Some sites rely on touts to boost revenues, giving incentives and preferential treatment to those selling tickets at high volume. Sites take their cut from the booking fee.
The UK Government, to which powers are reserved in this policy area, has been slow to act, and I’ve pressed them to end this malpractice since I was elected. I was therefore delighted when new legislation enacted last month made it an offence for online ticket touts to use computer ‘bots’ to purchase tickets from official sellers in bulk and faster than members of the public. Now, under the terms of the new Digital Economy Act, anyone caught utilising bots to exploit genuine fans faces unlimited fines.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 requires ticket resellers to provide information to customers such as the ticket’s face value, identity of the original buyer, exact seat location and any restrictions on the ticket user, such as a minimum age. Nevertheless, it appears some online platforms are not complying with this legislation, to the detriment of consumers.
While the ban on using computer bots and stricter enforcement of the Consumer Rights Act, are welcome, they do not go far enough. Professional touts already use other methods to acquiring primary tickets. These new measures do not tackle the problem of people masquerading as genuine fans buying loads of tickets using multiple identities, addresses and credit cards.
Inflated prices on secondary ticketing sites damage the entertainment industry and leave fans feeling ripped off or priced out. The UK Government must examine the feasibility of capping ticket resale values to deter extreme profiteering at fans’ expense.