Saturday, 25 February 2012

Stamp Out The Touts

We all know the feeling. The band who’ve papered your bedroom walls, soundtracked the best nights of your life and been a talking point with all of your mates have finally announced a tour, and you would just about sell your left arm to go. You set the alarm for 9am, jump out of bed and head to Ticketmaster. How hard can it be?

In the light of what channel 4 revealed on this week’s dispatches special, ‘The Great Ticket Scandal’, it’s very hard indeed. But it’s not just the legions of other fans competing against you for that golden ticket to a night of happiness. No, it’s a glut of greedy industry bigwigs with dollar signs in their eyes and gaps in their morals that are buying, or being given the tickets, before you, the humble fan, have even had a whiff of them.

I’ve long been sceptical of paying anything more than face value for a gig ticket. As far as I’m concerned, very few bands are worth in excess of a hundred pounds. However, I know the desperate frustration one can feel when there is an event you just HAVE to be part of, and I know the lure of second hand ticketing websites, namely Viagogo and SeatWave. Websites billed as fan to fan exchanges, where people can sell tickets to events they are no longer able to attend, they seem like a sensible, even inviting, idea. The fact that tickets on these sites are often a tad more expensive is understandable: people want a bit of compensation to cover postage and their troubles. But the revelation that up to 50% of the tickets on these sites are given to the websites directly, to sell at wildly inflated prices of up to 4 times face value, is simply despicable.

Take Coldplay. One of the biggest bands in the World, let alone the UK, it was no surprised when tickets to many of their 2011 arena tour dates vanished quicker than Chris Martin’s fashion sense post X&Y. However, to know that Viagogo were sitting pretty on a stack of 1,000 seats for each gig from the second they went on general sale is sure to be a massive kick in the teeth for any fan who camped outside the venue, skipped school or college or otherwise sacrificed large amounts of time to try and get in. In the end, tickets for this gig were reaching the purely ludicrous heights of £2,292, despite having a face value of approximately £40.

The same goes for festivals – how many of you have spent hours on the phone or internet trying to secure a pass to the summer event all your friends are going to? How do you feel knowing that in 2010, out of a 18,000 potential tickets over both sites of V Festival, Viagogo already had 4,500? Or the knowledge that even when promoters do not give them the ticket allocation directly, they have a booklet full of credit cards ready to buy up as many as possible anyway?

SeatWave, I’m afraid to say, is just as guilty. Claiming in its tagline to be ‘the fan to fan ticket exchange’ (hastily removed in the wake of this programme), they have been exposed to be dealing in a measly 21% of actual fans tickets, and over half from touts or event organisers directly. Despite sending out emails to their mailing list early this week assuring them that their policies were nowhere near as shady as Channel 4 were making out, they are still looking exceptionally guilty.

So what can be done? I understandable that touting is a business, a very lucrative one at that. But to profit from sheer exploitation of music fans seems simply immoral to me, and a massive contributor to why musicians are suffering so much these days. Is it surprising nobody buys cd’s anymore when to buy a ticket to see your hero in the flesh costs about as much as student rent for a month? If the likes of Viagogo and SeatWave were to operate a purely third party, ebaylike system, it would still be unfortunate, but at least people could decide for themselves if they were willing to pay inflated prices, knowing that they have at least had as fair a chance as anybody to get face value prices. Until then, I call for eBay and any other similar reselling sites to put a 10% profit cap on any ticketed event, and for promoters to start accepting some sort of refund scheme for people who genuinely cannot make it to an event they bought a ticket for.

A message lies within this for the fans themselves too: only buy tickets to events you know you will be attending, and if forced to resell, remember how you’d feel when you miss out on a desired event and be fair. Tempting as it is to make a quick buck, don’t get greedy. Lastly, the bands themselves need to get involved and speak out: warn your fans of the pitfalls of third party ticket selling, announce tours at sensible times when people of all ages can buy them and price appropriately. It is only when people start taking ticket touting seriously that anything can be done about it.

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