Sergeant Bashes Touts From Downunder

Paul Sergeant’s move to Australia hasn’t stopped the former Cardiff Millennium Stadium chief from making clear his views on culture minister Tessa Jowell’s handling of the U.K.’s secondary ticket market problems.

"The government has been desperate to appease us all while it’s been busy sneaking the anti-touting measures for the Olympics under the radar," he said in an open e-mail to many of the U.K.’s leading sports governing bodies, concert promoters and venue owners.

Talking to Pollstar, he took up the theme and launched a stinging attack on what he refers to as the government’s "double standards." He said he does at least hold out some hope that the issue will get a closer look if Gordon Brown replaces Tony Blair as prime minister.

"The U.K. government’s recent decision to effectively legitimise ticket touting must be one of the greatest displays of double-standards ever seen," he explained.

"When this issue blew up a couple of years ago, the U.K. government was desperate to appease us all, the governing bodies of sport, the concert promoters, the theatres and other venues, while it was busy sneaking anti-touting measures for the 2012 Olympics under the radar.

"Now it’s home and hosed with its Olympic measures, and the rest of the sports and entertainment industries are being fed copious amounts of the hot, smelly stuff and left reeling from arguably the most perplexing decision in the industry’s history," he complained.

"No one has ever been able to logically explain why it will be illegal to trade tickets for any 2012 Olympic events, including the ceremonial events, other than hide behind it being an Olympic requirement. Why?

"Before 2012 there’ll be tickets seized and offenders prosecuted with people puffing their chests out and saying what a marvelous job they’re doing and how outrageous it is that people are attempting to profiteer from selling tickets in this way."

Sergeant said all sports and entertainment events should be afforded the same treatment and feels the businessmen and organisations running them have been sold down the river over the way they were consulted and ultimately ignored by Jowell and, also, apparently, by her advisers at the department for culture, media and sport.

"All of the industry leaders, highly respected business people, came together as one to tackle this crime. We cited case after case of people being ripped off for vast quantities of cash," Sergeant recalls.

"We see it happening every day of the week and are powerless to do anything about it. Look at the collapse of TicketTout with 6,000 people getting their fingers seriously burned. How blatant does it have to be?"

He hopes that current U.K. chancellor of the exchequer Gordon Brown, who still looks favourite to take over as prime minister despite his recent rocky economic ride, will at least realise "it is costing his government millions in lost taxes and making an ass out of the whole system."

Describing Jowell’s decision not to legislate against secondary touting as a "government cop-out," he compared the situation to the one he’s finding in Queensland – where he’s run the Brisbane Suncorp Stadium since moving from the U.K. three months ago. It’s illegal there to sell tickets for more than 10 percent of face value, which Sergeant told former colleagues is "a much more pragmatic way" to confront the problem.

Sergeant, who ran the Millennium Stadium for 3.5 years and Wembley Stadium for the previous dozen, and received the Order of The British Empire (OBE) for his efforts in The Queen’s New Year’s Honours List, launched his attack after reading an April 6 article in the U.K.’s The Guardian describing the secondary Internet ticketing market as "The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle."

It quoted Live Nation U.K. managing director Stuart Galbraith saying that both the industry and the fans have been "completely let down by the government," while Rob Ballantine from Manchester’s SJM Concerts – another in favour of government legislation and a fierce Jowell critic – outlined what the Office of Fair Trading could do to help solve the problem.

What’s beginning to look more likely is that the Department of Trade and Industry will investigate the demise of TicketTout, and, particularly, any connection former GetMeTickets boss Michael Rangos may have had with the business.

Lane Bednash of Valentine & Co, the administrator winding up TicketTout’s affairs, said the DTI has asked him to look at a case for making the company "compulsorily bankrupt" (as opposed to a voluntary liquidation).

One of the main differences being that a compulsory bankruptcy opens the door for the DTI’s own criminal investigation department to take a look at the directors’ conduct.

GetMeTickets, another Internet tout site run by Rangos – once a regular subject for BBC’s "Watchdog" consumer program – was put into compulsory liquidation by London’s High Court in February 2006.

At the time, Ticket Tout managing director Caroline Beale categorically denied any connection between the two outfits and sent Pollstar a statement warning that she’d "pursue legally any untrue allegations that portray our company [Ticket Tout Ltd.] in a negative way."

It has since been proved that Beale was a GetMeTickets employee, although not a director. Her new company was incorporated at Companies House February 13, 2006, within days of GeMeTickets being put into compulsory liquidation.

The DCMS press department has failed to respond to Pollstar e-mails asking if the collapse of TicketTout may lead the minister to reconsider her position on the secondary ticketing market.