A Rock and a Hard Place

Hot Press - - Frontlines -

U2, Ra­dio­head, Cold­play, Guns N’Roses, Ed Sheeran: some of the big­gest mu­si­cal acts in the world are set to de­scend on Ir­ish soil in 2017, for sell-out shows. But with tick­ets be­ing of­fered on re-sell­ing sites at ex­or­bi­tant prices, the mo­men­tum to­wards anti-tout­ing leg­is­la­tion is build­ing. Re­port Peter McGoran

TICK­ETS FOR U2’S MUCH AN­TIC­I­PATED 30TH AN­NIVER­SARY Joshua Tree show at Croke Park, in Dublin, went on sale on Jan­uary 16, at 9am. Prices were set at be­tween €35 and €70. Within min­utes, the gig was sold out – and later that day, tick­ets were be­ing re-sold for up­wards of €300 (not in­clud­ing an ad­di­tional €56 book­ing fee).

The tick­ets were be­ing of­fered on Seat­wave – a se­condary ticket-sell­ing site that is owned by the pri­mary seller, Tick­et­mas­ter.

What­ever way you looked at it, the op­tics weren’t good – and the an­gry re­ac­tion from fans, who had missed out on se­cur­ing tick­ets, was spon­ta­neous.

DEEPLY FRUS­TRATED

In many ways, a U2 gig is like a lit­mus test. They are the big­gest live at­trac­tion in Ire­land, and have been for the past 30 years at least.

Dur­ing their iN­NO­CENCE + eX­PE­RI­ENCE tour, in a pi­o­neer­ing move, the band had put tight re­stric­tions in place, to en­sure that tick­ets would get to fans, in­clud­ing the stip­u­la­tion that tick­ethold­ers had to have the card with which a ticket was bought avail­able on the night of the gig, to con­firm their iden­tity. Even then, how­ever, tick­ets ap­peared on se­condary tick­et­ing sites, in­clud­ing the likes of eBay. It was a clear in­di­ca­tion that – the best ef­forts of an artist not­with­stand­ing – in Ire­land, as else­where, what hard-pressed fans see as ticket-tout­ing is a dif­fi­cult prob­lem to solve.

And then came Croke Park: in­evitably, it was a source of huge dis­ap­point­ment for many long­stand­ing fans of the band that they couldn’t get tick­ets for U2’s only Ir­ish gig this year. But for those same fans to see tick­ets be­ing im­me­di­ately sold-on, at a huge pre­mium, was like a red rag to a large num­ber of ag­grieved bulls.

“For the last tour and this one I have found my­self as one of many Dublin fans un­able to get a de­cent ticket on ei­ther pre or gen­eral sale,” long-stand­ing U2 fan Pat Lynch posted on the

Hot Press Face­book page. “Only to see Seat­wave are sell­ing tick­ets at mas­sively in­flated prices. And not on the black mar­ket, but on Tick­et­mas­ter’s very site!

“Tout­ing by any other name, no?,” he added. “Why aren’t big acts like U2, Bruce Spring­steen and Cold­play step­ping up to stop this?? Loyal fans just want a fair shot at get­ting tick­ets… to­day I feel like fling­ing my en­tire three decade U2 col­lec­tion in the Lif­fey! Yours in dis­il­lu­sion­ment.”

Pat was just one of many who were left feel­ing deeply frus­trated by what was hap­pen­ing.

At the time of go­ing to press, there are 543 tick­ets avail­able for U2 at Croke Park on Seat­wave. The top price be­ing asked for the tick­ets is €1,057.68. Mean­while, there are 374 tick­ets avail­able for Cold­play’s Croke Park show, with prices run­ning as high as €940.16. And, sim­i­larly, tick­ets for Ire­land’s rugby game against Wales in Cardiff, of which there are 251 avail­able on Seat­wave, are on of­fer for as much as €1,174.03.

It might strike some as bizarre that peo­ple are pre­pared – and can af­ford – to pay that kind of money. But they do.

THE FAN FAIR AL­LIANCE

There have been a num­ber of at­tempts in

Ire­land, in the past, to deal with ticket tout­ing via leg­is­la­tion – but the pro­posed bills have al­ways foundered. Now, how­ever, the mo­men­tum to­wards ad­dress­ing the phe­nom­e­non of scalp­ing has been gath­er­ing pace. A Bill that seeks to out­law the re­selling of tick­ets at a higher price is to be put be­fore Dáil Éire­ann within the next few weeks. The ar­chi­tect of the Bill is Fine Gael’s Noel Rock TD.

