Touts Hand Out Cash Refunds

Yo Van Saet said the company has won a battle rather than a war, but she’s happy the joint initiative Live Nation has forged with the Belgian government and one of the country’s biggest ticket-sellers has squeezed some touts so hard that they’ve handed out cash refunds.

Dutch Internet tout felt the pinch to the extent that it arranged for fans who paid substantially more than face value for Shakira’s January 31st show at Antwerp Sportpaleis to get a cash refund as they walked into the venue.

Along with, another site targeted by Van Saet and Tele Ticket Service’s pincer movement, the Dutch Internet secondary market trader has stopped selling Live Nation Belgium’s tickets.

Working closely with Stefan Esselens of the Antwerp-based Tele Ticket Service, which sells 2.5 million tickets a year and shares top spot in the Belgian market with the more musical- and theatre-oriented Sherpa, Van Saet tracked Web sites selling Live Nation tickets.

Esselsens checked TTS Internet sales records for multi-purchasers and found people in Holland with such wildly eclectic taste that they’d bought a dozen Sportpaleis tickets for something like – and for example – the Holiday On Ice spectacular in March and another dozen for the same venue’s Deep Purple gig that comes a few months later.

Sixteen of these customers appeared to have targeted five shows within a three-month period and then bought more than 700 tickets between them.

Having linked the Web tout with its network of paid suppliers, Esselens let the Groningen-based know its customers wouldn’t get through the door unless they were the original purchasers.

He also sent a letter to the Dutch company’s team of ticket buyers outlining the action that he and Live Nation were taking.

Apparently fearing media backlash because the tickets had been voided purely because they’d been bought from an unauthorized site, or the possibility of being sued by disgruntled punters, agreed to Esselens’ proposal that its customers would be granted entry provided the Dutch tout paid back the difference between face value and the price it had sold the ticket for – less a minimal delivery charge.

Van Saet and Esselens were taking advantage of an agreement Live Nation had made with the Belgian government two days after last year’s ILMC, in which they agreed to work together to stamp out touting. They managed to win the days without needing to resort to lawyers.

"They’re the ones who had to use lawyers," Esselsen told Pollstar as he explained that by the time the agreement with was reached, it was too late to get the refunds to Shakira fans before her January 31st appearance.

"They arranged for an Antwerp lawyer, Margareta Bresseleers from the CMS DeBacker partnership, to sort out the refunds for them. She arranged for two local court bailiffs to come to the venue with bags of cash and make the refunds at the front of house as the customers came in.

"The ticket holders who’d bought from the Dutch site were picked up as we scanned the barcodes at the venue entrance and they were led away and told that their tickets were invalid. They were then taken to the front desk where the bailiffs handed back the cash, thereby validating the ticket. Some people got over 100 euros back."

The Shakira tickets had a face value ranging between euro 33 and euro 48, but many of the Budgetticket customers had paid three or four times as much.

At Lionel Richie’s February 27th show at the same venue, 29 fans were stopped at the entrance and asked to sign a statement confirming that they’d already had a refund from Budgetticket. Once they’d signed, they were allowed into the show.

Esselens’ Budgetticket blacklist has another 600 or so tickets on it for upcoming shows, but so far he’s happy that the Dutch company is sticking to its undertaking.

Last year’s agreement with the government was no more than a tacit handshake deal, and wasn’t much more than a joint commitment to work together within the framework of existing Belgian law. But Live Nation Belgium chief Herman Schueremans admitted to doing his best to see it make a big splash in the national press, thereby sending out yet another warning about the dangers of buying tickets from rogue Web sites.

The country’s papers described it as "a gentlemen’s agreement," but it was still enough to land some front-page coverage in influential Flanders regional De Standaard and prominent stories in Het Nieuwsblad, Het Laatste Nieuws and Het Belang van Limburg.

"What we do now is warn people, over and over and over again, that they should buy only via the official ticket seller," Van Saet explained, although as in most countries, educating the ticket-buying public looks to be a slow and arduous process.

To set the government deal in motion, Schueremans – who’s a Vlaamse Liberalen & Democraten (VLD) MP in the Flemish parliament – had tried to convince the Belgian Federal government economic minister Marc Verwilghen (also VLD) that tickets shouldn’t be sold on to third parties without the permission of the event organizer and any scalped tickets should be declared invalid. He then admitted to lobbying him on the subject "until he started to listen."

The barcode scanners will be in operation at this year’s 70,000-capacity Rock Werchter Festival (June 28th to July 1st), which is a guaranteed sellout and an event that Esselens and Van Saet are determined to change from a touts’ payday to a touts’ graveyard.

Werchter’s efforts toward leaving an even greener footprint continues to include free public transport for everybody coming from within the Belgian borders.

A couple of years ago, Schueremans made another move to discourage people from coming in cars by moving the parking sites farther from the festival arena.

Among the measures gradually being introduced are bio fuel for generators, the recycling of drinking cups, which apparently make good park benches, and providing display space for ecological organizations to promote their awareness campaigns.

Any commercial organisations wanting to distribute posters and flyers may as well not bother thinking about it.

The size of the screens on either side of the main stage have been doubled to give all the 70,000 crowd a better view.

Among the acts already confirmed for this Rock Werchter are Metallica, Pearl Jam, Faithless, Kaiser Chiefs, Marilyn Manson, and Muse.