A U.K. government fact-finding report is highly critical of ticket touts but looks unlikely to lead to more than another call for the live music and sporting events businesses to regulate themselves.
A study carried out by a Culture, Media and Sport select committee is expected to attack eBay and similar secondary ticket agents such as viagogo and Seatwave, although there’s little likelihood of it leading to the all-out ban on touts that many U.K. promoters and venues desire.
During 2006 and 2007, when Tessa Jowell was head of the DCMS, she often deplored the activities of touts but wasn’t prepared to go as far as to legislate against them. Many in the concert industry feel the government finds it difficult to draw a hard line between profiteering and free enterprise.
The MPs who carried out the latest report have found that Web-based black market ticket agencies are enabling rings of touts to profit heavily by exploiting fans’ readiness to pay more than face value for sold-out events, a view the U.K. Concert Promoters’ Association and many sports organisations have been expressing three or four years.
The MPs are also reportedly asking for a clampdown on secondary sites that offer tickets for events that haven’t gone on sale, or even been announced in some cases, which is known as "the futures market."
They’re also frustrated that secondary sellers will not disclose details of their inventories and transactions, fueling the suspicion that large batches of tickets are coming from small groups of people buying up as many as possible.
The select committee is also concerned about the Web sites’ practice of allowing ticket sellers to remain anonymous. The sites rebut this, saying it would be a breach of client confidentiality, and arguably the data protection act, to do otherwise.
However much the U.K. concert promoters may want to applaud a report that’s critical of touts, the latest document looks unlikely to take the issue any further forward.
The strongest recommendation the MPs look likely to make is that the Office of Fair Trading brings a test case to the High Court to establish if ignoring the conditions covering the sale of a ticket, which usually bar them from being re-sold for profit, is unlawful.
Many promoters and sports event organisers believe it is, although the secondary sites claim people are entitled to buy a commodity and re-sell it for more. The matter has never been tested in court.
The report is likely to rekindle the row between music promoter Harvey Goldsmith MBE and Seatwave chief exec Joe Cohen, which last flared in London’s Evening Standard during the lead-up to Christmas.
Goldsmith attacked the secondary sites and said they should be outlawed for ripping off concertgoers. Cohen countered by saying Goldsmith and other promoters are trying to impose "stringent conditions on what buyers can do with their tickets after they’ve paid for them."
Goldsmith and the vast majority of U.K. concert promoters have called for a ban on the re-sale of tickets for more than face value, while viagogo chief exec Eric Baker naturally takes the opposite view of the legal argument.
"We believe tickets are property; people who have bought tickets but cannot go to an event have the right to re-sell. They own [the ticket], just like they own a car or a book," Baker told The Times.
"I am against the idea that a ticket is a commodity," Goldsmith told the same paper, describing eBay as "the biggest touts in the world" and highlighting the number of tickets that never arrive and the number of forgeries sold.
Other key industry figures including Marc Marot, manager of acts including Paul Oakenfold, are concerned that some of the secondary tickets may come from other sources.
"I’d like to know how many tickets on the Web sites come from the event promoters," he said at the end of last year as he helped set up a pressure group to find ways for some of the re-sale profit to filter back to the artist.
The comments sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe, the government official with the most direct responsibility for ticketing, gave to The Observer offered little encouragement to those who want a ban on online touts.
He said ministers would canvass opinion about extending the list of "protected events" of national importance (the "crown jewels"), for which ticket profiteering is already banned.
This approach has already drawn criticism from U.K. sports and live music organisations that fear that only high-profile events such as the 2012 Olympics, or the ones that cause most public embarrassment when tickets are re-sold for huge profits, including the Princess Of Wales memorial concert, will be covered by any sort of legislation.