COMPETITION / CONTRACT
Live events sector
Senior UK figures from the world of sport and entertainment who issued a call for new controls on websites selling event tickets have seen their bid for regulation of secondary ticketing fail after MPs voted 289 to 204 against an amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill in the House of Commons.
Campaigners wanted resale websites to be required to publish the names of ticket sellers and the tickets’ face value. The renewed call came in a letter to the Independent on Sunday signed by heads of sporting and cultural bodies and entertainers’ management companies. Government ministers prefer a voluntary approach. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has previously said a change in the law would be unnecessary.
Secondary ticketing sites act as marketplaces that allow sellers to charge what they like for concerts, plays and sports events, and often earn a commission from selling on the tickets. When tickets for a popular event go on sale, they may be snapped up in bulk either manually or using automated software in order to sell them on at a profit. The letter warns that the way the secondary ticketing market currently operates can seriously undermine efforts to ensure fair prices for event-goers.
“It’s high time the government stopped sticking up for secondary platforms, and decided to put fans first,” the letter continues.
Individuals and organisations behind the letter included the England & Wales Cricket Board, Lawn Tennis Association and Rugby Football Union; the UK Theatre organisation; UK Music, the MMF; The Featured Artists Coalition; The Association of Independent Festivals (and many individual member festivals); promoters Harvey Goldsmith, a campaigner against touting and Stuart Galbraith, from Kilimanjaro Live and Sonisphere; booking agencies including CAA, The Agency Group, X-Ray, Primary Talent and Coda; and managers of the bands including Iron Maiden, Muse, Arctic Monkeys, Radiohead and One Direction. They want ministers to give their backing to a set of measures requiring secondary ticketing platforms to publish:
- the name of the seller and whether they are affiliated to a larger organisation
- the face value of the ticket
- the seat number of the ticket
- whether the resale contravenes terms and conditions agreed to by the original buyer.
Ticketing specialist Reg Walker explained: “This is organised and on an industrial scale. I think everyone at one time or another has tried to purchase tickets online, [and] simply not been able to get through because they are blocked out from the system by touts harvesting tickets in bulk using extremely sophisticated software. “The software hits the primary ticket agent’s system with a high-speed connection with multiple identities – different names, different credit cards, different addresses, different email address. It just simply pounds the system far faster than you or I can actually fill out our details. “Unfortunately, what happens is as soon as tickets are harvested, they are flipped straight over onto a small number of so-called ticket marketplaces. The public are forced then to buy at inflated prices. We’ve seen £75 tickets go for upwards of £1,200. So some of the mark-ups on these tickets are enormous.”
Rod Smallwood, Iron Maiden’s manager, added: “At the end of the day we care about the fans, we care about the future of this business and we try not to overload them.”
A spokesman for Viagogo, a ticket sales website, told the BBC : “We are in favour of making information clearer on our website and have made a number of commitments in our recent discussions with the government.
“However, publishing the original seller’s identity is unnecessary because all tickets come with the Viagogo guarantee, while publishing specific seat numbers allows rights owners to cancel tickets which are being legitimately resold. Anyone can see that is not in the consumer’s best interests.”
Arguing on behalf of the proposed regulations in the House of Lords last November, the Conservative peer and former Olympic rower Lord Moynihan said the government had “an opportunity for action on behalf of consumers, the many people who daily find themselves to be the victims of market abuse”.
But the government’s culture spokesman, Viscount Younger of Leckie, responded: “I believe that a voluntary approach with improved guidance and with better point-of-sale electronic means to control ticketing is the way forward.”
Peers defeated the government and voted in favour of adding the measures to the Consumer Rights Bill. MPs in the House of Commons has now overturned this.
Commenting on the open and the Commons debate on the Consumer Rights Bill, Labour MP Sharon Hodgson, a long-time campaigner on this issue and co-Chair of the ticketing APPG, told reporters: “This letter shows the real consensus in the live event industry that action needs to be taken to better protect consumers from the worst effects of touting, as well as the real frustration that the Government refuse to take that action. Ministers need to take this opportunity to put fans first, and to finally clean up a murky market”.
Meanwhile the other co-Chair of the APPG, Conservative MP Mike Weatherley, added: “The secondary ticketing market is a cash cow for a select few and, by and large, bad for music fans. The procurement of tickets by resellers takes place on an industrial scale as soon as an event opens its box office, denying fans the opportunity to buy tickets at their face value. Those arguing against greater transparency are trying to shield from fans the source of the tickets or circumvent individual venues restrictions on reselling tickets. There is a large amount of criminal activity around fake tickets, which is fuelled by extortionate prices, that can leave fans massively disappointed and out of pocket. This has to stop”.
After the Commons vote said Ticketmaster resale managing director Christoph Homann said “We are delighted that the government has maintained its position to support the rights of consumers by voting against a misguided and unworkable proposal,” and “We have consumer protection law, competition law and criminal law already safeguarding consumers in the UK and there is no evidence to support extra regulation for the secondary ticketing market would be effective.”