Government Guards Crown Jewels

The U.K. government has decided not to do anything about touts unless they try to sell tickets for events of "such importance" that they require occasional exception.

The government is looking into protecting events of national significance, often referred to as the "crown jewels," such as large sporting events like the rugby and cricket world cups and the Commonwealth Games.

Musical events that might fall within this category are significant public one-offs like Live 8 and BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend, which receives a public subsidy.

The government has reached agreements with leading operators including eBay that sales of tickets for such events will be prevented in the future.

Officials are developing measures to ensure that tickets for the Olympic Games are not resold, an act in breach of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Act of 2006. Legislative controls on ticket resale for football are already in place to prevent public disorder.

Many in the business, including National Arenas’ Association (NAA) chairman Geoff Huckstep and Rob Ballantine of the Concert Promoters’ Association (CPA), believe the crown jewel events cause the most embarrassment to the government when Web sites sell the tickets for more than face value.

Culture secretary Andy Burnham’s solution to the secondary market problems is apparently to call for event organisers to ensure that tickets get to real fans instead of expensive resale outlets.

"Fans are the lifeblood of our sporting and entertainment culture, and young fans keen to get to events are often the most exploited. Event owners and promoters need to work harder to ensure that real fans get tickets at a fair price," Burnham said.

"The re-selling of tickets at inflated prices doesn’t add anything to the cultural life of the country, but instead leaches off it and denies access to those who are least able to afford tickets."

He made the comments as the government finally published its response to the select committee’s report into ticket touting April 21.

The news has hardly caused a ripple in either the live music industry or the media, apart from legendary U.K. promoter Harvey Goldsmith and viagogo chief Eric Baker arguing about it on Radio 5 in the middle of the night.

The only significant difference between the report and the government stance is that the select committee, chaired by John Whittingdale, had ruled out the idea of a "crown jewels" list of protected events. But Burnham said the government would push for a voluntary list of events where tickets could not be resold.

Event organisers, promoters and their ticket agents are expected to work together to find new ways of making sure tickets are properly distributed without fans routinely overpaying. But getting the different factions to agree is no easy task.

Burnham believes the way tickets are distributed can be changed to ensure that more end up in the fans’ hands and at a fair price. He says the improvements can happen without the burden of new regulation and without criminalising fans who want to buy tickets for sold-out events or sell tickets they can’t use.

The government says it will work with the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR) to deliver a new code of principles for the ticketing market that meets consumers’ needs.

It seems that organisations that have campaigned against the secondary market, including the NAA and the CPA, won’t even get a seat at the table.

The politicians and STAR will be looking at a restriction on the number of tickets sold to each person, clear refund policies, improved distribution, allocation and exchange arrangements, and fair terms and conditions.

While the secondary ticket sellers will welcome the legitimisation of the resale industry and the receding threat of legislation, which the government will only use as a "last resort," it seems they’re not happy about the plans for a "crown jewels" list.

Seatwave chief exec Joe Cohen told The Guardian that he fears it "may represent a move to restrict the secondary market by the back door," while eBay told the paper that it was "skeptical" about whether the plan is viable.

"The trouble with bans or price caps is that they don’t work and can be counter-productive," eBay said in a statement. "They end up either driving the trade on to other parts of the Internet – or, even worse, on to street corners where there is no consumer protection if things go wrong."

It remains to be seen if the government’s plans will have an effect on how tickets are sold in Britain.