“This was a Pri­vate Mem­bers’ Bill that we started com­pil­ing back in Au­gust as a re­ac­tion to con­cerns raised about the OCI ticket tout­ing fi­asco in Brazil, when it came to light that we had no real laws or reg­u­la­tions in place to deal with such mat­ters,” Rock ex­plains.

“I spoke to a few col­leagues and be­gan draft­ing a Bill, which I brought be­fore the Oireach­tas. There were some le­gal is­sues that they asked us to look over, so we got the amended ver­sion fin­ished by De­cem­ber.”

Ire­land is not alone in hav­ing failed to ad­dress the is­sues raised by the new style of se­condary tick­et­ing. It was only in De­cem­ber 2016, for ex­am­ple, that Barack Obama signed into law mea­sures that banned the use of ticket tout bots – soft­ware that al­lows touts to pur­chase large quan­ti­ties of tick­ets from sites like Tick­et­mas­ter – in the United States. How­ever, in re­al­ity, ‘bots’ are only part of the prob­lem.

Stubhub, which is owned by eBay, has been in the busi­ness of openly re­selling tick­ets since 2000. They launched Vi­a­gogo, based in Lon­don, in 2006 – it is now said to be the world’s big­gest ticket re­sale out­fit. Vi­a­gogo are part­ners with Chelsea FC and Manch­ester City FC, among other foot­ball clubs, al­low­ing – among other things – sea­son ticket hold­ers to sell the tick­ets they ef­fec­tively hold, for any games they can­not at­tend.

Re­selling is seen, in this con­text, as pro­vid­ing – as Vi­a­gogo’s Wikipedia page states – “a se­cure on­line ticket mar­ket­place that al­lows con­sumers to buy and sell tick­ets to sports, mu­sic, the­atre and com­edy events.”

Seat­wave, now owned by Tick­et­mas­ter, was also es­tab­lished in Lon­don in 2006. At the time, it was seen by the com­pany as a re­sponse to eBay’s ex­ploita­tion of a grow­ing mar­ket in re-sell­ing tick­ets.

“Stubhub, which is owned by eBay, has been in the busi­ness of openly re­selling tick­ets since 2000. They launched Vi­a­gogo, based in Lon­don, in 2006 – it is now said to be the world’s big­gest ticket re­sale out­fit.”

“Vi­a­gogo tick­et­ing mar­ket­place is de­signed to give con­sumers ac­cess to tick­ets that were of­ten pre­vi­ously dif­fi­cult to get hold of,” Wikipedia con­tin­ues. Tick­et­mas­ter’s con­tention was that there was no rea­son to give Vi­a­gogo a free run at own­ing the emerg­ing se­condary mar­ket­place.

Ide­al­is­tic as Vi­a­gogo’s pitch might sound, how­ever, whether through the use of bots or other means, the im­me­di­acy, ex­tent and prof­itabil­ity of re­selling has reached alarm­ing lev­els.

“There’s a trend that seems to be hap­pen­ing again and again be­cause of the sys­tem­atic, au­to­mated na­ture of the ‘new’ ticket-tout­ing,” Noel Rock says. “I call it ‘new’ as op­posed to the ‘tra­di­tional’ ticket-tout­ing of a lad sell­ing a few tick­ets out the back of a venue or sport­ing­ground.

“This sys­tem­atic form of tout­ing means that some­body can sign up for a fan club pre-sale on a Wed­nes­day, then sell the tick­ets on the se­condary site for five times higher on a Thurs­day. That re­ally pisses peo­ple off.”

While leg­is­la­tion may well be the an­swer, in the UK, a Gov­ern­ment de­ci­sion was made not to in­tro­duce Anti-Ticket Tout­ing leg­is­la­tion.

The ac­tiv­i­ties of touts there are cov­ered by the Con­sumer Rights Act – but, in­creas­ingly, this is seen as be­ing in­ef­fec­tive by peo­ple in the in­dus­try.

As a re­sult, the Fan­fair Al­liance has been formed, to take a stand against what they de­scribe as “in­dus­trial scale on­line ticket tout­ing.” Among those in­volved in what is a rad­i­cal, artist-driven, pro-fan ini­tia­tive are Brian Message (man­ager PJ Harvey and Nick Cave),

Ian McAn­drew (man­ager Arc­tic Mon­keys, Royal Blood, Travis), Harry Magee (man­ager One Di­rec­tion, Lit­tle Mix, Ch­eryl) and Adam Tud­hope (Mum­ford & Sons, Laura Mar­ling, Keane).

