CONSUMER / CONTRACT
Live Events Sector
Secondary ticketing was again in the news, firstly with the announcement by the UK government’s Department Of Culture, Media & Sport that Professor Michael Waterson will lead the review of the secondary ticketing market which follows from the recently enacted Consumer Rights Act – after MPs Mike Weatherley and Sharon Hodgson managed to ensure that some (but not all) of their concerns regarding the secondary ticketing market were enshrined in the Act – although one key proposal – that people reselling tickets online must publish their identity, was not included. That information would have allowed anti-touting promoters to more easily cancel tickets being touted as they appear on resale sites. The new legislation did provide for a review of consumer protection measures in the secondary ticketing domain, including making it compulsory to display the face value of the tickets being sold, and information on the seating area, and any restrictions that apply.
Prof Waterson, specialises in industrial economics, including the economics of retail will chair the review. Interested parties have been invited to submit evidence by 20 Nov.
Speaking at the time the legislation was finalised, Conservative Peer Colin Moynihan, a former sports minister, said: “One of the major reasons why you can’t get tickets for high-demand events as a member of the public is because there’s specialised software available to touts which sweeps up the supply within a nanosecond of them going on sale. Then those tickets are made available on the secondary market at sometimes five or 10 times the price. From now on that process is restricted, because you have to have the seat number, row number and so on.”
Conservative MP Philip Davies is one MP who is publicly against regulation in the secondary ticketing market, sharing the same view as the secondary ticketing market that that increased regulation will have little effect on touts and will simply result in less not more protection for consumers saying: “Now that a chair of the government’s ticket review is in place, it is imperative that a proper review of the entire market is carried out. As an economist, Professor Waterson will know that the regulations introduced in the Consumer Rights Act have done little to bring down prices, instead harming fans by making it easier for their tickets to be cancelled” and “The government needs to realise that needless intervention is not the answer and will only serve to drive many consumers away from safe online platforms and into the arms of street touts. Any regulations in this area therefore need to be carefully thought through and firmly guided by the available evidence”.
At the time the legislation was finalised, Conservative peer Lord Borwick said “This recently tabled amendment … could actually allow consumers to be ripped off under the guise of protecting them. All the tickets which the sports and music bodies are concerned about will now go back to being sold in pubs, clubs and car parks, where no consumer protection exists”.
This news was followed by details of new research carried out by Which? Magazine which found that listings on five of the leading secondary ticket websites – GetMeIn, Seatwave, StubHub, Viagogo and WorldTicketShop, would, in Which?’s opinion, breach the provisions of the new Consumer Rights Act. Which? analysed tickets on sale for U2 and One Direction shows, as well as Rugby World Cup and Six Nations games, Which? found listings on all five sites missing pieces of the now legally required information. Seatwave, Viagogo and WorldTicketShop all had missing or incorrect face value price details on some listings, while all five had missing seating information. And one ticket for this year’s Rugby World Cup final on Viagogo failed to state that the terms and conditions of the original sale meant that it could be cancelled if resold (a standard RFU and Wmibledon term), despite carrying a resale price of £12,000.
Which? Executive Director Richard Lloyd said in a statement: “It’s unacceptable that these ticket resale sites are getting away with not providing fans with key ticket information, leaving them unsure whether their ticket is a good deal, where they’ll be seated or if they’ll even get in” adding “Reselling sites cannot continue to push the blame onto individual ticket sellers [who may not provide the required details]. Instead they must take responsibility for information displayed on their websites and ensure consumers have enough details to make an informed choice”.
When contacted by Which?, all five of the sites said that they would always amend or de-list tickets if made aware of incorrect information. Meanwhile a spokesperson for Stubhub noted that sellers may not have all the information, such as seat numbers, available when they list the tickets for sale.
In response to Which?’s investigation of the secondary ticket market, Mr Davies said:
“It isn’t surprising that fans are reticent about putting specific details of their tickets online. Event organisers have shown that they are happy to use this information to cancel tickets found being sold and, in some cases, to blacklist fans. With no safeguards currently in place, such behaviour is commonplace and undermines the integrity of the entire marketplace. It is disappointing that Which? did not make this clear in their research.”
Fan Freedom UK argues that event organisers are using the provisions in the Consumer Rights Act to cancel tickets being sold outside of their approved resale channels.
And the Society Of Ticket Agents And Retailers (STAR) has announced plans to develop a code of practice for the secondary ticketing market in the UK, with a view to inviting ticket resale firms that sign up to the new rules to become members of the organisation. The ticketing body, which provides a code of practice for primary ticketing agents in a bid to ensure protection for consumers, has yet to say what the code will say, but CMU opine that “It will likely include various consumer guarantees already contained in the terms and conditions of sites like StubHub, Viagogo and Seatwave, but might go further. Proposals already on the table include ensuring that resales are governed by UK law, and providing some sort of seating information.” STAR CEO Jonathan Brown said: “Customers deserve clear information about where they can buy tickets safely. STAR recognises that the UK ticketing industry has rapidly changed in recent years and today’s consumers expect greater levels of choice and protection. They need to know how and where they can buy tickets safely, whether they choose to buy them from the primary or secondary sectors. To increase clarity for ticket buyers, STAR will therefore develop standards of best practice to which we hope resale businesses that take consumer protection seriously will subscribe”.