Regulating For Sport

The U.K. government may have felt forced to take another look at ticket scalping because it feared the secondary ticket market could harm the country’s chances of hosting major international sporting events.

Nick Bitel, chairman of U.K. Sport’s Major Events Steering Group, told The Times that some international sports governing bodies have expressed concerns about the ticket touting business.

He said the government understands it’s approaching its last chance to push for secondary agents to get their act together.

“The Cricket World Cup and the Rugby World Cup have come to us and said, if we’re going to come to Britain, we’re going to need protection,” Bitel said. His organisation oversees Britain’s campaigns to stage major events and international finals on home soil.

The government says eBay and other leading resale sites have agreed not to resell tickets for major sport and entertainment events. But it may have realised that such an agreement is no guarantee that thousands of tickets for high-profile events including the 2012 Olympic Games in London won’t be readily available from rogue Web sites.

The Football Association is believed to be bidding to have the 2018 World Cup soccer championships in England.

Companies such as eBay claim that sports including rugby and tennis are victims of their own policies of selling large allocations to sports clubs and corporate bodies, thus fueling secondary demand.

Although sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe has said he can’t rule out the possibility of regulating the secondary ticketing market, many promoters feel there’s little chance of it being outlawed.

“We’ve been down this line before but someone new has come in and wants to make a splash,” Festival Republic chief Melvin Benn told Pollstar. “Their largest concern is the Olympics. I don’t think they’d even be remotely bothered if it wasn’t for that.”

The now liquidated Xclusive Tickets sold an estimated 18,000 tickets for the Beijing Olympics and various U.K. summer festivals, which has resulted in six arrests for fraud. Sutcliffe may fear the same embarrassing fiasco for London in 2012.

Rob Ballantine of SJM Concerts said Sutcliffe’s new consultation is pleasing because at least the government is acknowledging it got it wrong last time. However, he is more optimistic than confident of it ending in legislation.

Sutcliffe has already conceded that most of the time tickets go to whoever is quickest online when they go on sale. Too often touts are first, with the only goal being to resell for profit.

In April, the government decided not to do anything about the secondary market unless touts tried to resell tickets for “crown jewel” events.
Ballantine and his colleagues at the Concert Promoters Association (CPA) have just set up a new secondary site where fans don’t have to pay commission and they receive 100 percent of the price they set.

“During the last consultation we told the government that if it didn’t outlaw the secondary market, then the promoters would have to enter it,” Ballantine explained. is being run by See Tickets and every ticket on the site is listed by location to allow it to be verified as genuine. Buyers will then know exactly what they’re getting for their money, as listing full ticket details will be compulsory.

Ballantine said the new outlet has the most robust system possible to minimise the chance of fans buying non-existent or misrepresented tickets.

Despite Sutcliffe saying he’s considering the possibility of regulating the secondary ticketing market, many doubt the government has the stomach for it.

“There is no great appetite for further legislation in the ticketing market, whether from fans, event organisers or the ticket sellers themselves,” Sutcliffe said.

The CPA intends to operate until the government closes the secondary market.

Most of Sutcliffe’s comments at the launch of the new initiative focused on what promoters and ticket-sellers can do to tighten up the market, while very little was said about how the government might help.

A statement from the Department for Culture, Media & Sport said it is proposing a package of measures designed to help consumers, but all the examples refer to initiatives taken by promoters and event organisers.

Consumer Direct, the government-funded advice service, used the launch to publish tips on how to safely shop for tickets online.

The government is suggesting the Society for Ticket Agents and Retailers play a role in ensuring customers are buying from reputable sellers.

The consultation is aimed at how best to improve the ticketing market for the benefit of consumers, although there’s widespread industry suspicion that it’s also about how to stop touts from embarrassing the government.