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End of the great ticket scandal?

News
19 September 2018

Well, not quite yet. But the shockwaves from Channel 4’s Dispatches: The Great Ticket Scandal in 2012 were the catalyst for industry figures to join campaigning Labour MP Sharon Hodgson, featured in the programme, to oppose industrial-scale and insider secondary ticketing, with the past few weeks and months witnessing a remarkable string of events.

It has been a eventful few months in the fight against industrial-scale secondary ticketing, with events that will change the shape of the resale sector across Europe, and perhaps even beyond.

The figurehead of the anti-touting campaign is undoubtedly Sharon Hodgson, Labour MP for for Washington & Sunderland West, who has doggedly kept the issue alive in both the public eye and in Parliament for close to a decade. 

It was Channel 4’s Dispatches: The Great Ticket Scandal documentary in February 2012, showing Viagogo and the then independent Seatwave indulging in nefarious practices and working with several national promoters in touting tickets for their own shows at inflated prices.

The programme shocked very many people in the live music industry and spurred Hodgson and fellow campaigning MP Mike Weatherley (Conservative) to form the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Ticket Abuse, which became a rallying point for the cause.

It took the APPG and its supporters, including many MPs and peers, five years to bring about amendments to the Consumer Rights Act and Digital Economy Act, backed by leading industry figures such as Iron Maiden manager Rod Smallwood and Arctic Monkeys’ manager Ian McAndrew.

As opposition to ticket abuse grew and more notable promoters, managers, agents and others added their voices, McAndrew and the managers of artistes such as One Direction, Mumford & Sons and PJ Harvey invested significant sums of their own money in forming FanFair Alliance in July 2016  , a campaigning body headed by ex-journalist and PR veteran Adam Webb.

That is when the game changed, with Webb bringing additional professionalism and focus to the campaign, attracting ever more supporters from within the industry, along with increasing national media attention.

Since then the UK’s four main secondary sites – Viagogo, eBay-owned StubHub and Ticketmaster-owned GetMeIn and Seatwave – fund themselves under increasing and unrelenting pressure from the new consumer protection regulations, Government watchdogs, media scrutiny and the efforts of artistes such as Ed Sheeran, Adele and Catfish & The Bottlemen to prevent their fans being exploited by touts.

In November 2016, a House of Commons meeting of the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee – the first of two dedicated inquiries into ticket abuse, gave the campaign a turbo charge.

Featuring testimonies from You Me At Six frontman Josh Franceschi, McAndrew, Music Manager’s Forum CEO Annabella Coldrick, Ticketmaster’s Chris Edmonds and representatives from StubHub, among others, the session was arguably as revelatory as the infamous Dispatches documentary.

Often surprised at the revelations, MPs gained greater insight into the secondary ticketing sector and how professional resellers were encouraged and facilitated by the Big Four to acquire and resell tickets. Viagogo failed to turn up for the hearing.

In December 2016, the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) launched an enforcement investigation into the sector, and National Trading Standards receiving funding specifically for enforcement work.

Meanwhile, a new consumer champion emerged, Claire Turnham, who formed a Victim of Viagogo Facebook group, after being ripped-off by an alleged ‘glitch’ in the site’s system. A year on and, after working with FanFair to produce some free online guidance,  hundreds of thousands of pounds have since been refunded to ‘victims’ – mostly in the form of chargebacks from their banks or card providers.    

The accompanying media coverage and personal witness statements were given to MPs at an APPG on Ticket Abuse meeting added a sense of urgency to proceedings.

Decisive action

In the July 2017, the Government announced the activation of new primary legislation to outlaw the use of specialised robotic software (or bots) to bulk-buy tickets, which touts had been using to harvest tickets for resale.

A couple of weeks later, in August, the CMA reportedly raided the offices of StubHub and Viagogo, in a bid to obtain information about prominent large-scale resellers. Ticketmaster had already cooperated with the CMA.

In December, National Trading Standards (NTS) announced the arrests of four major resellers and seizure of “computers, mobile phones and storage devices”, under suspicion of breaches of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

Action by Google in January added further pressure on touts trading on the Big Four, with the launch of its new global certification policy for resellers,

By April, the CMA announced that StubHub, Seatwave and GetMeIn had agreed to undertakings under the Enterprise Act, including revealing industrial-scale sellers and advising buyers if there was the risk of them being denied entry due to terms and conditions banning resale. Ticketmaster and StubHub said their sites would be fully compliant from January 2019.

