Touts are pricing people out of live entertainment, writes James Bloodworth.
Touts are pricing people out of live entertainment, writes James Bloodworth
Anyone that has ever tried to get a ticket for a concert or sporting event will know the story. You get up nice and early, turn on the computer and refresh your browser only to come away empty handed, informed that tickets are no longer available just minutes after they’re supposed to have gone on sale.
To make matters worse, a quick glance at Ebay invariably reveals that tickets are still available after all – only at hugely inflated prices at the hands of touts.
A good example was the recent announcement by Kate Bush that she was going on tour – her first in 35 years. All 22 of her tour dates sold out within 15 minutes of going on sale at 9.30am. Yet by 10.30am tickets were going on Stubhub (Ebay) for as much as £4,300.
Some estimates suggest that as many as 40 per cent of tickets are now being sold on the secondary market, and professional touting is open to anyone with an internet connection and a bit of spare cash (I know of one full-time ticket tout who makes in excess of £100,000 a year).
Along with super fast internet connections, touts understand how the ticket market operates, giving them an edge over ordinary punters. As well as knowing exactly when tickets go on sale, touts know that tickets are continually being released on sites such as Ticketmaster even after they appear on the face of it to have sold out. The secret is knowing when more tickets are going to be released; and for this touts are often aided by specialist computer software.
Another weapon in the tout’s arsenal is pre-sales. “Most people don’t even realise that concerts have a pre-sale several days before tickets go on general sale,” an ex-tout friend of mine told me. “A good tout will know when the pre-sales are because they will have done their homework beforehand, whereas most people won’t have bothered,” he added.
Other touting practices are more sinister. Due to restrictions imposed by primary vendors on the number of tickets an individual can purchase, touts can use several credit cards registered in a number of different names – each with a fake address attached to it. This fools companies such as Ticketmaster into letting a tout buy more tickets than would normally be allowed, and is a common practice among those who are serious about making money from secondary ticket sales. “If I didn’t do it I would have to buy within the limits set by the ticket agencies, which is usually six tickets,” my friend told me.
“Most of the people I know who do this have at least a couple of different credit cards which they use to buy tickets,” he added.
Not only does this matter because of the level of frustration it causes to those who simply want to enjoy live entertainment, but the new culture secretary Sajid Javid views touts as “classic entrepreneurs” and has previously dismissed critics of the practice as “champagne socialists”.
“If the tout has come by his tickets in an honest way and offers a genuine service with a real risk of loss in the pursuit of profit, that is not a problem,” he said during a debate in 2011.
Yet ticket touting is not offering a “genuine service” at all. In fact it’s offering nothing of value – it’s simply taking advantage of the scarcity of a commodity (a concert has limited capacity) with the tout adding precisely zilch to the product as it goes from a company like Ticketmaster to the buyer. It’s the equivalent of a protection racket – money for a ‘service’ which doesn’t really exist.
While ordinary punters are losing out from touting, others have their snouts firmly in the troff. Unbelievably, companies like Ticketmaster often own the companies that touts use to sell tickets, and they take a cut for every ticket sold. This allows Ticketmaster (who own secondary site Get Me In) to profit twice from ticket sales – first of all through the original sale of tickets and secondly when a tout lists tickets for re-sale. The more touts there are, the more money Ticketmaster stands to make. You can therefore see why they might quite like the status quo.
What’s more confusing is why Sajid Javid should be so keen on touts, ruling out any regulation to stop their profiteering at the expense of fans. As is demonstrated every time tickets for a moderately desirable concert go on sale, touts really are pricing people out of live entertainment. If the Sajid Javid wants to make culture relevant to ordinary people, he should start by getting tough with the ticket touts.
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