What is a “secondary ticketing website”?

Secondary ticketing websites are online platforms that enable tickets to live music or other entertainment events to be bought and sold.

The four main sites are Viagogo, based in Switzerland, StubHub (owned by eBay) and GetMeIn and Seatwave (both owned by Live Nation/Ticketmaster, the world’s dominant “primary” ticket seller).

Why is secondary ticketing so controversial?

Two words: ticket touts.

The practice of buying and re-selling tickets for profit has always existed in some shape or form but, in the digital era, the scale of touting has increased substantially and for a variety of reasons:

i. Professionalised ticket touting. Using specialist software (sometimes known as “bots”) touts can hack into primary ticketing systems and ‘harvest’ their inventory using multiple credit cards – typically before or at the moment that tickets are made available to the general public. These are then listed and sold for profit on secondary ticketing websites.

ii. A lack of regulation. Unlike other online marketplaces, such as eBay or Amazon, secondary ticketing websites lack transparency and routinely allow breaches of consumer law. For instance, by allowing professional touts (sometimes known as “power sellers”) to trade anonymously.

iii. Fan are confused. The marketing practices of secondary ticketing websites – and, increasingly, primary ticketing websites – often make it difficult for fans to locate face value tickets. Try typing the name of your favourite artist + “tickets” into a search engine… The results are often weighted in favour of secondary ticketing sites, even when face value tickets are available.

Isn’t ticket touting illegal?

In some instances, yes. For example, the general re-sale of football tickets has been banned in the UK since 1994. However, unlike countries such as France or Norway, the re-selling of live music tickets for profit is not breaking UK law.

(Although it is illegal to hack into a primary ticketing system and harvest tickets, and it is fraudulent to buy tickets using multiple identifies.)

Theoretically, there is a variety of legislation in place – including the Consumer Rights Act 2015, the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013, and the Computer Misuse Act 1990  – that should help protect fans and ensure secondary ticketing websites operate with greater transparency.

Unfortunately, in practice, such legislation has very rarely been enforced either by Government, the police or agencies such as National Trading Standards or the Competition & Markets Authority.

We need this to change.

How much is the secondary ticketing market worth?

According to live music magazine IQ, based on resales from Viagogo, StubHub, Get Me In! & Seatwave the UK’s secondary ticketing market is worth more than £1bn per year, gross transactional value. Around half of this total is thought to derive from music events.

What is the impact of ticket touting on the music industry?

Industrial-scale ticket touting is hugely damaging to music businesses, and to the wider music economy – diverting millions of pounds into the back pockets of touts.

Fans who are ripped off and forced to pay over the odds on secondary ticketing websites will have less budget to spend on recordings, on merchandise and on other events.

This market distortion also has a significant cultural impact. Music is obviously a commercial business, but its future prosperity is dependent on live performances being accessible to the widest possible audience, and to young people in particular.

Why can’t Government do something about this?

Government has acted on occasion.

It is illegal to re-sell tickets to Premiership football matches without permission, and it was illegal to re-sell tickets to events at the 2012 Olympic Games.

A Metropolitan Police report, published after the London Olympics, identified more than £40m of ticket fraud in the UK and significant evidence of criminality connected to secondary ticketing websites.

Before that, in 2007, the then Culture Secretary described those scalping and selling tickets for inflated profits as “leeches” – although politicians have, on the whole, favoured self-regulation over legislation.

Following revelations made in an edition of Channel 4’s Dispatches (“The Great Ticket Scandal”) this approach changed in 2015 with implementation of the Consumer Rights Act (CRA), which contained three specific provisions for the resale of tickets online:

  • anyone offering tickets for resale online must provide clear information about face value, seat location and any usage restrictions; and make clear any link with an event organiser or online platform on which the ticket is being resold
  • vendors are protected from having their tickets cancelled by event organisers purely as a result of the resale (unless this result of re-selling is clear in the original terms of sale and these terms are not deemed to be unfair
  • secondary ticketing platforms have a new legal obligation to report criminal activity they become aware of in relation to tickets to the police and event organisers

The effectiveness and enforcement of the CRA has, however, already been called into question – both by consumer bodies such as Which? and in an independent report to Government by Professor Michael Waterson.

What can the music business do?

For a start, music businesses can take a public stand and sign the FanFair Alliance Declaration – supporting ethical business practices, as well as pro-consumer legislation and technology.

FanFair will build on the Declaration in coming months, and aim to share information around practical measures that music professionals can take to help curb online ticket touting.

What can I do?

  • Sign up to the FanFair Alliance mailing list (below).
  • Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Tell us about your experiences with online touts.
  • Encourage your favourite artists to join the campaign.
  • Encourage your friends to do likewise.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?

Music Businesses

Take a stand against the touts. Join us and sign the FanFair Declaration today.

Fans speak up

Been ripped off by online touts? We’re interested in hearing about your experiences.