The Government is promising a crackdown on controversial resale websites offering tickets to sold-out concerts in Yorkshire with 700 per cent mark-ups. Chris Burn reports.
It is a dispiritingly familiar experience for anyone trying to get tickets to see their favourite musician, band or comedian – logging on to official online sales outlets only to see shows “sold out” within seconds before the same tickets are then immediately listed on resale websites at vastly-inflated prices.
When Black Sabbath announced a seven-date UK tour in 2017, including one show at the First Direct Arena in Leeds, 11,695 tickets were listed for re-sale within minutes of the general sale going live – close to the entire capacity of the city’s biggest music venue.
In one of the most extreme recent examples, tickets to see the West End musical Hamilton were being advertised on secondary ticket websites for up to £6,000.
Performers are attempting to fight back against their fans being ripped off with new security measures, and the Government has promised to take action this year to ban online ticket touts using specialised software to bulk buy tickets for resale on these secondary sites.
But research by The Yorkshire Post demonstrates just how commonplace inflated prices for popular shows are – with some tickets for forthcoming shows in Yorkshire being sold for over 700 per cent more than the original value.
Tickets to watch cult comedy band Flight of the Conchords at the First Direct Arena in March were officially priced at £25 to £55, but were on sale on eBay-owned resale website StubHub for £399 each. When ticket “fees” were added, the price per ticket shot up to £478.31.
Anyone wanting to see comedians The League of Gentlemen at Sheffield City Hall, can purchase tickets through Viagogo from £79 to £122 – far above the face-value price of £39.20. But the tickets typically end up being even more expensive than their advertised resale price.
Viagogo charges both buyers and sellers a “service fee” which varies by event and in the case of those buying tickets is only displayed once they get to the check out stage of purchasing.
A pair of League of Gentlemen tickets advertised on Viagogo for sale at £122 each could only actually be brought for £166 each once £2 of handling fees and £42 of a ‘VAT and booking fee’ were added; the latter charge being more than the original face value of the ticket.
The full price can only be viewed after providing the site with personal details, while warnings repeatedly flash up the tickets may be lost to other bidders if not purchased within minutes.
Tickets to see singer Paloma Faith at the First Direct Arena, which had an official sale price of £35 to £45 each, were also on sale on Viagogo. One listed for sale at £105 had £36 added in a ‘VAT and booking fee’, as well as a further £10 for delivery charges; taking the total price above £150.
The unfortunate situation is occurring despite the best efforts of many people in the entertainment industries.
In July 2016, managers of artists including Arctic Monkeys, One Direction and Iron Maiden set up a pressure group called FanFair Alliance calling for a crackdown on such websites. The organisation estimates that secondary ticketing in the UK – based on resales from four platforms; Viagogo, StubHub, GetMeIn and Seatwave – is worth more than £1bn a year.
Last year, Yorkshire-born Ed Sheeran took the extraordinary step of cancelling 10,000 tickets for his gigs that were being sold on such resale sites to allow them to go back on official resale.
And big acts like Iron Maiden are increasingly adopting paperless ticketing, in which concert-goers present photographic ID and their debit or credit cards at the doors of a venue in a bid to cut down on unscrupulous reselling.
But the situation is complicated by the ownership of some of the secondary ticketing sites. Live Nation, which owns official ticketing outlet Ticketmaster, was praised last year for its work with Iron Maiden on preventing ticket reselling for the band’s Book of Souls tour which visited Leeds and Sheffield; a policy calculated to have saved the rock band’s fans a combined £1m on marked-up prices.
But Live Nation also owns two of the biggest secondary ticketing websites, Seatwave and GetMeIn.
Research by The Yorkshire Post shows that when you search for tickets to see celebrity scientist Professor Brian Cox at Leeds Arena next month by Googling ‘Brian Cox Leeds’, a sponsored advert for GetMeIn appears in the search results ahead of Ticketmaster, with a Viagogo advert also above the official site. GetMeIn, whose advert describes itself as a ‘Ticketmaster Marketplace’, is offering seats to the show for £165.94 each - despite face value tickets still being available on Ticketmaster for £51.60.
Adam Webb, campaign manager from the FanFair Alliance, says situations like that may lead to people buying more expensive tickets than they need to.