Following a FanFair Alliance complaint, Viagogo’s failure to change it’s pricing presentation led the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to refer the site to  NTS for enforcement action.

Then on 13 August came Ticketmaster’s bombshell announced that it would be shutting down Seatwave and GetMeIn, and would launch a new, face value or less (plus-booking charge) ticket exchange service. Although pitched a gesture to music fans, it was soon revealed that Seatwave had been losing millions of pounds. The move brought Ticketmaster into line with its competitors in the primary market, and means that all major ticket companies are now offering some form of capped resale for customers.

Later that month, amid rumours reported in The Guardian that Viagogo was planning to move its UK operation to New York, the CMA announced it was taking legal action against Viagogo for suspected breaches of consumer law.

“This is something I’ve been campaigning on for almost a decade, so I’m pleased to see movement at long last,” says Hodgson. “These announcements send a message to ticket touts that they’re now losing this long, drawn-out battle.

However, in a surprise turnaround just days later, the ASA reported that Viagogo was now compliant with it’s rulings, having made changes to pricing their pricing information – adding extra charges at the end of a transaction.

In what some observers see as an attempt to muddy the waters the day before a Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee hearing on 5th September, at which Viagogo had agreed to have a senior executive present, the company announced it was suing prominent anti-touting campaigner Stuart Galbraith of Kilimanjaro Live – co-promoter of Ed Sheeran’’s stadium shows.

Viagogo claims the promoter refused fans entry with resold tickets (as per terms and conditions), offered them a new ticket at face value, helped them reclaim their money for the touted ticket and then allegedly failed to refund the original purchaser. Galbraith strenuously denies the claims.

It was little surprise that Viagogo again failed to turn up for the hearing, claiming in a letter to the Committee that the impending CMA court action would legally compromise their position. This stance was forcedly rebuffed by Committee Chair, Damian Collins MP, who described Viagogo’s non-appearance as a “gross discourtesy”.

Following the Committee, the APPG, FanFair Alliance and the Society of Ticket Agents & Retailers (STAR) coordinated a joint letter to Google – signed by MPs across all parties, as well as music,
sports and theatre bodies including the Football Association and UK Music – asking for the removal of Viagogo’s adverts.

Sea change

Over the past two years, there have also been changes across the primary ticketing sector, with The Ticket Factory and Gigantic both partnering with face value resale site Twickets in 2016.

Then See Tickets launched its Fan-to-Fan service in 2017, Eventim UK announced FanSale earlier his year and AXS terminated its StubHub partnership and introduced AXS Marketplace.

Meanwhile, pioneers such as Skiddle, DICE, We Got Tickets, Resident Advisor and Scarlet Mist have all long promoted the concept of ethical resale or reallocation.

With artists also instigating more effective and high profile anti-touting strategies – not least Ed Sheeran, along with manager Stuart Camp, and tour co-promoters Kilimanjaro and DHP Family, it has become increasingly hard for any major company, perhaps even some artistes, to be involved in anonymously touting their own
tickets to their fans.

The last few weeks and months have been a welcome vindication of the years-long campaign sustained by Sharon Hodgson MP, Nigel Adams MP (who replaced Mike Weatherley when he stepped down as an MP), along with long-time supporters of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse such as Reg Walker of The Iridium Consultancy, who has advised MPs and worked closely with both Iron Maiden and Ed Sheeran to enforce anti-touting measures

The touts, of course, won’t be going away. However, scrutiny of their marketplaces will continue apace, with the result that some large-scale sellers may well decide there are easier ways to make a living.

Google too will surely act and ensure resale sites provide clearer disclosures in their search advertising. Meanwhile, FanFair Alliance will help artists become more informed about how to protect their fans from exploitation.

With examples of technology stepping up – such DICE partnering with London’s Troxy (cap. 3,050), and Ticketmaster’s upcoming all-mobile shows with Four Tet  – further solutions will undoubtedly follow.

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