The fight against the secondary ticketing market – where online scalpers buy large amounts of gig tickets to sell on for a marked-up price – has been relentless over the past few years. Artists, managers and promoters have waged public campaigns against the business that’s worth an estimated $8 billion a year worldwide.
All that cash doesn’t make its way back into the music industry, for the most part, and customers are losing out too as it renders the ticket buying process on the primary market arduous for in-demand shows. Touts use computer programmes, so-called “bots”, to snap up tonnes of tickets as soon as sale opens, leaving fans refreshing the page continuously in the hope of eventually reaching the front of the queue.
If the show sells out before they’ve made it, their only option is to pay the sometimes extortionate prices that touts ask for tickets on the secondary market via sites like Viagogo, StubHub and Seatwave/Get Me In, which are sometimes fraudulent. High prices and a frustrating buying experience angers the consumer, and starts to damage the relationship that keeps the music industry buoyant: the one between the artist and their fan.
There’s been cries for legislation to outlaw the practice of mass-scale ticket resale and the situation is different across Europe. In the UK, legally, consumers must now be provided with the precise details of the ticket they are purchasing (like seat number, face value and original seller), and reselling companies are required to report criminal activity. The legislation should help curb the practice of tickets moving straight from the primary to secondary market before they’ve been dispatched because resellers don’t have the ticket to hand, and therefore wouldn’t be able to list the seat number. However, questions have been raised over whether those rules are being adhered to and there’s evidence to suggest not.
In the US, questions have been raised over the effectiveness of a law before Senate called the Bots Act, which bans the use of those computer programmes. Throughout the rest of Europe, the practice isn’t as rampant because of the lack of exclusive deals between venues and ticketing companies, as well as the fact that shows don’t often sell out so demand isn’t high enough for touts to want to get involved. In France, resale is illegal, and in Spain, promoter Neo Sala has filed a claim against secondary sellers that siphoned off tickets for Bruce Springsteen dates earlier this year.
Solutions and problems
Legislation aside, what can artists and their teams do to battle the touts? And what obstacles do they face in doing so? The measures Mumford & Sons have taken include using paperless tickets, so tickets are non-transferable, and partnering with fan face-value resale platform like Twickets and TicketSwap to ensure those that can’t attend a show are able to fairly sell their ticket on to another fan. It’s reduced the amount of tickets for Mumford & Sons gigs that go on to secondary platforms, but it hasn’t helped end the practice entirely. Because of exclusive deals between venues and ticketing firms, the band and their team are only able to control where a small percentage of tickets end up. Dice, Songkick and WeGotTickets are all direct-to-fan companies that artists and managers have used to sell their allocation, which are all anti-secondary.
Says Mumford & Sons member Ben Lovett: “There is one way of controlling 100% of your tickets, and that’s playing venues that no-one wants to go to. We can control our tickets in open spaces but people expect to see bands in their favourite music venues. We have an expectation from our fanbase to go and play a gig in those spaces so our hands are tied.” The other issue with playing non-traditional venues is that costs go up, resulting in a potentially pricey face-value ticket.
Putting names on tickets has been “hugely effective” for Arctic Monkeys manager Ian McAndrews, who suggests that having better dialogue with ticketing partners to manage inventory is also the way to “protect that relationship between you and your fan.” Promoter Paul Hutton says touts can be caught when tickets are sent out as close to the show as possible, leaving them with no time to send out to their customers pre-show.
Data can help improve the ticket-buying process but only if platforms are willing to give it away. Spotify and Pandora have been hailed for being generous with providing artists and managers with information on who listens most, where they live and who they are. Earlier this year, Pandora sent personalised ticket notifications for Ticketfly events to James Blake fans, and Spotify has done similar campaigns with Foo Fighters and Guy Garvey. Asking digital distribution services to work with artists and their teams in directing fans to their preferred ticketing seller is another way to help combat secondary ticketing as fans are more likely to follow a legitimate link and the ticket distributors who are being promoted can be carefully chosen.
However, data expert Sammy Andrews warns that some of the larger ticketing companies are reticent to give customer data away – yet another reason to avoid working with them where possible. “For however many thousand tickets that go out, we know nothing about the people that bought them and where they’ve ended up. There’s no value to that,” she explains.
“Then, some of the larger ticketing giants that own venues sit on consumer data and don’t pass that down. As an industry there is a lot of things we need to be doing collectively to work on accessing and utilising data and presenting it otherwise we won’t be able to fully grow the eco-system that we need.” One of those things could be taking blockchain technology seriously. It’s an open decentralised database that could be used to sell tickets.
Says Andrews: “If you push a ticket for sale out to the blockchain you can have a smart contract attached to it that will tell you exactly where the money needs to go, whether that ticket can be re-sold or not, at what value and where that money goes to. I don’t believe we are anywhere near getting there right now, but this sort of technology exists already and is being utilised in other industries. The potential for data to be hugely disruptive to the status quo as we know it now is huge.”
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