New legislation could be just the ticket
Try to get a ticket to see a moderately well-known band, or attend a major sports event, and chances are you will find the tickets are sold out, but those same tickets can easily be found at many times the face value by resellers, more commonly known as secondary ticketing agencies, scalpers, or ticket touts. However, government legislation, as part of the Digital Economy Act, could soon make this a criminal offence.
Ticket touting seems like it is as old as professional sport itself. It always used to be the case that football players, for example, would receive a small number of complimentary tickets for family, some of which would find their way into the hands of ticket touts to be sold at inflated prices as a nice little earner. With the arrival of the web and online purchasing, the problem of secondary ticketing is out of control. Shows and sports events are often sold out before most people have heard that tickets are on sale.
Britney Spears show sells out in just one minute.
Here is a specific example. Britney Spears will be playing a concert in Glasgow on a Wednesday night in August. On January 26th it was announced that tickets would go on sale the following day at 10am, via agencies such as TicketMaster. The face value of the tickets would range from £50 to £142 and would be limited to a maximum of six tickets per person. Britney fans in Glasgow are up in arms because tickets were sold out at one minute past ten. However, just a few hours later, there are 176 tickets for this event available from Get Me In, at prices ranging from £86 to a staggering £880 per ticket. Get Me In is a secondary ticketing site which specialises in the resale of tickets for sold-out events. Get Me In is owned by TicketMaster.
Can you buy tickets at the advertised price?
Online ticketing is already looked on dubiously by many fans. Even when you buy first hand at "face value", as well as having to pay the ticket price, you typically have to pay a 10% commission to the ticket agency, plus postage charges, or a printing charge if you opt to print your tickets at home. Given that tickets for many major events can only be bought online, it is often impossible to buy event tickets at the advertised prices. This is not fair and transparent pricing.
Is this just free market economics?
Some will say that secondary ticketing is just an example of the free market at work? If people didn't buy secondary tickets, the market would soon fade away. That is true, except that the venue, and in particular the artists, musicians, performers, and athletes do not benefit from this secondary market. The money doesn't go to the people who provide the service. Imagine if we applied the same "free market" thinking in other areas of life. Consider, for example, that I have a dental appointment booked, in a town where you have to book months in advance. Should I be allowed to advertise my appointment for resale to people who need an emergency appointment. I doubt my dentist would approve.
Can we solve it?
With today's technology, we could get rid of the furtive ticket touts standing outside venues, and the opportunist resellers on Craigslist and Gumtree. For instance, when someone buys tickets, it would be easy with today's technology to print the names of the ticket holders on the ticket at the time of sale, along with the last four digits of the credit card used to purchase them, and require people to show matching photo ID or the matching credit card when they enter the event. However, it would create more delays getting into shows, and more importantly would do nothing to stop the major ticketing agencies running their own secondary ticketing sites at inflated prices. That is why we need consumer protection legislation in this area.
A footnote about political priorities:
In online discussions of this issue (or indeed most political issues), a common remark is "With all the problems with Brexit and the NHS, doesn't the government have anything better to do than try to meddle with concert tickets?" but this is as misguided as the disgruntled motorists who complain "With all the murders and crime, don't the police have anything better to do than harass motorists for speeding and parking tickets?"
29th January 2018
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