Ticket to ride: Secondary ticketing under fire

In July, the consumer watchdog Which? released a report confirming that up to 25% of tickets for music, theatre and sports events are made available for sale on secondary ticketing websites such as Viagogo, StubHub, GetMeIn or Seatwave.

This means thousands of tickets are making their way on to secondary resale sites at the same time or shortly after they are advertised by official ticket sellers, with consumers often paying inflated ticket prices.

This follows two previous Which? investigations and a Government review into secondary ticketing behaviours. The Competition and Markets Authority (‘CMA’) has also launched an enforcement investigation into suspected breaches of UK consumer laws in the secondary resale market.

A secondary marketplace

A secondary market should act as a useful platform for fans to buy or exchange tickets at face value for events.

However, resellers have been found to inflate face value ticket prices, add hidden fees and use ‘bot’ technology to circumvent ticket purchase limits on official websites. There is also a lack of transparency at the point of purchase, as certain secondary websites claim they are unable to check every ticket listing. A seller’s identity may be obscured or ticket details are unclear (e.g. no row/seat) creating confusion and increasing the chance of invalid or counterfeit ticket sales.

These practices are unlawful under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (‘CRA’) which states that anyone offering tickets for resale online must provide consumers with clear information about the original face value of tickets, seats and ticket restrictions before purchase. The CRA also requires secondary ticketing websites to report criminal activity to the authorities once they become aware of it. The introduction of further legislation such as the Digital Economy Act 2017 which seeks to criminalise the use of ‘bots’ for mass ticket purchases demonstrates the secondary market is being scrutinized but could the problem go deeper still? Certain primary ticket sellers are connected to resale websites e.g. Ticketmaster owns sites GetMeIn and Seatwave. There is a lack of clarity as to how the websites coordinate sales. In addition, recent media reports have alleged that artists are part of the process – promoters and managers may be posting tickets on secondary websites to profit from sales.

Taking action

In addition to legislative changes, there are certain steps that could be taken to tackle unlawful resale activities:

  1. Police ticket sales: Primary sellers are taking measures to curb unlawful resales e.g. Ticketmaster’s “verified fan” system seeks to prioritise tickets for genuine fans. However the operators of primary and secondary ticketing websites have the resources to do more to monitor buying and selling patterns e.g. official sellers could routinely screen and warn sellers who bulk purchase. Secondary websites could ensure that attempts to list tickets without seller/seating information are blocked.
  2. Internet service providers: Internet users rely on ISPs such as Google to direct them to ticketing websites. The identity of any unauthorised resellers could be made clearer in search lists. Search providers could also remove or downgrade advertising that clicks through to misleading ticketing websites.
  3. Artists and event organisers are taking action: It is rumoured that certain artists or promoters are giving tickets to secondary sellers to benefit from inflated prices. However there are still artists and event organisers who are not seeing a profit from secondary sales. To combat this, high profile acts such as Adele and Ed Sheeran have proactively ‘delisted’ unlawful tickets on secondary websites. They are vocal in their support for fairer ticketing practices. As part of the promotions for her new album “Reputation”, Taylor Swift is encouraging fans to pre-register with Ticketmaster’s “verified fan” system and purchase a CD or merchandise to be “boosted” in the ticket queue for her next tour. A canny marketing ploy, yes, but this also ensures fans are prioritised. Glastonbury organisers have created their own ticket resale market to dissuade fans from seeking alternatives. Ticketing is also personalized: fans are required to present photo ID. These steps have contained the risk of invalid ticket sales and could become standard across the live sector.
  4. Transparency: Consumers are entitled to know more about the tickets they are purchasing and how the ticketing market works. There needs to be greater awareness around how ticket sellers, venues and promoters interact. When you make a purchase, who is the money going to?
  5. Fan power: If an event is sold out, fans ultimately decide how they purchase tickets. If you choose to use secondary ticketing websites, the ‘red flags’ are clear: inflated prices, tickets made available before official sale, non-disclosure of seller/seating information. Unusual tickets should be reported to the website and Trading Standards. There are also other options e.g. checking with the box office, official artist/fan club websites, ticket presale websites (e.g. O2) and fan-to-fan exchanges (e.g.twickets.co.uk and vibetickets.co.uk).