An MP campaigning against ticket abuse has spoken out against the government’s lack of action to tackle the problem. An amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill that should ensure music, sports and arts lovers are not paying over the odds when buying tickets for live events was approved in March but Sharon Hodgson MP, co-chair of an all-party parliamentary group, said: “The pace of change has been frustrating.”
The APPG first recommended the amendment in a 2014 report that discussed the sale and resale of tickets for events and devised solutions to the problem of ticket touting, which has an online market worth an estimated £1 billion a year. Investigations showed major promoters allocate hundreds or thousands of tickets to secondary ticketing sites, which sell them at well above the face value, meaning many never see a primary point of sale.
The amendment, which would force resellers to be more transparent, was initially opposed by the government in January. MPs argued that banning secondary ticketing would hinder a free market with the former culture secretary – now business secretary – Sajid Javid praising ticket touts as “classic entrepreneurs” and Bury North Conservative MP David Nuttall likening ticket resale to buying an antique from a car boot sale. But in a surprise turnaround the amendment was approved in March. It is awaiting royal assent before it becomes law and a review is to be set up to look into this issue in greater detail, with a report to Parliament after 12 months.
Hodgson told Big Issue North: “Now Parliament is back in session I am hopeful that we will be able to see the review set up. I will be pressing the government to outline the exact details so that we will be able to make the progress that fans deserve.”
She added: “Changes in the Consumer Rights Bill were only the start of what is needed to make the secondary ticketing market work in the best interest of fans.”
While the government stalls, the music industry and fans alike are exploring more cost-effective ways of going to gigs. Dice is an app that allows music fans to avoid the secondary ticket market as well as the various fees involved with buying tickets from the source. After being launched in London in September it is now rolling out in Manchester.
Dice music editor Jen Long explained just some of the barriers the app bypasses. Booking fees, transactions fees, postage and packaging (sometimes even for digital tickets), insurance and credit card fees often add up to over £20 on top of the original face value of a ticket.
“Ticketing always feels like a due you must pay before getting to the good bit, the gig,” she said.
A joint venture between music manager Phil Hutcheon and digital studio Ustwo, Dice is currently funded by investors and bypasses the various fees, storing a digital ticket on the buyer’s phone to be scanned at a venue. It also allows buyers to avoid becoming participants in the secondary ticketing market by returning tickets to gigs they cannot attend and allocating them to fans who have joined a waiting list for sold-out shows.
“We are against the institutionalised secondary market,” said Long. “Sites like StubHub and Viagogo are run by highly organised touts making a living from the misery and passion of real music fans, and using technology to do so on a large scale.”
She added that she is not opposed to primary ticketing sites covering their overheads with booking fees but that Dice is able to avoid that.
Simon Butcher arranges live events at some of the first Manchester venues to work with Dice, including the Deaf Institute and Gorilla. He stressed that booking fees are often justified.
“Tickets being sold from larger companies producing sales for major tours require large amounts of staffing, technology, data analysts, IT consultants, due diligence, marketing/PR and more,” he said. But he called secondary ticketing criminal.
“Buying at face value and then selling at 300 per cent the asking price is alienating customers and causing large drop-offs at the venues,” he said.
Hodgson added: “It is the job of my APPG colleagues and I to make sure the government sticks to [its commitment to a full review of the industry] and that it is conducted in a way that gets to the heart of the problems fans currently face.”