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Secondary ticketing: Weatherley leads Westminster debate

By | Published on Tuesday 13 March 2012


Following last month’s ‘Dispatches’ exposé on the secondary ticketing market, in which the Channel 4 programme alleged that a high number of the tickets available on certain resale websites are actually being sold by the site operators or the promoters of featured gigs, rather than from one fan to another, Mike Weatherley MP has secured a short debate on the issue in Parliament later today.

As previously reported, the ‘Dispatches’ documentary focused in particular on the operations of Viagogo and Seatwave, and accused key players in the secondary market of buying up large numbers of tickets themselves, to sell at a mark up via their own websites, making them major ticket touts rather than just the providers of an online marketplace where fans can sell unwanted tickets to other fans. The programme also focused on how some gig promoters were now putting a portion of their own tickets straight onto the secondary market and benefiting from any mark up.

Of course none of this is illegal, and the secondary sites argue they offer consumers convenience and a guarantee that there really is a ticket (versus buying direct from touts via their own sites). Meanwhile the promoters who resell their own tickets via Viagogo et al argue that they simply view such sites as premium ticketing platforms for those who buy their tickets late in the day, adding that they only opted to use the secondary markets at all after government failed to regulate the boom in touting enabled by the internet, and that surely fans would prefer any mark up go to the artist and their business associates rather than a shady tout.

But none of that stopped a barrage of online outrage during and immediately after the programme, directed at the secondary sites, the promoters who work with them, and in some cases the artists who were also seemingly benefiting. Some accused the resale sites and promoters of dishonesty, because of the common pretence that it’s a third party selling the tickets, while others said that, by conspiring, the secondary sites and their promoter partners were making the touting problem ten times worse, so that for in-demand events it’s increasingly hard for genuine fans to get tickets via the primary platforms, forcing them to buy from a resale site at a considerable mark up.

The political community in the UK has debated the boom in secondary ticketing before, with the previous Labour government calling on the live sector to act, and threatening new ticket touting laws if it failed to do so. But when the live sector said there was nothing it could do and that it’d welcome new regulation, the government backtracked and left the secondary market to grow unhindered. It was at this point some in the live and management communities adopted a ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ policy and started selling their own tickets via resale sites at a mark up. Labour MP Sharon Hodgson has kept the issue on the agenda on the peripheries at parliament, but no serious action has been considered for sometime.

Weatherley hopes to capitalise on the ‘Dispatches’ programme via his Westminster Hall debate today, and to persuade government to review the ticket resale space, noting that tough rules have been introduced to govern the touting of Olympics tickets, and that perhaps there are lessons in that which could be applied to other areas of the ticketing market. Weatherley doesn’t actually mind if artists and their business partners decide to sell tickets via auction sites (though would presumably prefer it if that was done more transparently), but argues that artists and promoters should have more power to control the resale of their tickets by others for profit.

In his speech, Weatherley will state his support for the free market in principle, but will argue that the touting of tickets for an in-demand event is a special case, because there is high demand for a finite product, which may have been priced below what the market could actually deliver for the benefit of an artist’s fans. He’ll add: “In the case of ‘exceptional excess demand’ for a ‘finite product’ the free market model falls down due to a restriction in the supply. And the ticket touts that take advantage of this market imperfection do nothing to add to our creative industries in terms of revenue and profits to those putting on the shows”.

After the initial flurry of online outrage post the airing of ‘Dispatches’, the wider debate around secondary ticketing seems to have calmed down again (though presumably the documentary came up in fair few conversations during last weekends ILMC conference for the live sector in London). It remains to be seen if Weatherley and Hodgson – perhaps with the support of those promoters and artists who remain totally opposed to the boom in industrial touting – can use the programme to reignite the debate around regulation in political circles.

Interestingly, those promoters accused of rampantly reselling their own tickets by ‘Dispatches’ have in the main refused to engage with their critics directly – issuing a statement via their trade body instead – and that’s a PR strategy that may have worked given the scandal has quickly died down. Fans will continue to buy tickets for their favourite artists’ shows oblivious of the tactics of any business partners of course, so providing the self-touting promoters can still secure talent (and as it’s assumed a lot of that talent was complicit in the self-touting anyway, they probably can) public anger on this issue probably isn’t that relevant anyway. And should government finally decide to regulate, said promoters claim they’d gladly stop reselling their own tickets if the touts were likewise restricted.

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