In May last year, a review of consumer protection measures in secondary ticketing was published. Professor Mike Waterson had spent several months with a small team of civil servants shining torches on the darker corners of ticketing.
Excesses in secondary ticketing are seldom out of the news, although the past ten years have seen growth and increased use by both buyers and sellers of online resale marketplaces.
Popular events with prices set below the level that some people are willing to pay will always be a magnet for those intent on exploiting them for profit, resulting in the bulk buying of tickets for high-demand events by professional resellers. Sometimes they use ‘ticket bots’ that automate the purchase and can perform multiple concurrent transactions loaded with different credit card numbers, addresses and names. Regular customers tapping away on keyboards may then miss out on buying tickets before the event sells out.
It’s possible, with the right policies and systems, to make it unattractive to resell tickets.
Iron Maiden’s recent tour saw a huge reduction in resale by using paperless ticketing. ‘Hamilton’ has also decided to go with a paperless solution to help prevent the level of scalping the show suffers on Broadway. Tickets for Ed Sheeran’s tour in 2018 have been sold with sufficient terms and conditions and proof of ID requirements to make facilitating resale an unattractive option for most marketplaces.
The Government didn’t formally respond to the Waterson Review until March this year, accepting all the recommendations that he had made and looking to both the primary and secondary ticketing sectors to implement those he had addressed to them.
Effective enforcement of consumer protection legislation, particularly the Consumer Rights Acts 2015 (CRA) which specifies the information that should be given when tickets are listed for resale, was at the top of Waterson’s list. The Competition and Markets Authority are therefore currently in the middle of an investigation to ensure that resale platforms and the business sellers that list on them are complying.
New legislation is being brought in through the Digital Economy Act (DEA) in an effort to help address the problems caused by ticket bots, making it an offence to use automated processes to exceed ticket limits. The DEA also adds to list of required information in the CRA by requiring the inclusion of “any unique ticket number that may help the buyer to identify the seat or standing area or its location”. Further detail is yet to be refined.
There were recommendations to the primary ticket market on issues such as pricing, presentation of compulsory charges and ticket information. Also, consideration of unfair terms and conditions, including how resale can be restricted without being unfair.
STAR has been pleased to have led on this for the entertainment sector and two meetings have taken place with other major industry bodies (including SOLT and UK Theatre), government departments and the Competition and Markets Authority. We look forward to continuing this work in the coming months. STAR recently updated its Code of Practice and which addresses some of the issues around how prices are presented as well as updates to cover current legislation.
As many of the problems have come about through technology – particularly an open, worldwide marketplace through the internet –it is likely that technology also holds the answers. So, listen out for developments around blockchain (the tech behind the encrypted transfer of bitcoin currency) and new forms of ticket like the audible signal being developed by Ticketmaster.
Sometimes customers have tickets which they find they cannot use but which, very often, can’t be returned to the box office for a refund, to resell or to exchange for another performance. If venues do offer such facilities, they don’t always advertise them. So, customers go elsewhere to sell tickets on. We need to be talking about how we help customers in this situation and get better at after-sales service. Sometimes we excel at telling customers what they can’t do – ‘no refund/no exchange’ believing it protects us commercially. Perhaps, instead, we could do the best we can for them before we restrict their options or be more upfront about the helpful solutions on offer.
Someone who knows full well the complexity of ticketing recently said to me ‘it’s just a ticket’. That’s true, but tickets are also an emotional investment and a gateway to the fantastic events that this country excels in presenting. No wonder then that issues affecting ticketing raise so much impassioned debate.