So far, Fan­fair have stopped short of call­ing for anti-tout­ing leg­is­la­tion.

“We be­lieve a co­or­di­nated and prag­matic ap­proach be­tween Gov­ern­ment, cre­ative busi­nesses, en­trepreneurs and con­sumers can make ma­jor in­roads to curb­ing in­dus­trial-scale tout­ing in the se­condary tick­et­ing mar­ket,” they say, spell­ing out their aims. “Our sup­port­ers are com­mit­ted to sup­port­ing fair and eth­i­cal tick­et­ing prac­tices, as well as pro­con­sumer leg­is­la­tion and tech­nolo­gies.”

To achieve this, they ar­gue that the UK Con­sumer Rights Act 2015 should be given teeth – and then rig­or­ously en­forced.

TRA­DI­TIONAL TOUT­ING

In con­trast, spe­cific anti-tout­ing leg­is­la­tion has been passed in a num­ber of places around the world. In Bel­gium, leg­is­la­tion in­tro­duced in 2016 al­lows re­selling – but face value rules. No in­crease in price is al­lowed dur­ing the re­sale.

“I think this is the way for­ward here in Ire­land,” Noel Rock says. “I think the sim­plic­ity and the neat­ness of the Bel­gian model is one that’s wor­thy of repli­ca­tion. Tick­ets must be resold at face value – and ev­ery­one un­der­stands ex­actly what that means.

“It doesn’t af­fect the amount that an act re­ceives,” he adds, “nor does it af­fect the ca­pac­ity to put on the con­certs in the first place. I spoke to Bel­gian leg­is­la­tors at length about this and what I dis­cov­ered was that there had been no down­turn in the amount of per­for­mances in a given year, nor in­deed was there a down­turn in the qual­ity of those per­for­mances. The only thing that has hap­pened is that ticket-tout­ing has been re­duced by some­where in the re­gion of 90%.”

In a par­al­lel devel­op­ment in Ire­land, at the end of Jan­uary, the Com­pe­ti­tion and Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Com­mis­sion (CCPC) an­nounced that it was launch­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into what they de­scribed as “sus­pected breaches of law” by ticket-sellers. A state­ment is­sued by the CCPC in­di­cated that the main fo­cus would be on the prac­tices of Ire­land’s main ticket dis­trib­u­tor Tick­et­mas­ter. Hot Press con­tacted both the CCPC and Tick­et­mas­ter but nei­ther wished to com­ment, while the in­quiry is on­go­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Noel Rock, the is­sue was raised with the CCPC by the Wicklow In­de­pen­dent

TD, Stephen Don­nelly, who re­cently be­came a co-spon­sor of the Fine Gael TD’s Bill. So what does Noel Rock think about the fact that leg­is­la­tion was put be­fore the Dáil twice be­fore, and was voted down both times?

“This was brought up way back in 1998 and again in 2005,” Noel Rock agrees, “but the leg­is­la­tion was more geared to­wards ‘tra­di­tional tout­ing’ – peo­ple sell­ing tick­ets out­side venues or sport­ing grounds, which wasn’t seen as a press­ing prob­lem.

“How­ever, it’s clear now that this has evolved to a highly struc­tured in­dus­try; it has an es­ti­mated mar­ket value of £1.5 bil­lion in the UK alone. The lack of reg­u­la­tion by the in­dus­try it­self means that it’s nec­es­sary that leg­is­la­tion should step in at this stage, in much the same way as leg­is­la­tion was re­quired to cap mo­bile roam­ing charges. This is very sim­i­lar to that.”

In gen­eral, Pri­vate Mem­bers Bills don’t have a great track record of suc­cess. How­ever, Noel Rock be­lieves he has the wind be­hind him now.

“I’m de­lighted to say that, firstly, both Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein are sup­port­ing this Bill,” he says. “And se­condly, I spoke with the Taoiseach on Jan­uary 25, and he con­firmed that he had no ob­jec­tion to us pur­su­ing this Bill, which is very en­cour­ag­ing.”

Time, as they say, will tell…

(Left) Fine Gael TD Noel Rock. (Above) U2 and Ra­dio­head are among the acts to tackle ticket tout­ing

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