November 2015, The Ritz, Manchester. An incredibly long line stretches for hundreds of metres from the entrance of the venue. Passionate fans have queued outside the front doors since dawn to see their favourite band, Twenty One Pilots. But not all of the spectators there paid a fair price to attend. Joel, 21, paid £50 for one ticket, despite tickets originally being £15. He said: “I missed out on tickets when they went on sale, and some of my friends were going to the show. I was so desperate to see the band that I was willing to pay the price. I couldn’t bear missing out.”
Joel was forced into paying more than three times the value of his ticket, because of the secondary ticketing industry.
Live music has never been more valuable. Artists earn their money through their concerts, and the industry is worth a lot of money to the UK. The rise of live music means the rise of secondary ticketing as well. The UK’s secondary ticketing market is thought to be worth more than £1bn per year, half of this coming from music events.
There are a few official resale websites for event tickets. The largest ones are GetMeIn and Seatwave, owned by Ticketmaster, Switzerland’s Viagogo and StubHub, owned by eBay. Reselling music tickets is not illegal, but becomes controversial when users begin to sell tickets at many times their face value. Touts can even use software which can hack into ticketing systems. They buy hundreds of tickets using multiple credit cards, then list them on secondary websites for profit.
Take the Stone Roses, for example. Tickets for their two Leeds shows went on sale December 2016, costing £35-£75. Looking at the first date in Leeds (20th June 2017), Viagogo had standing tickets available from £140. GetMeIn didn’t have a listing for the event, Seatwave said tickets were “coming soon”, and StubHub had standing tickets available from £99. This is one of the examples that proves that if you’re not lucky enough to grab tickets when they go on sale, your options are to miss out or pay through the nose for tickets.
It’s not just fans that are against ticket touts. Artists are beginning to speak out against reselling, in hopes that legislation will soon be changed to protect fans from being priced out of gigs. Jack Garratt, BBC’s Sound of 2016 winner, says: “We fight really hard to make sure our tickets are affordable, because we want everyone to come to our shows…It’s making a business out of stealing moments away from people. I don’t agree with that.”
The most famous example of an artist trying to stamp out ticket touting lies with You Me at Six frontman Josh Franceschi. He has faced MPs on the issue, saying bot software should be made illegal. He said: “Money is being taken out of the industry and put into the hands of people who are only concerned with lining their own pockets. The main losers here are the fans of live music.”
Part of the problem with ticket reselling lies within the industry itself. At the same hearing where Franceschi spoke to MPs, it was revealed that tickets for a recent Michael Bublé tour were handed directly to a secondary ticketing website. It was “done without the artist’s knowledge” according to Reg Walker, head of the Iridium Consultancy, which tackles ticket fraud.
The manager of the Arctic Monkeys, Ian McAndrew, has said: “I have often been approached by one of the big four resale sites asking to enter into an arrangement where I give them inventory in return for participation in the resale profit.”
“…I’ve refused on a number of occasions – but I can understand how that would be a temptation for some who want to maximise profits for a show.
But what about when you genuinely have tickets you need to shift? It’s not just touts that try to sell, real people do too. Some ticket websites offer ‘Missed Event Insurance’ – it usually costs a few quid per ticket and if you can’t go to the event, you can get your money back. Simple, right? Not really. You only stand a chance of being refunded if you can’t make it for certain reasons; traffic delays or accidents, medical issues etc. So if you can’t make it to the gig anymore and would prefer to get your money back and for someone else to enjoy your ticket, what can you do?
The answer lies with fan to fan services like Twickets. It’s a website that allow fans to buy and sell tickets, but only at face value or less. Twickets will let you add up to 15% to cover the booking fee charged, but it asks that you ‘only charge what was actually paid’. Their website also features an impressive list of musicians who have endorsed their brand, such as Adele, Mumford and Sons, and The 1975.
A spokesperson said: “Twickets was founded when Richard Davies was trying to find a spare ticket for Lykke Li, whose event had sold out. He searched her name on Twitter and found a fan giving away her ticket because she could not attend.
“This got him thinking about whether Twitter or other platforms were being used by fans to allocate unwanted spare tickets and for face value or less, rather than for a profit. … It became clear that there was an opportunity to aggregate these spare tickets under one service, making it easier for sellers to find a buyer and vice versa. Richard is a football fan and had therefore witnessed fans being ripped off by touts and knew that an ethical approach to resale was needed.
“We support all campaigns against ticket touts and believe that Twickets is part of the solution. We can help to eliminate the use of touts by connecting genuine fans and helping them to exchange tickets or face value or less.
So why do people insist on selling tickets for so much money? The answer seems fairly obvious; to get some extra cash. Susan, who sold Peter Kay tickets for three times their face value, explained why she did it:
“I was at the box office queuing up to get tickets for me and my family, and the queue was unbelievable. There were even security guards telling people who were near the back: “There’s no point, you’ll never get a ticket.”
But five minutes before the tickets went on sale, it was announced that Peter Kay was doing an extra four dates at the venue. I turned to my daughter and said, “Let’s buy extra.” It was just a spur of the moment thing. We managed to get second row tickets for ourselves, and a pair of front row tickets.
I put the tickets on eBay for £150 each, when I’d paid £50 each for them. They sold almost straight away. I got a profit, and the buyer got to see Peter Kay. I don’t see any harm in it.”
Susan’s example, however, dates back to 2009, and since then the landscape has changed. You can no longer sell concert tickets on eBay, and if you search for tickets, StubHub listings appear. So the industry has shifted, but it’s still not necessarily protecting the fans.
The major secondary ticketing websites were approached for comment, and asked why they let people sell tickets at such extortionate prices.
A spokesperson for Viagogo said: “Sellers are free to advertise tickets at a price of their choosing, and for popular events, prices can be higher because there is huge demand and limited supply. However, while a seller can list a ticket at any price he likes, it doesn’t mean the ticket will actually sell. The reality is that around half the tickets sold on Viagogo are priced at or below face value.
“Price caps don’t work because sellers just go back to using the black market where no customer protection exists. A better solution is to operate a free marketplace where everyone can see all of the prices being offered, which therefore keeps prices competitive in a secure environment. Every transaction is covered by our 100% guarantee.
StubHub echoed the same sentiment, claiming that 40% of their tickets are sold at face value or below, stating “We operate like any marketplace, which means that we do restrict or dictate prices”. They also stated they have a “FanProtect Guarantee”, which means that “buyers are guaranteed to get their tickets on time and they will be valid for entry. In the rare instance where something goes wrong, we will seek to provide the buyer with comparable and often better tickets or at the very least a full refund on their purchase.”
Seatwave provided a generic, one sentence statement while GetMeIn did not respond at all.
A common theme is that the sites are invested in protecting their users with various guarantees. It is a fair point that exchanging tickets through official outlets is a lot safer, but it remains to be seen whether the sites operate ethically.
With the commotion surrounding the secondary ticketing industry, it is possible that legislation could be changed and touts stamped out for good. Who knows what could happen in this rapidly changing landscape? Watch this space.