What can be done to stop the touts from cashing in on tickets?

by James Hendicott
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ISSUES surrounding ticket sales are growing again in Dublin, as the highly-profitable secondary ticket market ramps up for the summer peak.

Ticket touting remains legal in Ireland, though Deputy Noel Rock (FG) recently put forward a motion looking to criminalise the resale of tickets at above their official price.

Since his tabling of the bill earlier this year, Deputy Rock has received protesting submissions from the likes of the IDA – Ireland’s foreign direct investment body.

The IDA highlight the value of the companies leading the market – some of whom have Irish headquarters – to our economy.

For punters, though, this is a growing problem.

Firms such as Viagogo and Seatwave (the latter a Ticketmaster-owned company whose resale options appear on the Ticketmaster website, highlighted once the original offering is sold out) are highly-profitable agencies.

This is particularly clear to see with big-name gigs.

A ticket for U2 in Croke Park this summer, for example, starts at €240 on Seatwave at the time of writing (face value €44), and goes up as high as €1,000 (face value €200).

Ed Sheeran – who has personally spoken out against above face-value reselling this month on his Twitter account – has seen tickets for his 3Arena date listed at over €600 each (face value €77), while a ticket to Ireland’s potential Six Nations decider against England will set you back almost €1,200 after booking fees (face value €60).

In the case of J.Cole, whose 3Arena date sold out shortly after going on sale in late February, tickets were allegedly on Seatwave ahead of the show’s swift sell-out.

With such a quick turnaround allowed, and highly inflated prices, it’s hard to believe these tickets were not bought with profit in mind.

In some cases, the reselling company stands to make more in resale fees than the total original ticket price.

There are, of course, tickets for lesser events available for more reasonable rates – in some cases, close to or even below face value – but such sales also feature far higher associated charges than the first buy.

These rates are industry standard, and similar with rival companies such as Viagogo and Stubhub.

There have also been reports of the sites occasionally being less than reliable.

Dubliner Colin Lee, for example, told The Gazette of his experience buying a ticket to Elbow at the Olympia theatre last month, only to be denied entry on arrival as the ticket had already been used.

This issue is not unique to Ireland.

MP Nigel Adams commented in the British parliament last week: “Tickets to the hit musical Hamilton are touted for upwards of £5,000, when companies like Viagogo know only too well that tickets re-sold are invalid for entry [this is frequently the case in Ireland, too].

“It’s unfair and not indicative of a market that works for everyone. What will the government do to ensure genuine fans are not fleeced by touts and rogues?”

Stephen Byrne, editor-in-chief of Irish music website Goldenplec, concurred, arguing: “Vendors need to do more to protect music fans and their customers”.

He added: “I’ve no doubt that artists will be looking at the growing resale market with tickets sometimes selling at eight to ten times face value, and that the base ticket price will increase.

“Many people will be priced out of the market altogether. I find it hard to believe that vendors cannot track which tickets are being resold at extortionate prices, and cannot do more to stop people who buy simply to make a profit by reselling.”

When some of the companies involved in both first and subsequent sales are under the same ownership – as with Seatwave and Ticketmaster – it’s equally hard to see why the original vendors would be particularly motivated to prevent such profiteering.

Should Deputy Rock’s proposal fail, the road ahead could be still bleaker.

As Boston-based music fan Anthony Grice explains, for example, the scenario in the more developed American market is still worse: “Essentially all sporting events and many gigs/shows are blighted by this now.”

He explained further: “People with money to burn will buy extortionately priced sports season tickets, then put all the games they can’t go to online at two or three times face value.

“Real fans struggle to get tickets, and only fans who can afford to drop a ton on a ticket can go.

“Gigs are almost as bad. Bots [automated computer programmes] buy the tickets up, and they sell out in seconds. Then they’re all on secondary sources for two or three times the face value.”

There are alternatives in Ireland, though they depend on ‘genuine reason’ sellers opting to decline the high-value resale option.

Popular site Toutless.ie uses a forum format to resell tickets strictly at face value. Adverts.ie also has a policy prohibiting sale at above face value.

Meanwhile, events such as the UK festival Glastonbury have demonstrated it is possible to thwart touting – in their case, tickets feature a picture of the buyer, are non-transferable, and must be accompanied by photo ID to allow entrance.

So long as for-profit reselling remains legal, however, it will be the preserve of the occasional insistent artist to go above and beyond to protect their fans.

Elsewhere, there will be speculative ‘buy to sell’ buyers looking to cash in, and event-goers willing to pay.

A large market exists where often only profiteers and those who own the platform stand to win.

Those absorbing the costs of running an event see no benefit, and with profit-driven buying, those desperate to attend ultimately lose out.

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