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UK government publishes its secondary ticketing review

By | Published on Friday 27 May 2016

Ticket touts

The UK government’s latest review of the secondary ticketing market, instigated by last year’s Consumer Rights Act, was published yesterday and it makes a number of demands of the live and ticketing sectors.

The rise of online ticket touting has been controversial for years, of course, and there have been calls from within the music industry, and from consumer rights groups, for regulation of the secondary ticketing market at various points in the last decade or so.

Then MPs Sharon Hodgson and Mike Weatherley managed to sneak some light regulation into last year’s Consumer Rights Act, which mainly forces ticket resellers to provide some key information about the tickets they are selling, such as face value, seat numbers and any restrictions.

In this new review, Professor Michael Waterson was asked to assess how those new rules have been implemented, and whether there was a case for greater regulation. His report also reviews the arguments on both sides of the secondary ticketing debate.

So that’s the argument that a small number of industrial touts routinely hoover up tickets for in-demand shows and re-sell them at massive mark-ups even though doing so is against the terms and conditions of the tickets they are selling.

Which is bad for fans, especially where artists try to keep their prices low for the benefit of core fanbase. And it’s bad for the industry, because consumers have finite funds, and if they have to spend more to go to premiere league shows, they may have no money left to spend on more grass roots events.

And then the argument that if someone buys a ticket, they should be allowed to re-sell it on the open market; that secondary sites provide an alternative for consumers who can’t be bothered doing the eternal refresh thing as tickets first go on sale; and that having the reselling happening on legit secondary ticketing sites makes consumers less like to be the victims of fraud.

In his recommendations, Waterson does not go as far as some secondary ticketing critics would like, though he does propose a number of reforms. First of all, with regard to the Consumer Rights Act, he reaffirms what a number of commentators have said in recent months (and what Which? said earlier this week), which is that there is need for clarity.

In particular over whether or not the secondary ticketing sites – as well as the sellers – are obliged to ensure that the minimum required information about the ticket being sold is provided. Waterson is of the opinion that that obligation does extend to the resale sites as well as the sellers, even though the likes of Viagogo, Seatwave and StubHub are just intermediaries in the sale process.

Concluding that current regulations should be clarified before new legislation is considered, Waterson also seeks clarity on the penalties for violating the CRA rules, and also urges that someone – probably National Trading Standards – takes on responsibility for monitoring secondary ticketing sites, and enforcing the rules. Police should focus on actual ticket fraud, he reckoned, but someone needed to be ensuring the resale regulations were being adhered to as well.

Waterson also urges the secondary sites to distinguish between individuals and traders on their platforms, which is to say those people who resell the occasional ticket as opposed to those who tout on an industrial scale. The obligations of those identified as traders under consumer rights law will be higher, but it is currently hard to work out who they are. If the sites fail in this regard, the professor did say it might be worth considering a new law requiring those who resell more than a certain number of tickets per month to be licensed.

The report also talks about the ‘bots’ used by touts to hoover up so many tickets from primary sellers. There has been plenty of talk before about trying to ban these technologies – or have primary ticketing platforms do more to stop them from accessing tickets – and Waterson again calls on the primary sellers to do more in this regard. The bots are usually the one area where the secondary sites do agree with the anti-tout brigade, and in the past lobbyists for the resale platforms have tried to persuade law-makers to focus primarily on this point.

Interestingly, Waterson also has plenty of comments about the primary ticketing sector, and improvements that could be made by promoters and their ticketing partners which, in turn, could protect consumers. The professor concedes that discussing the primary ticketing market was not really part of his brief, but he reckons that it’s impossible to address issues around touting without reviewing the way the live industry sells its tickets to begin with.

There has been a mixed reception to Waterson’s report from the industry, with many welcoming his core findings, especially around needing more clarity regarding the CRA, and demanding action to identify the industrial touts and crack down on the bots. Though some are disappointed the report doesn’t call for more legislation against touting in the short term, while some of those on the secondary ticketing side reckon too little time was given to considering issues they have raised.

What remains to be seen is how the government responds to the report, and whether ministers show a will to legislate in the future if the industry initiatives proposed by Waterson are not adopted; the threat of government intervention almost certainly being needed to motivate the secondary ticketing platforms to participate.

We discuss the report further – and wonder whether the current momentum on this topic in the UK can be maintained and expanded – in the latest edition of the CMU Podcast. Listen here.