Taking tickets at face value: the story of the secondary ticketing business part one

Queue at The Great Escape 2006 by Sara Bowrey
Queue at The Great Escape 2006 by Sara Bowrey

The modern tout has evolved. The days of standing in the shadows outside a venue with a fag arching from their lips seem numbered. If fans want a ticket to a sold out show, then they need look no further than the Internet. But that, it would seem, is causing a headache for many people, too. We sent Daniel Fahey to investigate...

The secondary ticketing market is big money. Depending on who you speak with, estimates can run into billions of pounds per year, but is it fair and are fans losing out? In this series, we’ll be looking at both sides of the coin, starting with those who are opposing it.

The subject of ticket touts hit the headlines a few weeks ago when LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy discovered passes for the band’s last-ever show on a fan ticket exchange site for well above their face value. This was before they were even put on general sale. “Fuck you, scalpers,” tweeted a furious Murphy, “You are parasites. I HATE you.” But, it seems, there is very little he or anyone can do because it’s a perfectly legal practice.

Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West Constituency, is currently heading a campaign to change that, though. “I think the whole secondary market has got out of hand,” she tells VF. “[It] is now worth £1 billion and that’s an industry that’s purely parasitical on the back of artists, venues and the genuine promoters.”

The Labour Shadow Education minister brought her Sale of Tickets (Sporting and Cultural Events) Bill before Parliament for a second reading at the end of January, but it was “talked out”, meaning a vote on the issue didn’t happen. Undeterred, Hodgson is pushing ahead with her plans to curtail and even abolish the secondary ticketing market, with support from a number of high profile alliances, including the managers of Iron Maiden and Arctic Monkeys.

It’s an apt time for the topic to be discussed, with ticket touts already targeting the London 2012 Olympic Games before they go on sale on 15 March. The government, however, have prohibited the re-selling of Olympic tickets already. “We’ve got legislation on the statute book to protect the Olympic tickets – it’s illegal, they cannot be sold on the secondary market,” said Sharon Hodgson. “There are big fines, up to £5000, and even beyond that if it’s seen to be really organised. I think if it’s good enough for the Olympic tickets – they are precious, shouldn’t be traded and nobody should be profiting on the back of those Olympic athletes – then the same is true for artists and other sports as well. So I think the model should just be transferred across and put as primary legislation to cover all major cultural and sporting events,” she added.

When polled on Virtual Festivals, the majority of readers agreed with Hodgson, with 58.7% believing the re-selling of ticket should be made illegal. Other results showed if there were to be a cap on the reselling of tickets, 40.9% of fans would like a 1-10% cap, closely followed by 31% of readers polled saying that there shouldn’t be a cap at all.

Passes appearing on secondary ticketing websites are not the only gripe music fans have on the ticketing front. It would seem that live music lovers are also put off by booking and transaction fees that are added to the price of a ticket.

Alison Kerry, a festival-goer from London, told VF: “Booking fees rip people off far more than touts these days. A friend of mine changed his mind about buying four tickets to a gig after a service charge of 25% per ticket was charged on top of the ticket price. What is this service charge? How can such a high percentage be justified when most tickets today are e-tickets, so no postage/packing involved? Could the ‘service charge’ be the new ‘touts’ of the live music business?”

It is something that James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem was apprehensive about, too, when organising their Madison Square Gardens show: “My main concerns at the time were things like ticketmaster charges — how they were going to make the tickets ridiculously costly…” he blogged while venting this spleen on secondary ticketing.

If fans feel as if they’re getting a raw deal, what can they do? Well, it’s that old punk ethic of direct action: “Fans can get involved by raising the profile on this on all the media sites – on Twitter, on Facebook, on the Internet and also by emailing and writing to the MP,” says Sharon Hodgson. “If hundreds and hundreds, thousands of fans across the country, millions even, are writing to their MP and raising this up the in-tray of their MP, it will start to make a difference.

“These secondary sellers often say they’re providing a service to genuine fans because they can ensure that they can get their hands on a ticket. Well, yeah, but at what cost?” she continues. “Genuine fans have a right to buy a ticket at the face value that the artists have set and said, ‘That’s the amount I want our fans to pay,’ they’re just not able to.

“So if they’ve had enough of that, I want them to make a noise and get in touch with their MPs and hopefully we can get something done about it.”

If you wish to see secondary ticketing made illegal, click here for an email and letter template to send to your MP.

Next week: We will speak with secondary ticketing companies, Association of Secondary Ticket Agents (ASTA) and industry insiders about the subject.