The secondary market for buying tickets to gigs, music festivals, and sports events is in a mess.
Complaints about punters being ripped-off by ticket touts regularly attract critical publicity. Many promoters have taken to refusing entry to people if they believe that their tickets were obtained without their approval. Some events appear sold out within seconds, resulting in prices being driven up even higher.
In all of this, the consumer is bewildered about who can be believed or trusted. Internet platforms have made buying tickets for events much easier, but also riskier.
Now MPs are giving their opinions about this evolving market with a new report published by the Digital, Media, Culture and Sport Select Committee, which criticises online secondary sale sites like Viagogo and StubHub. But is this intervention just politicians enjoying more virtue signalling that makes them look and feel good, or a genuine move to reform the complex and competing rights of audiences, promoters, and ticket agencies?
Four decades ago, getting a ticket to see Liverpool at a European Cup Final or Led Zeppelin on their last UK tour meant either queuing in the bitter sleet and cold for what seemed like days, or knowing someone in the right place. The alternative was to take the risk of finding a tout outside the arena an hour or so before the doors opened.
Like taxi cabs, weekend accommodation, and any type of world food delivery, the internet has changed all that.
Ticketing platforms have opened up the market to consumers, so that we can find and attend events around the world, have reminders sent to us so we know when tickets become available, and purchase them from the comfort of an easy chair or while sipping a cocktail on the beach. This is a good thing.
The desire to limit the innovations now found in cab hire, apartment bookings and ticket purchases is drawn from the same well of political control. These are the same people that tried to halt the erection of masts for cellular networks and ban e-cigarettes despite the obvious health benefits compared to smoking tobacco.
The rush towards government intervention on such a basic trade is yet another example of our political masters’ craving to “do something” about an apparent wrong. All too often, this means heavy regulation that is disproportionate to the problem, based on evidence that is biased and one-sided.
Ticket sale platforms are just that, platforms. They provide a means for those who own tickets – for whatever public events, cultural or sporting, commercial or charitable – to sell them on to those who wish to purchase them, with both parties operating in good faith. That means not just promoters – be it venues, impresarios or management companies – who are very powerful, but also individual purchasers and corporate entertainment businesses who wish to resell. Then there are the brokers (generally called touts) who are willing to take a large slice of risk by obtaining tickets that they might be unable to sell if they ask for too high a price.
Sharp practices and steep prices are not monopolised or necessarily the responsibility of ticket platforms. Tickets can be rationed by promoters (to drive prices up) or sold in blocks to corporate hospitality (who then release some through private sale). At every turn, it is for the consumer to decide if it is a price worth paying.
So long as the provenance and authenticity of the ticket can be shown to be robust, then it should not be for venues or artists – or politicians – to intervene on the price or its validity to gain entry.
To do otherwise is to break property rights and intervene in a fair exchange. Regulation must therefore have limits and apply to all sides of the bargain, not just ticket platforms that have made a name for themselves because they have trailblazed this evolving market. This may possibly upset some promoters and artists by reducing their ability to control the market to their own advantage.
For some people, the most prized ticket is visiting Wimbledon for a Centre Court match. For others, it is seeing Tony Bennett sing to big audiences at the incredible age of 92. The potential is limitless and the demand unknown.
However, there is one thing that’s certain. If politicians wade in and take the side of promoters and artists – usually under the pretence of defending consumers – it is only likely to hurt those same consumers in the pocket, or restrict the availability of tickets, compared to if they did nothing.
That is not good business.