One way the Government is moving to act is by introducing new legislation to ban ticket touts from using automated software which allows them to dodge security measures and snap up more tickets than allowed by event organisers. A new criminal offence will mean those who break the law in this way could face unlimited fines.
Matt Hancock, minister for the creative industries, said: “We’re determined to make sure 2018 is the year we help real fans get the chance to see their favourite music and sports stars at a fair price. We’ll be acting to stamp out the growing problem of touts misusing technology to scoop up vast numbers of tickets only to sell them on at rip-off prices.
“Our work, together with improvements by industry, will help make the market more transparent and mean a great year for Britain’s thriving live events scene.”
In November, the Competition and Markets Authority announced it would be taking enforcement action against secondary ticket sites suspected of breaking consumer law through practices such as “pressure selling” – in which claims made about the availability and popularity of tickets create a misleading impression or rush customers into making a buying decision.
Officers from National Trading Standards arrested four people in December as part of a parallel investigation into unfair practices in the secondary ticket market, particularly relating to businesses that buy and sell tickets in bulk.
But while the different crackdowns have been welcomed by those fighting against rip-off resales, more needs to be done.
Webb says of the attempt to stop ticket tout ‘bots’: “The Government’s announcement is genuinely a welcome step forward. If properly enforced, these new laws should act as a deterrent to those who harvest tickets with specialised software and rip off British audiences. However, it’s important that these actions are not viewed in isolation.
"Dedicated touts have other means of accessing tickets. For instance, some will use multiple credit cards or multiple identities. These also need to be tackled. Not all touts are ‘bot’ users.
"On a more positive note, the UK’s ticket resale market is currently under growing scrutiny from the Competition & Markets Authority, National Trading Standards and the Advertising Standards Authority. If these agencies can also deliver decisive actions, then FanFair Alliance is optimistic that 2018 could be a watershed year in fixing what has become a national embarrassment.”
Music industry hurt by online touts
Many different elements of the music industry are being hurt by online touts, says Adam Gillison of Leeds shop Jumbo Records.
Gillson, whose shop sells gig tickets for local venues and occasional arena shows, says: “Anything that is dragging down or giving a bad reputation to live music does impact us all.
“When our customers tell us about their experiences, it is a bit dispiriting to be honest. People come in and say they wanted to take their kid to a concert but couldn’t afford the resale prices.
“We had somebody who wanted to take their son to see a concert and they couldn’t afford to go because the tickets were being sold at such inflated prices in the internet. But when they got the venue, they were still empty seats left.
“For anybody involved in the music industry, we feel like something needs to be done to try and improve it.”
He feels technology changes to tackle bots will be an improvement - but also a concern for shops like themselves.
“My feeling is it probably will make a difference. To some extent, it is just a case of trying to keep one step ahead. I’m sure ticket touts will always look for another way.
“I slightly worry from a personal point of view that if you are getting into ever-greater levels of technical expertise to stop ticket touts, that is going to exclude smaller sellers like ourselves.
“We do online sales as well and put things in place to try and stop touts. But some of the things I read about with the new technology to stop touts is out of our league in terms of cost. That is a little bit of a worry.”
The FanFair Alliance lists accounts from hundreds of furious music fans who have missed out on tickets only to see them on resale sites.
One, Helen Bates, said that after two official sale websites, Ents24 and Ticketmaster, to see Green Day at Leeds Arena, said they had completely sold out within two minutes.
“I am absolutely furious that within five minutes, there were hundreds of tickets available on SeatWave, StubHub and GetMeIn at a minimum of twice the official ticket price.”
Viagogo 'doesn't set ticket prices'
Viagogo says it does not set ticket prices charged on its website.
A spokesman said: “Viagogo is a marketplace and doesn’t buy or sell tickets. Viagogo provides a platform for third party sellers to sell tickets to event goers. Viagogo does not set ticket prices, sellers set their own prices, which may be above or below the original face value.
“Where demand is high and tickets are limited, prices increase.”
The company said it had no further comment when asked by The Yorkshire Post about whether it considers the way in which prices are displayed on its website to be adequate and how it justifies booking fees that are higher than the cost of face value tickets in some cases.
Live Nation did not respond to a request for comment.